Reversal of Roles: When the Jews Accepted the Two-State Solution but the Arabs Did Not

11/21/2011 03:40 pm ET | Updated Jan 20, 2012
  • Dr. Charles G. Cogan Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly, in a non-binding Resolution (No. 181), recommended splitting what then constituted the Palestine Mandate into two parts, with an accompanying map: 55 percent going to a Jewish state and 44 percent going to an Arab state. These were to be "independent Arab and Jewish states" along with a "Special International Regime for Jerusalem," administered by the United Nations. (Note: the original Mandate included what is now Jordan, but this was removed from the Mandate by Winston Churchill in 1922).

The vote was 37 in favor, 12 against, and 10 abstentions. Among those in favor were the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Arab members voted against it. The Jewish Agency, representing the Jewish community in Palestine, accepted it and agreed to send representatives to a Palestine Commission which was supposed to implement Resolution 181. The British Government, which held the Mandate and was scheduled to give it up in the following year, also agreed to do so.

The Jewish side, however, did not specifically deal with the map, as David ben Gurion, the founding father of the Jewish state preferred, in effect, to wait and see how the situation developed. In any event, the resolution became null and void, as the Arabs had refused to accept it.

In the late 1990's, more than fifty years afterwards, the Palestinian side, reduced to 22 percent of the territory as a result of the Six Day War of 1967, sought to revive Resolution 181 as the basis for a peace settlement (likely in the hopes of getting its original 44 per cent back), but to no avail: the resolution was dead.

Today, compared to 1947, we have a reversal of roles. The Netanyahu Government has lobbied against the Palestinian bid for recognition as a state by the UN, whereas its predecessor, the Jewish Agency, in effect already did in 1947. It cannot even accept a Palestinian state without established borders -- which was suggested by Mahmoud Abbas to the UN in September - mirroring, if you like, the position that ben Gurion took back then!