The Partition of Palestine

Map of the proposed 1947 Partition
Map Of Ottoman Palestine
Arab Revolt 1936–1939
Map of proposed partition by the Peel Commission

“a Jewish state in part of Palestine is not an end, but a beginning… Establishing a small state… will serve as a very potent lever in our historical efforts to redeem the whole country” — Ben-Gurion in letter to his son 1937

For the Arabs, any partition would be a concession and they feared exactly what Ben-Gurion had hoped for — the expansion of even a small Israeli state into a large dominating power that would take over even more land in Palestine (Morris 1999, 138). The Peel Commission also recommended the population transfer of 225,000 Arabs and 1250 Jews, to ensure a Jewish majority in the part of the land allotted to Jews. They would financially compensate those who would transfer but would compel them by force if necessary. Population transfer was also favored by the Zionists who saw a Jewish majority as a necessity in a Jewish state and believed that Arabs would have to move to accomplish this (Morris 1999, 144). The recommendations of the Peel commission were rejected by the Arab High Commission, who vehemently opposed the idea of Arabs living under Jewish rule or forcefully moved off their land. Given the Arab dissatisfaction with the British proposals, a second phase of the revolt resumed in 1937 and continued on until 1939 when Britain issued a White Paper limiting Jewish immigration and land purchases (Hughes 2019). The recommendations of the Peel Commission were ultimately rejected by the British government who viewed it as “impractible” (United Kingdom Government 1938) but the idea of partition would not be out of the picture for Palestine quite yet.

Symbol of the Irgun
The White Paper of 1939
The refugee ship SS ‘Exodus’ at Haifa Docks, 1947
The aftermath of the King David Hotel bombing
Members of UNSCOP

“granting a state to a group of immigrants, who did not even comprise one-third of the population, and depriving the native inhabitants, who comprised two-thirds of the population, of their right to self-determination, was beyond logic and natural law” — Yusuf, Muhsin. “The Partition of Palestine — An Arab Perspective.”

Despite these concerns, the boycott of the committee by the Palestinians, the uncompromising tenure of the Arab delegates who met with UNSCOP, and inconsistent messages from Arab leaders — such as King Abdullah of Jordan who told UNSCOP he would accept partition if the Arab part of the state was given to Jordan — led the committee to ultimately side against the Arabs (Ben-Dorr 2007). Perhaps, it was possible for the Arabs to have received a more favorable deal from the committee if some of those factors changed, but they ended up with the worst possible outcome for their political goals. In the final partition deal that would be approved by the General Assembly, the Jewish state would get​​ 55 percent of the land and some of the most arable parts of it too, leaving the majority Arab population with a smaller share of the land. The Arabs viewed this predicament as deeply unfair (Morris 2008).

Palestinians fleeing their village during the war of ‘48

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