At an Independence Day reception for foreign diplomats, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of Israel’s desire for peace with the Palestinians. “Peace will be based on the principle of two states for two peoples,” he said. “This we recognized 65 years ago when under Ben-Gurion’s leadership the Jews said yes to the UN resolution calling for two states for two peoples. We said yes then and we say yes now.”
Partitioning the area mandated to Britain by the League of Nations for establishing a Jewish national home has been proposed a number of times. The first partition took place in 1921 when Winston Churchill, then the colonial secretary, offered the area east of the Jordan River, 78 percent of the League of Nations-mandated area, to Abdullah, the son of Sharif Hussein of the Hejaz. He stipulated that the Balfour Declaration’s provisions would not apply there, and this area is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Thereafter partition proposals were made for the remaining League of Nations-mandated area west of the Jordan.
The Peel Commission appointed by the British government recommended in 1937 that western Palestine be partitioned into Jewish and Arab states, the Jews being apportioned one-third of western Palestine. The proposal, rejected by the Arabs, aroused a great debate in the Zionist movement, with David Ben-Gurion supporting acceptance of the proposal.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky dismissed the partition plan using the Yiddish expression “nisht geshtoigen, nisht gefloigen ” (“it won’t take off and it won’t fly”). In other words, nothing would come of it. And nothing came of it.
The UN partition plan adopted in 1947 assigned about 56 percent of western Palestine to the Jewish state. Like the Peel Commission plan it was accepted by Ben-Gurion and the official Zionist leadership and rejected by the Arabs. There is no way of knowing what Jabotinsky’s reaction to the plan would have been. He died in 1940. His adherents, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi under Menachem Begin, rejected the proposal, warning that the partition plan would not bring peace, a prediction that turned out to be correct.
After Israel’s War of Independence the mutually agreed armistice lines in 1949 left Israel in control of about three-quarters of western Palestine. Actually, toward the end of the war, Ben-Gurion had planned to launch an operation that would bring all of Judea and Samaria under Israeli control, but his motion brought before the Israeli government on October 26, 1948, was defeated by one vote. This decision will be regretted for generations, Ben-Gurion said after the vote. In June 1967, Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War led to Israeli control of all of western Palestine. So the time came again to talk about partitioning the Land of Israel – this time not between Jews and Arabs, but between Jews and Palestinians.
Those talking about partitioning the Land of Israel today mean a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in which Israel concedes substantial parts of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians – the Gaza Strip already constituting a mini-Palestinian state under the control of Hamas. But as is well recognized, the PA under Mahmoud Abbas speaks at best for only the Palestinians residing in Judea and Samaria, as Hamas refuses to recognize Israel or make peace with Israel.
Under these circumstances Abbas cannot meet the basic Israeli requirement of such a peace treaty – namely, that the treaty end the conflict with the Palestinians and that no further acts of terror be launched by Palestinians against Israel. Abbas knows he cannot meet these requirements, which is why he has been so reticent to carry on negotiations with Israel and prefers turning to the United Nations. In other words, there is no partner for partition. Nothing will come of this partition. It won’t fly.
*Moshe Arens served as Israel’s Defense & Foreign Minister as well as Israel’s US ambassador
This piece ran in HaAretz on May 8, 2013