From the Balfour Declaration to Partition … to Two States?

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an called the Balfour Declaration “117 words that changed the face of the Middle East”.


In an article published on Friday 2 November 2007, 90 years after the Balfour Declaration was made, Ma’an wrote that “Despite the condition that the creation of the Jewish homeland should not prejudice the rights of Palestinian communities, that ill-fated decision has led to a continuing state of conflict, the deaths of thousands of people and created a huge refugee problem, with many Palestinians exiled from their ancestral homeland”. The Ma’an article on the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is here.

International Law Professor Marcelo G. Kohen has written that “The 1922 Mandate of Palestine recognized for the first time in an international instrument that the Jews constituted a People”.

He also wrote that “Zionist policy did not aim at the subjugation of the Arab population of Palestine”.

Professor Kohen expressed these views in a chapter he wrote, “La Longue Marche vers la reconnaissance territoriale de l’autre” (”The Long March towards the territorial recognition of the other”, contributing to the book Israel et l’Autre (Israel and the Other), edited by William Ossipow, and published by Labor et Fides in Geneva in 2005. (Translation is by this writer).

The Balfour Declaration was written at the height of the First World War, when Britain and the Allied powers were fighting Germany and its ally, the Ottoman Empire.

By the time World War I ended, the Ottoman Empire had disintegrated, and it was agreed at the San Remo Conference held in 1920 that the Palestine Mandate would be assigned to Britain.

The Palestine Mandate formally incorporated the terms of the Balfour Declaration, and stated: “…the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country; and … recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country…”

It also stated that “The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes”. The Palestine Mandate is reproduced here.

After the Second World War, Britain informed the new United Nations Organization, founded in 1946 as the successor to the League of Nations, that it wanted to end its Mandatory responsibilites — and asked the UN to find a solution. On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.

On 14 May 1948, Britain withdrew from Palestine, and representatives of the Jewish community in Palestine and the Zionist movement abroad met in Tel Aviv to declare the establishment of the State of Israel. The Declaration states that “the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country … was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home … On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable”. The full text of The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, mentioning the endorsement, in the Balfour Declaration, of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, can be found here.

Professor Kohen also argued, in his chapter in Israel and the Other, that “The 1922 White Paper said that Palestine was not meant to become as Jewish as England is English – this was not the objective. It did not mean that all of Palestine would be converted into the Jewish National Home, but that the Jewish national home would be established in Palestine. The form that the Jewish national home was not a question that the League of Nations mandate dealt with…”

“The UK had a great/heavy responsibility as a Mandatory power. The British Government showed itself incapable of leading Palestine to independence, which would have meant taking into account the interests of two peoples that were on the territory … When the UN was created, the UK it did not put Palestine under the newly-created Trusteeship regime, but instead seized the UN General Assembly of the question, and said it was putting a unilateral end to its administration. The UK tried to free itself, unilaterally, of its treaty responsibilities.

The Mandate constituted an international regime, which could only be ended by a competent international body (the UNGA—as determined by the League of Nations in its resolution of 18 April 1946.)

The (British) seized the UNGA of the matter in February 1947, and a Special Session started in April 1947. On 29 November 1947, the UNGA voted to adopt a Partition Plan – UN GA Resolution 181 (II), which called for the creation of two states in Palestine — one Jewish and one Arab (Jerusalem was to remain under UN rule for at least 10 years)…”

Professor Kohen made the following points about the legal basis of the Partition Plan:
(1) the UNGA was competent to adopt it (it was the only body competent, and it asked the UN Security Council to take measures necessary to put it into effect), and it did not go beyond its competences;
(2) the Partition Plan recognized two peoples (this dated from the League of Nations Mandate);
(3) the principle of territorial integrity is not affected by a decision to distribute a territory between its two title-holders;
(4) the Partition Plan is in full conformity with the UN Charter and with international law;
(5) it explained to the parties the procedure to follow for the creation of their State (singular? Is this just French grammar?), to define the frontiers, and it mentioned guarantees that all the citizens of the two states must respect, etc.
(6) even if the parties arrived at a bilaterally negotiated accord, the UNGA would have to approve it.

On the night of 14 May 1948, as the last British troops withdrew, the establishment of the state of Israel was declared, according to historic rights of the Jewish people on the territory, the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations Mandate, and UNGA Resolution 181.

“Once the Jewish national home was created in one part of Palestine, there was no justification for Jewish settlement in other parts of Palestine”, Professor Kohen wrote.

The “Arab” State envisaged in the 1947 UN Partition Resolution 181 has yet to come into existence — and is still sorely lacking, as Haidar Abdel Shafei said at the opening of the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.

The creation of a Palestinian State is supposed to be the aim — or eventual goal — of the Middle East peace conference– or “meeting” — that the U.S. is supposed to convene by the end of this year in Annapolis.

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One thought on “From the Balfour Declaration to Partition … to Two States?

  1. Pingback: Today is the 97th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration… | Palestine Mandate

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