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UN's 1947 Partition Plan made Palestine a deal it had to refuse

A much-rehearsed centerpiece of Zionist discourse is an argument that begins and ends with the Partition Plan. It starts with the assertion that the Palestinians walked away from the negotiating table in 1948 and ends with the claim that if only they had accepted the plan they would no longer be stateless. In other words, the Arabs' fate was "rightly" sealed by their refusal to endorse an arrangement that was oh so fair and for which Zionists made such magnanimous compromises.

Sandwiched between these two bookends of Zionist narrative -- of Arab "crime" and "deserved punishment" -- are other notable myths, each of which has served to quell the guilty conscience of those who know, but cannot face, Israel's unconscionable history: its ethnic cleansing of Palestine, a pre-meditated act of depopulation that chased 75 per cent of Palestinians from their homeland. Noted historian Ilan Pappe has documented this dark episode with an abundance of archival evidence.

For the apologists of Zionism, the Arab rejection of the Partition Plan has been a favourite rhetorical device: a red herring. A creature of exceptional longevity, this strange fish belongs to a family of other red herrings -- figments of the imagination -- that have whirled for decades in public consciousness. And such red herrings, for all their fictiveness, have constituted powerful tropes of mass persuasion, diversions from Israel's original sins. Suffused with a tone of self-righteousness, these suspect (or "fishy") tales have lulled the Zionist conscience back into contented slumber and shielded it from the demons of '48. Today these tales may be seen for what they are: dubious alibis, state myths spawned from a skewed and selective memory of the Partition Plan.

In grappling with their collective past, 20th-century Zionist tribunes scaled the highest moral peak to justify Israel’s brutal consummation of statehood. They took the Partition Plan as a rhetorical site on which to herald their moral superiority and "self-sacrificial" compromise in accepting a wedge of the pie that was less than their "deserved" whole. As Simha Flapan writes in The Birth of Israel, the original Zionist dream included an expanse of territory greater than "the 1948 state combined with the 1967 conquests of the West Bank, the Jordan River, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights of Syria." 

"We acted morally, cooperatively, and legitimately," Flapan continues. "But the Arabs left the negotiating table rashly and thus provoked a war." Such is the unedited subtext of the "partition trope," invoked by countless Israeli statesmen in their conversations with foreign dignitaries. Today, in this 70th anniversary year of the Partition Plan, the apologists of Zionism rehearse this same refrain. And yet the age-old mantra conceals two significant realities:

1. In 1947, Palestinians made up two-thirds of the population of Palestine. However, the UN allocated only 42 per cent of the land to them. Meanwhile, the UN allocated 56 percent of Palestine to foreign Jewish colonizers who only made up one-third of the population. Despite this striking injustice, "Palestinian resistance to this invasion...was and is portrayed as aggression, while the Yishuv’s [pre-1948 Jewish population] offensive to expand its territory tenfold against the wishes of the native inhabitants is portrayed as self-defense."

2. The plan constituted a flagrant iniquity that dealt a humiliating blow to the indigenous population. Their land had been carved up for the foreigners' taking. And to add insult to injury, they would be subject to the newcomers' self-described moral largesse and exemplary "self-sacrifice." But it was Ben-Gurion’s far-reaching agenda that exposed the deceit at the heart of such histrionics. Addressing the Zionist executive in 1937, he revealed that his support for partition was purely tactical. "After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and expand to the whole of [biblical] Palestine," he argued.

Again, in 1937, in a letter to his son, he wrote: "A Jewish state is not the beginning...we shall organize a sophisticated defense force -- an elite army....And then I am sure that we will not be prevented from settling in other parts of the country, either through mutual agreement and understanding with our neighbours, or by other means."

On one of his speaking tours, Ilan Pappe delivered a fictive parable to illustrate the Zionist rationale for evacuating Palestinians from their homeland. Here it is -- adapted and paraphrased:

Imagine you lived in Bristol. A stranger, accompanied by a police constable, comes to your door. With bible in hand, the stranger declares: “My ancestors lived here 2000 years ago. You must leave. You can take the sofa, but then get the hell out.”  

Such was the violent message inscribed in the Partition Deal. It was an offer that any self-respecting party had to refuse.

Michelle Weinroth is a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. She is based in Ottawa on unceded Algonquin territory. 

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