It has often been said that the State of Israel has never declared its borders. I have often said it myself. But I have recently been corrected by the invaluable talknic, whose blog answers every Zionist argument in great detail. Briefly, the story is as follows.
The Mandate for Palestine
At the end of the Great War of 1914-18 the Allied Powers were occupying the former Turkish Ottoman Empire which covered most of the area that we call the Middle-East. Supported by the League of Nations they decided to break up the Empire into separate entities, with a view to these eventually becoming independent states. France and Britain were given Mandates to set up administrations in these ‘provisional states’. The French Mandate covered what are now the states of Lebanon and Syria; and the British present-day Jordan and Iraq, plus Palestine. The borders of Palestine included what are now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The population of Palestine at that time consisted of a majority of Arab Muslims plus some Arab Christians, Jews, and other smaller groups.
The Jewish National Home
In addition to preparing Palestine for independence, the Mandate for Palestine gave another responsibility to the British administration: the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. They would do this by facilitating Jewish immigration and settlement, with the incoming Jews becoming Palestinian citizens; but all the time ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population were not prejudiced.
To cut a long story short: this did not work. The Arabs would not accept the inward migration of large numbers of Jews into their land; and when the British authorities tried to placate them by restricting Jewish immigration, the Jews complained that Palestine could not be their national home until it had a majority Jewish population. There was a lot of violence, between Jews and Arabs and between both of them and the British.
The Partition Plan
After the Second World War, Britain gave up. They went to the United Nations indicating that they intended to terminate the Mandate, and asked the UN to take over the ‘Question of Palestine’. [There is a very informative booklet giving the history of UN involvement in this Question up to 2008.]
The UN set up a ‘Committee for Palestine’ which, in its September 1947 report produced two possible plans: one proposed by the majority, for a partition of Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab state, with an economic union between them, and with Jerusalem being internationalized; the second from the minority, being a Federal State of Palestine containing separate Jewish and Arab sub-states.
The UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 29th November 1947 (full text) recommended the implementation of the Partition Plan with Economic Union. The map shows the two states, the Jewish state in blue and the Arab state in pink, as recommended. (Click the map to enlarge.)
The plan was accepted by the Jewish representatives, but rejected by the Arab representatives and the Arab states. A civil war ensued between Jews and Arabs, which the British authorities did little to control, as they were in the process of withdrawing their forces in preparation for the end of the Mandate, which was set for 14th May 1948.
It is often said that, because the Arabs did not accept the Partition Plan, it became null and void. In fact, I have often said this myself. But this is wrong. UNGA Resolution 181 (Part F) says (my emphasis):
When the independence of either the Arab or the Jewish State as envisaged in this plan has become effective and the declaration and undertaking, as envisaged in this plan, have been signed by either of them, sympathetic consideration should be given to its application for admission to membership in the United Nations…
So either side could achieve independence and become a member of the United Nations: and this is exactly what Israel did.
In the midst of the civil war, on 14th May1948, the Jewish side made the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel as an independent republic. It based its legitimacy on the UN Partition Plan. Although the Declaration did not specify its borders, it did say this:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.
In other words, it said it was doing its best to ensure the full implementation of the Plan for Partition with Economic Union.
In order to be recognized by other states, Israel needed to specify its borders, and the borders it specified were those in the Partition Plan. For, example in a letter to the President of the United States on 14th May 1948 the Provisional Government of Israel said:
I have the honor to notify you that the state of Israel has been proclaimed as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947.
The State of Israel was recognized within those borders by the USA and other states.
What happened to Palestine when Israel became an independent state? Well it was still Palestine, but in a sorry state. Many Arabs had left the country during the fighting, including much of the political leadership. The Mandate had ended, so there was no government in power. It is usually described as a non-state entity. It could not declare independence, because some of its territory was already under Israeli military control. On 22 May 1948 a letter to the Security Council said [my emphasis]:
The Provisional Government of Israel exercises control over the entire area of the Jewish State as defined in the Resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947. In addition, the Provisional Government exercises control over the city of Jaffa; Northwestern Galilee, including Acre, Zib, Base, and the Jewish settlements up to the Lebanese frontier; a strip of territory alongside the road from Hilda to Jerusalem; almost all of new Jerusalem; and of the Jewish quarter within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The 1949 Armistice Lines
Forces from the neighboring Arab states were involved to some extent in the Civil War, but immediately after the Israeli Declaration the Arab League announced an invasion of Palestine ‘to restore law and order’, citing Chapter 8 of the UN Charter concerning regional security. This resulted in a full-scale war between Israel and the Arab states.
This invasion is sometimes described as an attack on Israel, but the majority of the fighting was outside the borders of Israel, and the Security Council never regarded the invasion as an act of aggression. Indeed, as mentioned above, considerable Palestinian territory was already under Israeli military control, and it was Israel that continued to aggressively acquire territory. On 16th September 1948 the Israel government issued the Area of Jurisdiction and Powers Ordinance, which said:
Any law applying to the whole of the State of Israel shall be deemed to apply to the whole of the area including both the area of the State of Israel and any part of Palestine which the Minister of Defence has defined by proclamation as being held by the Defence Army of Israel.
The application of Israeli law in occupied territory, so effectively incorporating it into Israel, is an illegal annexation.
The war ended in the first half of 1949 with armistices being signed between Israel and the Arab states. [It was during this process that Israel became of member-state of the UN.] The Armistice Lines are also shown in the map above. The war left Jordan in control of the area marked on the map as ‘West Bank’, including East Jerusalem; Egypt in control of Gaza; and Israel in control of all the land between its own territory and the Armistice Line, including West Jerusalem. There had also been another large exodus of Palestinian Arabs as a result of the fighting. Jordan annexed the West Bank area, though this was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan. All of Palestine was under the control of either Israel or Jordan or Egypt.
In a response to the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine in May 1949 the Israeli Delegation said:
We consider that… all areas falling within the control and jurisdiction of Israel under the terms of the armistice agreements concluded by Israel with Egypt, the Lebanon, the Hashemite Jordan Kingdom and Syria should be formally recognized as Israel territory.
They were firmly rejected:
The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary, and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims and positions of either Party to the Armistice as regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question.
Although territory between the Partition Plan border and the Armistice Line is administered by Israel as if it were part of the state, and so the Armistice Line is regarded as the de facto border, the UN Partition Plan remains the only legal and recognized border of Israel, until such time as there is an ultimate settlement of the Palestine question.
The Jews accepted the Partition Plan, and have to accept the consequences of that decision. The Arabs rejected the Partition Plan, and have to accept the consequences of that decision
From my on-line conversations with Israelis, I am convinced that most of them have no idea about the existence and location of Israel’s legal borders. Indeed, even the veteran Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, who has lived through all of this, says Israel is a border-less state. It is important that Israelis, and everyone who is interested in the Israel-Palestine issue, knows about these borders, because that knowledge puts many other issues into a different context.
From Jewish National Home to Jewish State. Some Zionists say that the Mandate for Palestine gave (or allocated, or designated) all of Palestine for the Jewish State; that this is still legally valid; and that all of Mandatory Palestine rightfully belongs to Israel. The argument is fallacious on numerous grounds, but that is irrelevant. Even if it had been true, it was superseded by the Declaration of the State of Israel and the accompanying specification of its borders. Once they had been internationally recognized, there was no possibility of going back. The concept of a Jewish National Home in all of Palestine had been replaced by the concept of a Jewish State in part of Palestine.
Stolen Land. The land between the legal borders and the Armistice Line has been illegally incorporated into Israel. Since Israel has no intention of ever returning that land, it is correctly described as stolen land. In the Partition Plan map above, it can be seen that there is a considerable amount of Palestinian land (pink) between the Armistice Line and the territory of Israel (blue), amounting to some 40% of the area of Palestine outside the legal borders of Israel.
The Palestinians have already said they would concede the stolen land to Israel in a final settlement. That is why they say they will accept partial justice, and why they have declared the Armistice Line as the border of their state. But no doubt they would be entitled to compensation, which would be considerable, considering that the stolen land includes the towns of Acre, Ashkelon, Nazareth, Beersheba, Lod, and Jaffa. Plus…
Jerusalem. Zion is a synonym for Jerusalem, the ancient city at the centre of Jewish religious life. Zionism is the political expression of the Jewish longing to return to the ancient home, expressed in the liturgical use of the phrase “next year in Jerusalem”. How is it then, that in the the Declaration of the State of Israel, no mention at all is made of Jerusalem? The answer is that the whole of Jerusalem lies entirely outside the legal borders of Israel.
If Israel had specified that Jerusalem was its capital in its Declaration of statehood, it would not have been recognized by other states: how could the capital of a state be outside its borders? Only after Israel had achieved recognition was Jerusalem declared capital, in December 1948. This is not accepted by the international community, and the city hosts no foreign embassies. The 1949 armistice ran through the middle of Jerusalem, with West Jerusalem being controlled by Israel, and East Jerusalem by Jordan.
Tell the truth to the children. On 19th November 2012, 400 elementary school children from Ashkelon, Beersheba and other places in southern Israel visited the Knesset. This was at a time when the south was subject to rocket attacks from Gaza. The Speaker of the Knesset told them that “this round of fighting will end and this is our land and no one will move us from here”. He was right to assure them that the current round of fighting will end, because it always does. He was right to assure them that no-one will move them, because no-one is trying to do that. But telling them that ‘this is our land’ is a half-truth at best, because Ashkelon and Beersheba are outside the legal borders of Israel. What he should have said is that ‘it will be our land when we have a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and then all the fighting will stop’.
The status of the West Bank
[Work in progress]
Short link: religion-science-peace.org/?p=317