Abbas: “Arab refusal of Partition Plan was a mistake”

This is the translated English version of عفواً، بس ليش خطأ؟ which appeared earlier in Arabic on Ma’an Arabic news service.

My letter might be late, but late is better than never. This subject is critical and cannot be completely ignored. Two months ago, I noticed a headline on the biggest Arab, Israeli, and International newspapers and news sites, except the Palestinian. This headline is about a statement made by the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, where he expressed that he believes the Arab refusal of the UN partition plan (181) in year 1947, was a mistake.  In an interview with the Israeli Channel two, president Abbas said: “At that time, 1947, there was Resolution 181, the partition plan, Palestine and Israel. Israel existed. Palestine diminished. Why? […] I know, I know. It was our mistake. It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole. But do they punish us for this mistake (for) 64 years?”

I would understand if the president, after he saw the results of the Israeli occupation today, would want to go back to the year 1947 to adopt the partition plan, because that would mean a larger territory for the Palestinian state to be created on. But, was the refusal a mistake? If the Arabs accepted, would it be guaranteed that the Zionist movement will accept what is less that the whole Palestinian territory? Frankly, I consider the president’s statement faulting the Arab and Palestinian stance refusing to abide with an unlawful resolution which takes away the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, to be a very dangerous statement which certainly deserves my comments.

Any rational person would see that if the partition plan was applied and fully respected by both sides, Palestinians would be living in a paradise compared to the miserable situation we live in today under occupation. But, at the same time, no wise and intelligent person would believe that accepting the partition plan was to put an end to the Israeli/Palestinian struggle. It is only naïve to describe the Palestinian and Arab stance regarding the partition plan to be wrong.

Palestinians use this phrase to describe the Belfour Declaration: “The promise of who doesn’t own, to those who don’t deserve”. As a result from that declaration, we have the partition plan which paved the way for those who don’t deserve to take over the land of the indigenous Arab Palestinians. At that time, Arabs were over two thirds of the Population in Palestine; they owned 94% of the land of Palestine. In what right does the United Nations decide to divide Palestine to give over 55% of the land to the Jews who didn’t own anything but 6% of the land before year 1947?

In the year 1947, 1,293,000 Arab Palestinians Christians and Muslims lived in Palestine, plus 608,000 Jews who most of them were recent immigrants from Tsarist Russia and those who fled the horrifying Nazi Europe. The partition plan wasn’t rational from the beginning as there were 407,000 Arabs living in what was to become the Jewish state according to the partition plan. How were Arabs going to accept a decision that will eventually allow conducting mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land to make way for a made up Jewish state? How were Arabs to accept a resolution that was to place international border lines between villages and cities which have neighbored each other for thousands of years? There was nothing about the partition plan which would convince the Arabs to accept it, Palestinians were losing what is over half the Palestinian land in exchange of nothing, nothing at all.

Another example of the unfairness of resolution 181 is, other than that indigenous Palestinians were going to receive less than half of what they used to own; in the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine’s resolution, it states that “the Jews will have the more economically developed part of the country embracing practically the whole of the citrus-producing area which includes a large number of Arab products.”

I still wonder how refusing this resolution would be considered “a mistake”. President Mahmoud Abbas is doing his best to put the blame on the victim.

The partition plan wasn’t a decision to divide the land only, but it was a decision that was to take away many of the Arab Palestinians’ rights. How would you allow unequally dividing your land and giving the settler who recently arrived from Europe, a bigger slice of your land, voluntarily?  Accepting the partition plan would be like paving the way for the Zionist movement to take over the whole land of Palestine, without resistance. If we were to look back at some of the Zionist leaders’ speeches like Ben Gourion, we’ll see that, even the Zionist leadership, weren’t content by what resolution (181) was granting them and they wanted more. The Israeli acceptance of resolution (181) was only a media play; the acceptance was only to lay political umbrella for the Zionists to take over what is larger than what the resolution has offered them.

Considering the refusal of the partition plan to be wrong is one thing, and hoping to build a Palestinian state on the territory granted by the partition plan is another; we shouldn’t mix between the two. The refusal of the partition plan was not a mistake and the Palestinians didn’t lose any golden opportunities by refusing it. It is only naïve and ignorant to consider the refusal to be a mistake.





The mistake may have been in refusing to engage in the UN process on this matter. Had they done so, the Arab diplomats may have been able to persuade the USA that the partition would lead to disaster, as indeed it did. The USA State Department did later realize the unfolding disaster after the Zionists started their ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages, and indeed had a proposal to undo this and start again on a new partition plan. However this got overtaken by a presidential election in USA. Ben Gurion did not want the borders decreed by the UN, but he exploited the Arab disengagement. He accepted the statehood granted by the UN, but used the new Zionist state to organize sufficient military force to override the borders laid down by the UN and to steal for the Zionists the Palestinian land that they coveted.


In 1861, Americans rejected partition into Confederate and Union states.
In the decades after 1951, South Africans rejected partition into "white" South Africa & Bantustan states.

In 1947, the Palestinians rejected partition. They feared that surrendering a majority of their homeland (56%) to a minority of the population (33% made up predominantly of recently arrived foreign colonists) who owned a mere 6.5% of the land, would lead to their own dispossession and the eventual takeover of their country.

The Palestinians' worst fears were confirmed in 1947, immediately after the UN partition vote, when civil war erupted. In the period that followed, the well-armed Zionist forces conquered 78% of Palestine and ethnically cleansed 750,000 (61%) of the 1,237,000 indigenous Palestinians. It should be noted that half of the ethnic cleansing was completed prior to the Israeli Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948 and well before any Arab forces intervened on behalf of the Palestinians. After the cessation of hostilities in 1949, the Palestinians were forcibly prevented, in violation of international law, from returning to their homes by Israel.

The surviving Palestinians' worst fears are still being confirmed in 2012, 65 years after the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began.

The Palestinians rejected and fought against a gross violation of their ancestral and human rights. The fact their ancestral rights were stolen and their human rights are still being trampled on does not make their cause any less just.
Like the American slaves and indigenous South Africans before them, time and justice is on the Palestinians' side.


One only has to look at the outcome to understand when a mistake has been made. Arguing that the position undertaken by the Palestinians in 1947 had merit doesn't remove the simple fact that it was a horrible decision with disastrous consequences.

The same argument can be made for the more absolutist demands made by some Palestinians today. For example, would the Palestinians had been better off if Arafat accepted the proposals at Camp David? Probably. Is it possible to make an argument that the Palestinians were getting shortchanged? Of course.

Practically speaking, the Israelis and the Palestinians are standing on the verge of partition again - this time of the West Bank. Taking a maximalist, rights-based approach could once again lead to a less than stellar outcome for the Palestinians.

A just cause has never guaranteed success.


Before 1947 Palestinains were attempting to negotiate; they were promised by the British mandate Army (and the Government) that a quota had been set on the amount of Jews allowed into Palestine. They didn't keep there promise and Palestinians reacted with protest. This led to Jewish/Arab violence which the British quashed by killing/injuring 10,000 Palestinains. This suggests to me that the British were already intent on there being an Israel with or without negotiating borders. Along with American support Zionist Jews were always going to do their upmost to push out the Palestinains whether Christian or Muslim. So they did the right thing in not accepting the partition plans, why? Becuase firtsly even before 1947 it seemed as if all support was for a new Jewish home (even before WW2 through American/British support for Zionsim) so simply ceeding to partition plans gave no gaurantee of a better life. Secondly, this would have encourgaed further border disputes further down the line because of what would seem to be apparent Palestinian weakness and thirdly, why can anyone even begin to imagine Palestinians would be in a better state? What would happen to all those leaving there homes for a new state? What land? What homes? What jobs? If they had accepted it could have created a small state of severe economic divide between Palestinians themselves and that could have led to politcal infighting etc.

Bottom line is Abbas is beyond stupid for making such a comment and the Palestinains were right to object the UNs 181 plan. At the time by doing so they created a united cause, if they had accepted politcally Palestine would probably be in the same place it is now. At least now (although divided through corruption and silly political infighting) they always have a universal root cause they are fighting for.


"What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts" ~ Nelson Mandela (1985 statement spurning an offer of freedom on condition that he 'unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon').

It could justifiably have been argued that the indigenous South Africans' refusal to compromise their moral cause was a mistake, but ONLY during the first 342 years of their dispossession and oppression by foreign colonists.

It could also justifiably have been argued that Nelson Mandela's personal refusal to compromise his moral cause was a mistake, but ONLY during the first 27 years, 6 months, 6 days of his imprisonment. On the 10,052nd day he became a free man again. What's more, on the 11,601st day after his arrest (or 342 years after his ancestors' dispossession), he was elected President of his ancestral homeland which chose to become a country for ALL its citizens.

Had Mandela compromised his just cause, then he would probably have been forgotten as just another terrorist and/or collaborator, amongst many. Had the indigenous South Africans compromised their just cause, then they would probably still be under the yoke of oppression, with their country plagued by war, amidst frenzied international calls for restraint on all sides to enable negotiations towards a possible 11-state (10 Bantustans) solution.

Should the indigenous South Africans have compromised their freedom in order to reduce the crimes committed against them? The choice (and sacrifice) was theirs alone.

Only free men can negotiate.


Great article dear Jalal. I appreciate your braveness, awareness and professionalism!
Keep it up our neighbor...

Jalal Abukhater

Jalal Abukhater's picture

Jalal Abukhater is a Jerusalemite, he is a graduate MA(hons) International Relations and Politics from the University of Dundee, Scotland.