The End of the Mandate and the Partition Plan
The enormous drain on human and economic resources of the Allied powers during and immediately after World War II forced a significant rethinking of political and strategic policies for the postwar era in most of the major states of the world.
In Britain, the crucial decision was taken to reexamine the empire and reevaluate positions “east of Suez.” The British position in Palestine became increasingly untenable, and it soon became an obvious choice for British withdrawal: The costs of continuing the mandate far outweighed the benefits to Britain of remaining there, especially with the growing pressures accelerated by the war and its subsequent effects on the regional and external players.
The British, reflecting on their inability over the previous decades to find a solution to the Palestine issue that would satisfy the conflicting views of the Jews and the Arabs, and reconsidering the cost in men and pounds sterling of their continuation as the mandatory power, decided to relinquish their control over the Palestine mandate.
On February 15, 1947, Great Britain turned the issue of the Palestine mandate over to the United Nations. In effect, the British gave up on the issues affecting Palestine and, rather than suggesting a serious resolution of the issue, chose to place the problem on the agenda of the international community. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was created to investigate the issue and suggest appropriate measures to be taken.
As part of the Zionist lobbying effort, WZO president Chaim Weizmann met with U.S. President Truman. These meetings were crucial to generate American support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine along the lines preferred by the Zionist movement. Direct and significant U.S. involvement in the Palestine question had developed since the shift of the Zionist movement from Europe to the United States during World War II.
Toward the end of the hostilities, the United States was also involved in the question of the future of the displaced persons in the concentration camps liberated by the U.S. and Allied forces. Truman’s interest and concern with this issue were among the earliest of the U.S. involvement in the Palestine matter.
After considerable deliberation, the UNSCOP proposed a plan that called for the partition of the British mandate of Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, with an international regime (corpus separatum) for the city of Jerusalem and its environs, as the city was deemed too holy to be accorded to either. The partition plan proposed boundaries for a 4,500-square-mile Arab state that would be home to about 800,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews.
The Jewish state was to consist of some 5,500 square miles where some 498,000 Jews and 468,000 Arabs would live. The Jewish state was located in the coastal plain along the Mediterranean Sea from about Ashkelon to Acre, the eastern area of the Galilee, and much of the Negev desert. The Arab state included the remainder of the territory of the mandate west of the Jordan River, except for Jerusalem and the immediate area around it, which were included in the internationalized zone.
All would be linked in an economic union. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly, by a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions and one member absent, adopted Resolution 181 (II), the plan of partition for Palestine. Thus, the international system created a Jewish state of Israel, within the territory of the Palestine mandate.
The Zionist movement and other Jews were divided concerning the United Nations decision. Among the Zionist groups in Palestine and the Diaspora there were essentially two perspectives. Both believed that they had been offered less than they wanted, but the left-of-center labor Zionists adopted a practical stance and believed that acceptance of the partition was the most logical and appropriate step.
The right-wing of the Zionists, primarily the Revisionists, believed that they should have been awarded all of the land west of the Jordan River as well as the territory east of the river that the British had severed from the original league of Nations mandate for Palestine to create the state of Transjordan. Nevertheless, there was little that could be done.
Thus, the yishuv, though unhappy with the exclusion of Jerusalem, and the Jewish Agency accepted the decision of the General Assembly as an important step toward independent statehood and a practical necessity for providing refuge for survivors of the Holocaust. When the new state of Israel declared its independence in May 1948, it was within the lines drawn by the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the Arab leadership in Palestine and the league of Arab States unconditionally rejected the UN partition plan on the grounds that all of Palestine should be awarded to a Palestinian Arab state. The Arab rejection was based on the position that the United Nations had no right to give away approximately half of Palestine to the Zionists and that Palestinian Arabs should not be made to pay for Europe’s crimes against the Jews. The latter argument was advanced despite the fact that the Balfour Declaration had been issued before the Nazis rose to power in Germany.
These clashing perspectives provided a basis for the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. The partition plan was— supported by the United States and the Soviet Union, both of whom seemed to be courting the new Jewish state as an ally in the east-west struggle for regional mastery.Fighting erupted in Palestine after the adoption of the partition plan; the first Jewish buses were attacked the next morning; six passengers were killed, and many others were wounded.
Armed Palestinian Arabs aided by volunteers smuggled in from neighboring Arab countries launched attacks on Jewish settlements and facilities. The forces of the yishuv, especially the Haganah, were able to deal effectively with this threat in many areas. The civil war between the communities in Palestine was the prelude to full-scale hostilities after the British mandate ended on May 15, 1948.