Seventy-three years into the ongoing Nakba, the language of partition remains prevalent in discourse on the plight of Palestinians. What is remarkable is how much partition has come, misleadingly, to shape our understanding of when and where Palestinian dispossession started. By the time the UN General Assembly recommended the partition of Palestine in Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947,1 Zionist colonization had already been ongoing for over half a century. It was in 1897, notably, that the First Zionist Congress in Basel resolved to “create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law.”2 As Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi observes, the partition resolution must be seen as the “catastrophic (for the Palestinians) culmination of everything that had preceded it since the birth of political Zionism.”*3
Today, Palestinians continue to endure aggressive Zionist settler colonialism, which seeks their erasure, displacement, and replacement in every part of historical Palestine. The focus on artificial partition obscures the continuity of Zionist settler colonization; it suggests that Palestinian dispossession from 1948 onwards, and before that time, somehow differ from that following 1967.
Jerusalem and the arbitrariness of partition
Partition continues to dominate discussion of Jerusalem, informing how the city’s past and present are analyzed. In Jerusalem 1948: The Arab Neighbourhoods and their Fate in the War, Palestinian scholar Salim Tamari highlights the need to avoid anachronistic language on Jerusalem and to transcend the city’s problematic division into “east” and “west,” which resulted from “the ruptures of war.”*4
While it may be tempting to argue away the division of Jerusalem based on the city’s proposed internationalization as corpus separatum under the partition resolution, this argument is not altogether convincing. Such line of reasoning, even if unwittingly, seems to lend legitimacy to Zionist colonization within the parts of Palestine allotted, in the partition resolution, to a Jewish state. Yet, the Palestinian people constituted the majority across historical Palestine on the eve of partition; they owned the majority of the land in the country and had vehemently opposed partition since its first iteration in the 1930s.*5
Early on, Zionist scholars openly acknowledged the colonial nature of their project and the need to implement it by force. In 1923, Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote: “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population… This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.”*6
As Khalidi put it, the partition plan in effect meant “the establishment of a Zionist state on Palestinian soil irrespective of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants.”7 Palestinian opposition to the partition plan has been well documented as an encroachment on the Palestinian right to self-determination,8 which remains the basis for challenging the partition of Palestine and division of Jerusalem. In a comprehensive briefing paper on west Jerusalem published in 2018, Al-Haq concluded that Palestinians retain their right to sovereignty over the entirety of Jerusalem.*9