End of the British Mandate

On November 29, 1947, the U.N. General Assembly by a two-thirds vote (33 to 13 with Britain and nine others abstaining) passed Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish community of Palestine jubilantly accepted partition despite the small size and strategic vulnerability of the proposed state. Not only were Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip not included, but also Jerusalem, most of the Galilee in the North and parts of the Negev desert in the South were excluded. The Arab national movement in Palestine, as well as all the Arab states, angrily rejected partition. They demanded the entire country for themselves and threatened to resist partition by force. Had they accepted the U.N. proposal in 1947, the independent Palestinian Arab state, covering an area much larger than the West Bank and Gaza, would have been created along with Israel. Instead, they launched a war to destroy the nascent Jewish state.
UNSCOP reported to the Security Council on 16 February 1948:

  • Organized efforts are being made by strong Arab elements inside and outside Palestine to prevent the implementation of the Assembly’s plan of partition and to thwart its objectives by threats and acts of violence, including armed incursions into Palestinian territory … This Commission now finds itself confronted with an attempt to defeat its purposes, and to nullify the resolution of the General Assembly.

The UN had no army to enforce its decisions, and Britain would not use its forces in place for more than self-defense during the transition to independence scheduled for May 15, 1948. In fact, there is considerable evidence that the British government, and especially the local military and civilian representatives of Britain in the Middle East, did much to support the Arabs and to weaken the Jews. Small-unit warfare was conducted around the British all winter and spring, with the Jewish forces improving their holdings at the cost of several thousand Jews killed or wounded. As the first streams of Arab refugees were fleeing from towns overrun by Jewish units, a coalition of Arab nations was planning to invade Palestine immediately after the British evacuation on May 14, 1948. The invasion came immediately after the State of Israel was declared on May 15, 1948, precipitating Israel’s War of Independence. On January 29, 1949, Britain recognized the State of Israel, a step that also recognized the end of British efforts to affect the course of the region?s politics.

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