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On This Day: UN Votes to Partition Palestine

Last updated: February 15, 2023

On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations approved a proposal to divide the British Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. The partition allowed for the creation of the nation of Israel six months later.

General Assembly Votes 33-13 in Favor of Partition

Britain took control of Palestine when it defeated Ottoman forces in 1917. That November, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote in a letter, known as the Balfour Declaration, that the British government supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

In 1922, the League of Nations approved a mandate putting Palestine under British rule. Citing the Balfour Declaration, the mandate stated that the signers were “in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Over the next several decades, there was constant conflict between the Jews and Arabs. “Both communities realized that by the end of the mandate period the region’s future would be determined by size of population and ownership of land,” explains Encyclopedia Britannica. “Thus the central issues throughout the mandate period were Jewish immigration and land purchases.”

Arab opponents of the plan for a Jewish homeland argued that Palestine was neither Britain’s nor the UN’s to give away. But after World War II, and Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews in Europe, the cause of the Zionists resonated more strongly than ever. This was particularly the case in the United States and Britain, which had both failed to welcome Jewish refugees when they fled Nazi persecution.

In March 1946, Britain brought the issue of Palestine before the General Assembly of the newly created United Nations. An 11-member committee drafted a plan for Palestine to be divided into separate Jewish and Arab states. On Nov. 29, 1947, after two months of debate, the General Assembly voted on the plan with several minor alterations.

Related Events

The plan called for Palestine to be divided into eight sections: three Jewish sections, four Arab sections (including the town of Jaffa, an enclave within a Jewish section) and the city of Jerusalem, which would be administered by an international council.

Arab delegates opposed the plan and fought for a new plan up until the time of the vote in the UN Assembly Hall at Flushing Meadow, N.Y. The plan needed two-thirds approval to pass; 33 countries voted for it, 13 voted against and 10, including Britain, abstained. Siam (Thailand) was absent.

“Every Jewish newspaper in the world, it seemed, was represented in a press gallery,” wrote Alistair Cooke in the Manchester Guardian. “Forbidden to relieve the frustrations of twenty-five years, and a marvelously abortive twenty-four hour adjournment for the conciliation, the Jews could only strain forward, exchange quick glances, stroke their faces, and catch their breath again” as the vote was taken.

The representatives from four of the six Arab states angrily declared that the plan violated the UN Charter, and walked out of the hall. The other Arab delegates remained silent and walked out with the others.

The United Nation provides the text of the partition plan.

Historical Context: Modern Israel

Sources in this Story

  • The Avalon Project: Yale University: The Middle East 1916-2001: A Documentary Record
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: Palestine: The British Mandate
  • United Nations: The Question of Palestine & the United Nations: The Plan of Partition and End of the British Mandate (PDF)
  • The New York Times: Assembly Votes Palestinian Partition
  • The Guardian: Partition through
  • HistoryNet (Quarterly Journal of Military History): Lashing Back—Israel’s 1947-1948 Civil War
  • The Northfield Mount Hermon School: History of the Middle East Database: First Arab-Israeli War, 1948

The War of Independence, 1948
Israel was founded after World War II, in the shadow of the Holocaust and under the auspices of the United Nations. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel’s first prime minister, declared the establishment of the State of Israel.

The text of Israeli independence reads: “By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, [we] hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the state of Israel.”

The next day, Britain ended its mandate in the region and five Middle Eastern nations attacked the fledgling country. Over 15 months of fighting, Israel expanded the territory apportioned to it by the United Nations. Non-Jewish residents fled from both within the original borders of Israel and from the land that had been taken, becoming the first of the Palestinian refugees.

Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948 Onward
Four major wars have been fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the first being in 1948. Accounts of each, plus other related confrontations, are detailed by the Northfield Mount Hermon School's History of the Middle East Database.

For the best sites on the history and issue of the conflict in Israel, read the findingDulcinea Web Guide to the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

Reference: Regional maps

The BBC has grouped together a collection of maps that illustrate the geographical and political events surrounding the creation and history of Israel.

Source: The BBC

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The United Nations' Web site carries a map depicting the UN's partition plan for the region.

Source: The United Nations

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