Was rejection of the U.N.'s 1947 partition plan by the Palestinian Arabs an offense for which they deserve to be punished?

In a Sept. 30 reply to a letter I'd written him, my Congressman wrote curtly:

"Jews accepted the partition plan but the Arabs did not. Israel unilaterally declared its independence in May 1948, and the Arab states attacked the new state. Therefore, the Palestinians could have had their own state in 1947, but rejected it."

He wrote more, but in the same unsympathetic vein.

In an Oct. 22 letter to my newspaper, also replying to a letter of mine, a supporter of Israel wrote:

"The Arab League...warned [Palestinian Arabs] to leave their homes for a short time until the new state of Israel was defeated by Arab aggression.

"Only the state of Israel complied with all the provisions of the U.N. Commission created by General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the establishment of administrative organs of government; elections to a constituent assembly conducted on democratic lines; the establishment of a legislative body elected by universal suffrage and secret ballot on the basis of proportional representation; the creation of an executive body responsible to the legislature; and for states to refrain from threats or use of force against the territorial integrity of any other state, among other things.

"The Arab 'nation' accepted none of this, but chose war, and by so doing [forfeited its right to any land]."

I'd like anyone who's impressed by those views to consider some facts.

The United Nations was still in its infancy in 1947. It was not an institution the peoples of the world had known and respected all their lives.

The proposal to partition Palestine only received the necessary two-thirds vote in the General Assembly because the Soviet Union was able to deliver the votes of a bloc of satellite countries. And the Soviets were not friends of Zionism; they were simply in a hurry to get the British out of Palestine.

The Palestinian Arabs refused to make preparations for a "state" in only 45 percent of their homeland. They feared that if they acquiesced in partition they would be recognizing its legitimacy, and might thereby forfeit the claim they were still making, at that time, to all of Palestine.

They were a two-thirds majority in the country, and their ancestors had lived there continuously for more than 1,000 years. Some Arab Muslims and Christians were undoubtedly descended from long-ago converts from Judaism, and had thus had ancestors living there continuously for 3,000 years. By contrast, most of the Jews were recent immigrants admitted by the British; the native Arabs had been allowed no say in the matter.

As late as 1944, near the end of "legal" Jewish immigration into the British Mandate, Jews were over 30 percent of the population in only four of its 16 administrative districts. Those districts were in the same general region, but no two of the four were contiguous. Jews were a majority in only one district, the one that included their city of Tel Aviv. That was the most populous of all the 16 districts; but it was one of the two smallest in area, and also included the heavily Arab city of Jaffa. (Source: Maps provided by the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, www.arij.org.)

In 1947 the U.N. Palestine Commission proposed a sizable state with a majority, but less than two-thirds, Jewish population. Both Jaffa and Jerusalem, home to many Jews, were excluded, the former being allocated to the Arabs and the latter internationalized. It seems clear that a disproportionate number of the Jews living within the boundaries of their proposed state were in the single city of Tel Aviv. Even if that had not been the case, its creation would have forced an undesirably large non-Jewish minority to choose between leaving lands their families had treasured for generations or living under Jewish-immigrant rule.

Britain, which had voluntarily submitted the Palestine question to the U.N., refused to assist in implementing a solution not acceptable to both Arabs and Jews.

The U.S. had supported partition. It, like the Soviet Union (though in a less bludgeoning way), had doubtless influenced enough other General Assembly votes that their reversal would have changed the outcome. But when civil war broke out, the U.S. made clear it opposed forcible implementation of partition. By the end of March 1948 the U.S. was calling for suspension of the efforts of the Palestine Commission, declaration of a truce, and reconsideration of the problem by the General Assembly. (Source: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, www.britannica.org, possibly only in its premium content.)

The Zionists refused to halt their nation-building or their military operations, defying their principal international benefactors. In the weeks immediately following the U.S. call for a truce they launched two military offensives, and Zionist terrorists raided the Arab village of Deir Yasin, where they massacred between 110 and 254 innocent men, women, and children. Then the Zionists used reminders of that massacre to terrorize other Arab civilians into fleeing. (The claim that fellow Arabs advised them to leave their homes has been proven false.)

On May 13, the day before Israel declared its independence, its military captured Jaffa. Even at that early date, Zionist leaders were seeking not merely to secure and defend the state the General Assembly had voted to give them, but to enlarge it through conquest.

Still sure they were the good guys?