Adopted November 29, 1947
by Eli E. Hertz
UN ReUsNol uRteisoonlu 1t8io1n 181
In 1947 the British put the future of western
Resolution 181, was a none-binding recommendation to partition
The resolution recognized the need for immediate Jewish statehood (and a parallel Arab state), but the 'blueprint' for peace became a moot issue when the Arabs refused to accept it. Subsequently, de facto realities on the ground in the wake of Arab aggression (and
Aware of Arabs' past aggression, Resolution 181, in paragraph C, calls on the Security Council to:
"… determine as a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, in accordance with Article 39 of the Charter, any attempt to alter by force the settlement envisaged by this resolution."
The ones who sought to alter by force the settlement envisioned in Resolution 181 were the Arabs who threatened bloodshed if the UN were to adopt the Resolution:
"The [British] Government of Palestine fear that strife in Palestine will be greatly intensified when the Mandate is terminated, and that the international status of the United Nations Commission will mean little or nothing to the Arabs in Palestine, to whom the killing of Jews now transcends all other considerations.
Thus, the Commission will be faced with the problem of how to avert certain bloodshed on a very much wider scale than prevails at present. … The Arabs have made it quite clear and have told the
Arabs' intentions and deeds did not fare better after Resolution 181 was adopted:
"Taking into consideration that the Provisional Government of Israel has indicated its acceptance in principle of a prolongation of the truce in Palestine; that the States members of the Arab League have rejected successive appeals of the United Nations Mediator, and of the Security Council in its resolution 53 (1948) of 7 July 1948, for the prolongation of the truce in Palestine; and that there has consequently developed a renewal of hostilities in Palestine."3
Text from the actual document of Resolution 181 reads:
"… Having constituted a Special Committee and instructed it to investigate all questions and issues relevant to the problem of
In the late 1990s, more than 50 years after Resolution 181 was rejected by the Arab world, Arab leaders suddenly recommended to the General Assembly that UN Resolution 181 be resurrected as the basis of a peace agreement. There is no foundation for such a notion.
Resolution 181 (the 1947 Partition Plan) was the last of a series of recommendations that had been drawn up over the years by the Mandator and by international commissions, plans designed to reach an historic compromise between Arabs and Jews in western
Arabs rejected the "unbalanced" Partition Plan
The UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) uses the term "unbalanced" in describing the reason for Arab rejectionism of Resolution 181.4 This description hardly fits reality. Seventy-seven percent of the landmass of the original Mandate for the Jews was excised in 1922 to create a fourth Arab state – Trans-Jordan (today
In a statement by the representative of the Jewish Agency for
"According to David Lloyd George, then British Prime Minister, the Balfour Declaration implied that the whole of
Now a second Arab state was to be carved out of the remainder of
Referring to the Arab States established as independent countries since the First World War, he said:
"17,000,000 Arabs now occupied an area of 1,290,000 square miles, including all the principal Arab and Moslem centres, while Palestine, after the loss of Transjordan, was only 10,000 square miles; yet the majority plan proposed to reduce it by one half. UNSCOP proposed to eliminate
Resolution 181 has no legal ramifications – that is, Resolution 181 recognized the Jewish right to statehood, but its validity as a potentially legal and binding document was never consummated. Like the schemes that preceded it, Resolution 181's validity hinged on acceptance by both parties of the General Assembly's recommendation.
Cambridge Professor Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice, a renowned expert on international law and editor of one of the 'bibles' of international law, Oppenheim's International Law, clarified that from a legal standpoint, the 1947 UN Partition Resolution had no legislative character to vest territorial rights in either Jews or Arabs. In a monograph relating to one of the most complex aspects of the territorial issue, the status of Jerusalem, Judge, Sir Lauterpacht wrote that any binding force the Partition Plan would have had to arise from the principle pacta sunt servanda,8 that is, from agreement of the parties at variance to the proposed plan. In the case of
"… the coming into existence of
Reviewing Lauterpacht's arguments, Professor Stone, a distinguished authority on the Law of Nations, added that
"… The State of Israel is thus not legally derived from the partition plan, but rests (as do most other states in the world) on assertion of independence by its people and government, on the vindication of that independence by arms against assault by other states, and on the establishment of orderly government within territory under its stable control."10
Arab's aggression before and after the adoption of Resolution 181.
Following passage of Resolution 181 by the General Assembly, Arab countries took the dais to reiterate their absolute rejection of the recommendation and intention to render implementation of Resolution 181 a moot question by the use of force. These examples from the transcript of the General Assembly plenary meeting on 29, November 1947 speak for themselves:
"Mr. JAMALI (
"Amir. ARSLAN (
"H. R. H. Prince Seif El ISLAM ABDULLAH (
The Partition Plan was met not only by verbal rejection on the Arab side but also by concrete, bellicose steps to block its implementation and destroy the Jewish polity by force of arms, a goal the Arabs publicly declared even before Resolution 181 was brought to a vote.
Arabs not only rejected the compromise and took action to prevent establishment of a Jewish state but also blocked establishment of an Arab state under the partition plan not just before the Israel War of Independence, but also after the war when they themselves controlled the West Bank (1948-1967), rendering the recommendation a 'a still birth.'
Any binding force to the Partition Plan would have had to arise from the principle pacta sunt servanda12 ("Treaties must be honored," the first principle of international law). In other words, it would become a legal document only upon agreement of the parties at variance to accept the proposal.
"… The State of Israel is thus not legally derived from the partition plan, but rests (as do most other states in the world) on assertion of independence by its people and government, on the vindication of that independence by arms against assault by other states, and on the establishment of orderly government within territory under its stable control."13
The UN itself recognized that 181 had not been accepted by the Arab side, rendering it a dead issue: In January 29, 1948, the First Monthly Progress Report of the UN-appointed Palestine Commission, charged with helping put Resolution 181 into effect was submitted to the Security Council (A/AC.21/7).
Implementation of Resolution 181 hinged not only on the five Member States appointed to represent the UN (Bolivia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Panama, Philippines) and Great Britain, but first and foremost on the participation of the two sides who were invited to appoint representatives. The Commission than reported:
"… The invitation extended by the  resolution was promptly accepted by the Government of the
ARAB HIGHER COMMITTEE IS DETERMINED PRESIST [PERSIST] IN REJECTION PARTITION AND IN REFUSAL RECOGNIZE UN[O] RESOLUTION THIS RESPECT AND ANYTHING DERIVING THEREFROM [THERE FROM]. FOR THESE REASONS IT IS UNABLE [TO] ACCEPT [THE] INVITATION."14
The UN Palestine Commission's February 16, 1948 report (A/AC.21/9) to the Security Council noted that Arab-led hostilities were an effort
"to prevent the implementation of the [General] Assembly's plan of partition, and to thwart its objectives by threats and acts of violence, including armed incursions into Palestinian territory."
On May 17, 1948 – after the invasion began, the Palestine Commission designed to implement 181 adjourned sine die [Latin: without determining a date] after the General Assembly appointed a United Nations Mediator in Palestine, which relieves the United Nations Palestine Commission from the further exercise of its responsibilities.
At the time, some thought the partition plan could be revived, but by the end of the war Resolution 181 had become a moot issue as realities on the ground made establishment of an armistice-line (the "Green Line") – a temporary ceasefire line expected to be followed by peace treaties - the most constructive path to solving the conflict.
A July 30, 1949 working paper of the UN Secretariat entitled The Future of Arab Palestine and the Question of Partition noted further that:
"The Arabs rejected the United Nations Partition Plan so that any comment of theirs did not specifically concern the status of the Arab section of
By the time armistice agreements were reached in 1949 between
Attempts by Palestinians in the past decade (and recently by the ICJ) to 'roll back the clock' and resuscitate Resolution 181 more than five decades after they rejected it 'as if nothing had happened' are a baseless ploy designed to use Resolution 181 as leverage to bring about a greater Israeli withdrawal from parts of western Palestine and to gain a broader base from which to continue to attack an Israel with even less defendable borders. Both Palestinians and their Arab brethren in neighboring countries rendered the plan null and void by their own subsequent aggressive actions.
Professor Stone wrote about this 'novelty of resurrection' in 1981 when he analyzed a similar attempt by pro-Palestinians 'experts' at the UN to rewrite the history of the conflict. (Their writings were termed "Studies".) Stone called it "revival of the dead"
"To attempt to show … that Resolution 181(II) 'remains' in force in 1981 is thus an undertaking even more miraculous than would be the revival of the dead. It is an attempt to give life to an entity that the Arab states had themselves aborted before it came to maturity and birth. To propose that Resolution 181(II) can be treated as if it has binding force in 1981, [EH the year the book was written] for the benefit of the same Arab states, who by their aggression destroyed it ab initio,16 also violates 'general principles of law,' such as those requiring claimants to equity to come 'with clean hands,' and forbidding a party who has unlawfully repudiated a transaction from holding the other party to terms that suit the later expediencies of the repudiating party." 17[italics by author].
Resolution 181 had been tossed into the waste bin of history, along with the Partition Plans that preceded it.
Eli E. Hertz
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
1 For an overview, of the history, see Ian J. Bickerton and Carla L. Klausner, A Concise History of the Arab Israel Conflict, 4th ed. (New York: Prentice Hall, 2002). The mandate territories in the Middle East also included
2 United Nations
3 See among others, Security Council Resolution S/RES/ 54 (1948) at: http://www.mefacts.com/cache/html/un-resolutions/10894.htm. (10894)
4 ICJ discussion on the Partition Plan in paragraph 71 of the Court's ruling. See: http://middleeastfacts.org/content/ICJ/ICJ-Ruling-HTML.htm. (10908)
5 Delivered by Dr. Abba Hillel Silver, October 2, 1947.
6 Yearbook of the United Nations 1947-48. 1949.I.13. December 31, 1948. See: http://www.mefacts.com/cache/html/un-documents/11270.htm. (11270)
© 20C0o9,p Eylir Eig. hHte r©tz 2009, Eli E. Hertz 77 UN ReUsNol uRteisoonlu 1t8io1n 181
8 "Treaties must be honored," the first principle of international law.
9 Professor, Judge Sir Elihu Lauterpacht,
10 Professor Julius Stone,
12 Cited in Elihu Lauterpacht,
13 Professor Julius Stone,
14 United Nations
15 UN document A/AC.25/W.19, at: . http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/4ecbf3578b6149c50525657100507fab?OpenDocument
16 In Latin: From the beginning.
17 Professor Julius Stone,