[Sources: the very useful UN booklet The Question of Palestine and the United Nations is cited as QPUN below. The Israel archivist’s English paraphrase of the Cabinet Protocols (brief summaries of meetings) is cited as ICP below.]
It has often been said that the State of Israel has never declared its borders. I have often said it myself. It is one of those things that ‘everyone knows’. But I have 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 foreign 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’.
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 the City of Jerusalem being internationalized; with the second plan from the minority being a Federal State of Palestine containing separate Jewish and Arab sub-states.
The UN General Assembly resolution of 29th November 1947 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. The Plan was clever. Although each state was made up of several pieces, two neutral crossing points ensured that each had a contiguous territory. (Click the map to enlarge.)
The plan was accepted by the Zionist leadership, despite strong reservations on three points: they wanted more land because the Jewish population was growing rapidly by immigration; the plan put some half million Arabs within the Jewish State, almost equal to the number of Jews at the time of the report [QPUN page5]; and Jerusalem, the symbol of Zionist aspirations, would be an international zone entirely surrounded by the Arab State. They accepted, because their own aim had always been a Jewish State, and a Jewish State in part of Palestine was preferable to the failed attempt to create a vaguely-defined Jewish National Home within a bi-national state of Palestine.
The plan was rejected by the Arab Palestinians and the Arab states. Not because it put 40% of the Arab population into the Jewish State rather than the Arab State (though that was certainly unacceptable) but because they rejected the whole idea of dividing their land. In fact, they had always rejected the whole Zionist project. They had fought on the British side against the Turks in the First World War, and had been promised independence. The attempt to make Palestine a Jewish National Home would, they said, take away their right to self-determination. Correctly, according to the Report of the Palestine Committee [Chapter II paragraph 176.] It would end up, they said, with them being ruled by Jewish immigrants from afar. (This was prescient: since 1967 all of Mandatory Palestine has been ruled by Israel.)
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. It is one of those things that ‘everyone knows’. But it 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…
If the resolution had not said this, one side would have been able to veto the independence of the other. Also, independence had to be ‘as envisaged in the Plan’: there was no opportunity to haggle over borders or other issues. Each side had to make its own decision.
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.
The Civil War
The publication of the Partition Plan led to a fierce civil war in Palestine 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 to expire at midnight on 14th May 1948. The war involved massacres and population displacements.
In the run-up to the May 14th deadline, with the civil war still raging, the international community became very concerned about the situation in Palestine, and there were fears that the Arab States would intervene in the conflict at the end of the Mandate. The US suggested that the Mandate should be replaced by a temporary UN Trusteeship, and that the Zionist leadership should delay the declaration of the new Jewish State. This was not accepted. The Zionist leadership created a National Council, an embryonic parliament for the new state, and a 13-member National Administration which was to become the provisional government of the new state. It was led by David Ben-Gurion.
The National Administration met on May 12th 1948. The story of that meeting is told in an article by Shelley Kleiman on the Israel government website. They took the final decision to go ahead with the declaration of statehood, despite the fact that the US Administration wanted them to delay. Contacted by telephone in New York, Chaim Weizmann, the Chairman of the World Zionist Organization, endorsed the decision, and he wrote a personal letter to President Truman appealing to him to recognise the new state.
The meeting went on to consider a draft Declaration. There was a heated discussion about the borders. Some members thought they should be mentioned in the Declaration, but Ben-Gurion was vehemently opposed. He said:
We accepted the UN Resolution, but the Arabs did not. They are preparing to make war on us. If we defeat them and capture western Galilee or territory on both sides of the road to Jerusalem, these areas will become part of the state. Why should we obligate ourselves to accept boundaries that in any case the Arabs do not accept?
I call this the Ben-Gurion doctrine. The meeting adopted this point of view by a vote of five to four in favour, the other four members being absent.
A five-member subcommittee was appointed to produce a revised draft of the Declaration, and the ceremony to proclaim the new state was set for 4 p.m on the 14th May, to take effect one minute after the expiry of the Mandate, that is, at 00:01 on 15th May. The National Administration met again on 13th May at 6 p.m to consider the Declaration again. Various issues were raised, and, we are told, Ben-Gurion took it home and rewrote it extensively, omitting any reference to the UN Partition Plan.
The Declaration was considered by the National Council the next morning, and finally approved unanimously, on the second vote, one hour before the scheduled proclamation. The secretarial staff typed up the final changes, and the document arrived at the Tel Aviv Museum just in time for the ceremony in which Ben-Gurion read out the Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel.
But here is a puzzle: the Declaration does in fact base itself on “OUR NATURAL AND HISTORIC RIGHT AND ON THE STRENGTH OF THE RESOLUTION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY” and contains a further two paragraphs about the Partition Plan.
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 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.
Those final changes had restored the references to the Partition Plan. The Zionist leadership changed their minds. Why?
They were thinking about the next step: recognition. To be recognised as a state Israel needed to have a defined territory [Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention]; a state without borders is a meaningless concept. And what borders could they possibly specify? Those of the Partition Plan. The borders are the essence of the Plan. They had publicly accepted it. They were the borders they had already prepared to defend under Plan Dalet. Those two paragraphs implicitly declare the borders of the State.
And on the same day they also made that declaration explicit.
Recognition by the USA
The letter from Weizmann had done the trick, and on the 14th May President Truman recognised the State of Israel. The story of events that day in Washington is told in the cablegram that Epstein, the representative of the Jewish Agency in the USA, sent to Shertok, the Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government in Israel.
Epstein was informed by the White House that Truman would recognize Israel if a formal request was received before 12 noon. (At that time there was a clock difference of 6 hours between Washington and Palestine, so the deadline was 6 p.m in Tel Aviv, after the reading of the Declaration). Epstein also received a separate telephone call asking about the borders, and he replied that they were according to the Partition Plan resolution. After consulting with other Zionist leaders letter he wrote the following letter to Truman (my emphasis).
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, and that the Provisional Government has been charged to assume the rights and duties of government for preserving law and order within the boundaries of Israel, for defending the State against external aggression, and for discharging the obligations of Israel to the other nations of the world, in accordance with international law.
This government has been informed that a Jewish State has been proclaimed in Palestine and recognition has been requested by the government thereof. The United States recognizes the Provisional Government as the de facto authority of the new state of Israel.
The original of Epstein’s letter is in the Truman library. There is a facsimile here. The original draft of Truman’s reply was returned to the USA by Shimon Peres, President of Israel, when he went to Washington to receive the President’s Medal of Freedom from President Obama in June 2012. The recognition was timed at 6:11 p.m EST, ten minutes after Israel’s Declaration became effective.
Although Truman’s reply did not mention the Partition Plan, the recognition by some other states did, for example Australia.
One wonders how Epstein came to include a mention of the frontiers in the letter. Was there a draft already in existence? Was it because the White House had already asked about the frontiers? Was it because he knew the leadership had accepted the Partition Plan and had always intended that its borders should be the borders of Israel? Did he speak to Tel Aviv that day? (His cablegram suggests not.)
However it happened, Israel regards Epstein’s letter as the formal request to the USA for recognition. There is no doubt that on the 14th May 1948 the State of Israel was declared on the basis of the Partition Plan and with the borders specified in that Plan. And the Provisional Government publicly acknowledged these borders many times. For example, 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 above areas, outside the territory of the State of Israel, are under the control of the military authorities of the State of Israel, who are strictly adhering to international regulations in this regard.
Declared borders can be changed. Any two states can agree changes to their mutual border, providing any inhabitants whose citizenship is to be changed vote agreement in a referendum. That would be legal annexation. Changing borders by conquest through war is not legal, because it violates the fundamental principles of the United Nations: that
Article 2.3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered;
Article 2.4 All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
From these principles the maxim that it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war has been affirmed by the UN General Assembly, The UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice.
Israel has never claimed sovereignty over territory outside these borders. Israel has never made an agreement with any neighbour to change its borders (other than perhaps minor revisions in the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan).
The Partition Plan borders are the legal sovereign borders of Israel to this day. All territory that Israel has acquired outside these borders has been acquired by war, in violation of the UN Charter.
Having made its declaration of borders on 14th May 1948, the Provisional Government were soon talking again about capturing territory: the Ben-Gurion doctrine had re-emerged. As early as May 20th 1948, two days before the statement to the UN quoted above, they decided [ICP] that
The United Nations was to be informed that Israel would not respect the partition lines of 1947 unless there was an Arab partner, as stipulated in the Partition Plan of 29th November 1947.
(The Partition Plan stipulated no such thing, it explicitly said that either state could declare independence, one was not made dependent on the other.) There was, of course, no possibility of there being an Arab partner.
I doubt they actually said anything to the UN, because this would have come to the attention of the USA, who would have realised that the declaration by the State of Israel of its borders as specified by the Partition Plan was a deception designed to gain recognition by the United States and other nations. The policy was clear, the partition borders did exist, but Israel had no intention of sticking to them.
They always wanted more territory, and, as we will see, went out to get it.
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 their correct context.
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.
Palestine. What happened to the rest of Palestine after Israel’s declaration and recognition? It was in a sorry state. Many Arabs had left the country during the fighting, including much of the political leadership. It was still called Palestine, its inhabitants Palestinians, who still had the right to self-determination in the territory left to them. It was a defined territory, with its borders being those recommended for the Arab state in the Partition Plan, since the Jewish state of the Plan had become the independent State of Israel. But Palestine had no government because the Mandate had ended. It was a non-self-governing territory. The Palestinians were represented by the Arab League until 1964 when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was founded.
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.
Invasion by the Arab States.
Israel was founded in the midst of civil war. There was fighting between Jews and Arabs throughout Palestine. At 00:01 on May 15th those Jewish militias, fighting outside the area allocated to the Jewish state in the Partition Plan, became the armed forces of Israel, fighting outside its borders in the territory of Palestine.
On May 18th, the Security Council asked the Provisional Government to justify the presence of their forces in Palestine, outside their borders. It said
A. In order to repel aggression, and as part of our essentially defensive plan, to prevent these areas being used as bases for attacks against the State of Israel.
B. In order to protect Jewish population, traffic and economic life, including the protection of those Jewish settlements outside the area of the State where, owing to the absence of any duly constituted authority and the failure to implement the guarantees and safeguards provided for under the General Assembly Plan, life and property are in imminent danger. Similar considerations apply in the absence of any international statute for the City of Jerusalem to the Jewish area of the City.
Both of these are reasonable: a forward defence to prevent attacks on the State of Israel, and an intervention in the neighbouring territory, where there was no lawful authority, to protect Jewish life and property. (Apparently they were not interested in protecting Arab life and property.)
On the night of 14th to 15th May forces of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, TransJordan and Egypt entered Palestine. Because Israeli forces were already in Palestine, the civil war in former Palestine became a war between the State of Israel and the five Arab states. The Arab League announced this invasion openly in a cablegram to the UN. The reasons given were to restore law and order, and to resist Jewish aggression against the Arab population: the mirror image of the arguments given by Israel to justify the presence of their forces in Palestine. They also claimed authority under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, as a recognised regional organisation, to intervene to prevent the conflict spreading.
Strangling the infant.
Of course, everyone knows their real intention was to ‘strangle the infant state at birth’, as Ben-Gurion put it in a report to the Provisional Government on June 3rd. But as we have already seen, what ‘everyone knows’ is not always the truth.
Ben Gurion, in the same report, also said that a plan which ‘fell into Israeli hands’ showed that the Arab states intended to capture Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem in a ‘lightning strike’ and that King Abdullah of TransJordan was to be crowned King of Palestine in Jerusalem on May 25th. Now, King Abdullah may have harboured such an ambition, but it is inconceivable that the other Arab states would go along with it. I suggest that the ‘lightning strike’ is a fiction.
The Arab League cablegram is ambiguous. Is the Palestine in which they are intervening the Palestine of 14th May, Mandatory Palestine, or is it the Palestine of the 15th May, the territory outside the borders of Israel? Since the cablegram is dated 15th May, a legalistic reading of the text suggests the latter. On the other hand, since the text does not mention Israel, and since the Arab League had no intention of recognizing Israel, a natural reading could be the former, that they intended to enter ‘Israel’ to overthrow what they saw as an illegitimate government.
One could also argue as follows. By waiting until the end of the Mandate the Arab League showed restraint, since it allowed time for the Jewish militia to prepare for war. By writing a long cablegram to the UN, claiming authority for its actions under the UN Charter, they showed that UN support was important to them. The League must have known that Israel was already a legally constituted and recognized state on 15th May, and any attempt to re-unite Palestine by force would have been condemned and rejected by the world community. They would not have done it, even if they had been able to.
What did the Security Council do about the situation? [work in progress]
Most of the fighting in the war was in Palestine, outside the borders of Israel. There were two penetrations into Israeli territory in the early days. One Egyptian army crossed a corner of the Negev desert into central Palestine, and Syrians entered Israeli territory in Eastern Galilee which was their only route into Palestine. These two penetrations into Israel could be justified by military necessity and the need to protect Arab populations, just as the presence of Israeli forces in Palestine could be justified.
Another Egyptian army went north along the coast to capture Gaza, this area being outside the borders of Israel. They could easily have justified crossing Israeli territory to reach Jaffa. This was an Arab town, and in the Partition Plan was to have been an enclave of the Arab state within the Jewish State. At that time, Tel Aviv was a suburb of Jaffa. If they had taken Jaffa, they might have felt a strong temptation to capture the Provisional Government and lock them up. History could have been very different.
But it never happened. On balance, there is little real evidence of an intention by the Arab League to ‘strangle the infant.’ Maybe some military historian has knowledge of the actual Arab battle plans which would clarify things, but then military history is usually written by the winners.
Israel the Crocodile
What about Israel? Was it just defending its border and protecting Jews outside its border, or did it have a hidden agenda? An agenda certainly, but hardly hidden. We have already seen above how Ben-Gurion was talking about capturing territory that would become part of the State on 13th May, and how the Provisional Government decided not to respect the Partition Plan borders. In Ben-Gurion’s report to the Provisional Government on 3rd June, he used the word ‘conquered’ in connection with areas outside the borders of Israel.
I am reminded of the children’s story The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl. The crocodile likes to eat human children, and to capture them he employs ‘cunning plans and clever tricks’. The agenda of Israel the Crocodile was to gobble up more territory. During the war the area under Israeli control expanded, until the armistice agreements of 1949 left all of Mandatory Palestine in Israeli hands, except for the West Bank (Judea & Samaria) and East Jerusalem, which were under military occupation by TransJordan (later Jordan), and the Gaza strip which was under military occupation by Egypt.
The territory captured by Israel in the war, between the legal borders of Israel and the 1949 Armistice Lines, was not held by Israel under military occupation. This is where the clever trick comes in.
It is introduced quite casually in the ICP of May 30th 1948:
… ongoing discussion… on the legal status of territories beyond the 1947 partition lines. If everyone stops and goes back to the partition plan, so will Israel; until then, here’s how we’ll apply our law to the newly acquired areas.’
This was formalised on 16th September 1948 when the Provisional 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.
If they had held the territory under military occupation, they would have had to follow the laws of war, under which the civilian population would have been protected. But with the territory administered under Israeli civil law, they could do what they wanted. In the Cabinet meeting on May 20th 1948 they said [ICP]
A legal device for the acquisition of Arab property was to be promulgated.
and on July 21st:
Then there was a discussion about the territories taken during the hostilities and their Arab inhabitants. It was decided to appoint a ministerial committee to make particular decisions. In the meantime, however, Arabs who left would not be allowed back, as a general rule with possible exceptions. The Ministry of Finance would manage unclaimed property. An inquiry would be made into the reasons for the departure of the Arab population. The ministerial committee would have the authority to destroy empty villages.
None of the actions I have emphasised would have been allowed under the laws of war.
Administering the captured territory under Israeli civil law meant that it was treated as if it were part of Israel. In this way, it became in effect (de facto) annexed to Israel, and the Armistice Line became the de facto border of Israel, the border within which the State has been developed. Of course, this was not a legal annexation, because the territory was not obtained by agreement, but by war.
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 over 50% of the area of Palestine outside the legal borders of Israel. Because Israel has no intention of returning this territory, I call it the stolen land.
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, Ramle, Jaffa and West Jerusalem.
In case any reader still doubts that Israel’s intentions in the ’48-49 war were aggressive, here is the clincher. 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 wanted the acquisition by war of the territory they had captured to be legalised, and the Armistice Line to become the permanent border. 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.
The Sacred Trust
Was there an alternative way in which Israel could have held the stolen land without a continuing military occupation? Yes indeed, and there is a whole chapter in the UN Charter, Chapter XI saying what should happen when a state (Israel) is in the position of administering the territory of a non-self-governing people (the Palestinians). Here is an extract.
Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories, and, to this end:
to ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses;
to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement;
By forcefully incorporating the stolen land into the state, was Israel respecting the sacred trust it had assumed under Chapter XI? Certainly not. The UN General Assembly may have had this case in mind when it resolved as follows (Resolution 2625):
The territory of a colony or other Non-Self-Governing Territory has, under the Charter, a status separate and distinct from the territory of the State administering it; and such separate and distinct status under the Charter shall exist until the people of the colony or Non-Self-Governing Territory have exercised their right of self-determination in accordance with the Charter, and particularly its purposes and principles.
The stolen land has been acquired by Israel through war, in violation of the fundamental principles of the United Nations. By administering the land under Israeli civil law, treating as if it were part of the state, Israel has violated the sacred trust imposed upon it by Chapter XI of the UN Charter.
The Ben-Gurion Doctrine
We have seen above that, at the National Administration meeting on the 12th May 1948, Ben-Gurion asked
Why should we obligate ourselves to accept boundaries that in any case the Arabs do not accept?
This theme appeared several times in the Government Protocols [ ICP]. On May 20th “the United Nations was to be informed that Israel would not respect the partition lines of 1947 unless there was an Arab partner”. On May 30th “If everyone stops and goes back to the partition plan, so will Israel”. One June 2nd “the cabinet reiterated its commitment to the partition plan only if the other side accepted the plan“.
The Ben-Gurion Doctrine is the idea that, because the Palestinian Arabs rejected the Partition Plan, Israel was free to seize territory allocated to the Arabs under that Plan. It is used frequently to this day by pro-Zionist apologists, who find it perfectly reasonable.
But look at it from the Arab side. While under a foreign administration in the Mandatory period, they had been forced to accept large-scale immigration from Europe and beyond. That was unjust. Then just over half of their homeland was to be given away to those immigrants. What people could accept that? It was more injustice. And now, Israel was saying that, because they resisted having half their land taken away, Israel was going to take even more. It defies logic. It piles injustice upon injustice upon injustice. And it is illegal, because Israel was acquiring territory outside its borders, by war, in violation of the UN Charter.
On 29th June 1949 Foreign Minister Sharett gave a speech in the Knesset about the frontiers of Israel. Here is an extract.
Those who try today to revive the territorial principles of November 29, 1947, as a basis for the final definition of the frontiers of Israel, ignore all that has happened in this country since that date. Nothing has occurred to invalidate in the slightest degree the justification of the inclusion within the boundaries of Israel of any of the areas allotted to the Jewish State in that Resolution. On the other hand, many grave events have occurred which by blood, fire and pillars of smoke have proved the absolute indispensability to Israel’s security, indeed to her very existence, of territories now under her jurisdiction outside the November 29 award…. Israel’s soldiers did not sacrifice their lives in gaining for their State defence positions and security zones in order that the political leaders of the nation should throw away this sacred, blood-drenched patrimony…
Sharett has not brought out the Ben-Gurion doctrine this time. He has a new idea. Leaving aside the rhetoric (fire, blood-drenched, pillars of smoke, sacred patrimony) his claim is that Israel needs to hold territory outside its original borders in order to maintain defence positions and security zones. If Israel were holding this territory in military occupation, pending a peace treaty, fair enough. But instead it has included that territory permanently within its de facto borders. What will happen if it needs to defend those borders? It will need to acquire more ‘security zones’ outside those borders. And then perhaps more security zones to secure those borders? Could this be the crocodile’s cunning plan to continually acquire new territory?
To be fair to those early Israel governments, I think they were content with the Armistice Line as the de facto border. Sharett in his speech also said
As for the frontier between the State of Israel and the area west of the Jordan which is not included in Israel, there, too, our aim is peace, and peace negotiations. We have always declared that we should prefer to see a separate Arab State in that area.
He refers to Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank. His prefers to see a separate Arab state in that area, rather than it being kept by Jordan. In other words, the UN Partition Plan is still alive in his mind, although with new borders.
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’.
[Work in progress]
Short link: religion-science-peace.org/?p=317