For decades, the bedrock of most international discourse or foreign policy concerning the conflict between Palestine and Israel has been the “two-state solution”, namely, the proposal to establish two states for two peoples, which in turn can only be achieved through a peace process. The two-state solution mantra is deeply imbedded in the language and policy of the international community, including the United Nations and the European Union.
Yet, the international community’s dedication to partition as the sole political solution to the conflict is fundamentally unjust, as it disregards the inalienable right of the Palestinians to self-determination. Also, in the context of the Israeli military occupation, sticking to the two-state solution only serves to conceal the reality on the ground and perpetuate the subjugation of Palestinians under the premise of an ongoing “peace process”.
Partition’s Troubled History
The seeds for the partition of historical Palestine were sown by the colonizer, Great Britain, in 1917 when British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour committed his nation to the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”. Ignoring the wishes and rights of Palestine’s native inhabitants, colonial Britain supported Zionist leaders’ claims to settle what they saw as Biblical territory and its reclamation as the cradle of the new Jewish homeland. By incorporating the Balfour Declaration into its mandate of Palestine, Britain vioated its responsibility as a mandatory power, which obliged it to grant Palestine independence, instead committing itself to Zionist settler sovereignty over Palestine.
The idea of partition gained momentum when it was proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 following the outbreak of the Great Arab Revolt of 1936. A decade later, the logic of partition was endorsed by the international community with the adoption of UN Resolution 181, known as the Partition Plan, which recommended the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.
Specifically, the Partition Plan proposed the Jewish state be established on more than half of Mandate Palestine at a time when the Jewish population there comprised less than one third of the total population and owned less than 7 percent of the land. The Partition Plan, which did not even consider the legality of partition itself, was rejected by Palestinians as unjust, as it violated and dismissed their basic rights — particularly the right to self-determination — at the height of the anti-colonial struggle in the region.
The Partition Plan plunged Mandate Palestine into unrest. Militarily superior, the Zionist forces used force to implement partition and establish a Jewish state in May 1948, triggering a coalition of Arab states to declare war on it. When the war ended 15 months later, Israel controlled not only the territories that the Partition Plan had granted to the Jewish state, but also a significant part of the territories intended for the Arab state. Jordan annexed the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and Egypt administered the Gaza Strip.
The creation of the State of Israel and subsequent war also commenced the flight and systematic displacement of the Palestinian population. In the eight months following the passing of the partition plan, 450 Palestinian villages were razed to the ground by Zionist forces. Nearly 85 percent of the Palestinian population in the territory that became the State of Israel was displaced.
Using force, the newly born state of Israel enlarged its territory from the 55 percent proposed by the Partition Plan to 78 percent of historical Palestine. Nevertheless, this forced partition became the internationally accepted paradigm for the peace process.