On this day 71 years ago the residents of Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad gasped at the news on their radios. The United Nations General Assembly had passed a non-binding recommendation for a two-way split of Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. It was a vote that would change the course of the region.
The geographic implications of the 1947 resolution, influenced by late-night lobbying at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, were disastrous. The land allocated to the Arab state was almost entirely highlands with no large bodies of standing water — and just one-third of the coastline. The Jewish state was to receive 55% of Mandatory Palestine, including a large fertile plain and inland valley south of Galilee. The Jewish state was also given sole access to the Red Sea and Lake Tiberias, the largest source of fresh water in Palestine.
Arab leaders threatened the world with military action and oil boycotts. Many even declared that if the US gave Palestine to the Jews, they would turn to the Soviet Union for help. No words could have been worse for the international community, coming at the early stages of the Cold War.
Veteran Syrian leader Fawzi al-Qawuqji, who was to lead an armed resistance into Palestine weeks later, said: “We will murder, wreck, and ruin everything that stands in our way, be it English, American, or Jewish.” He was speaking to a TIME magazine correspondent in Damascus and his words sent shivers down the spine of US officials.
Future Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharett advised his superiors at the Jewish Agency to ignore the dramatic statements coming from Arab diplomatic corps: “There is a great deal of bluff. These countries have much more serious worries in their own homes than to start a hazardous military operation in Palestine. Ridiculous is the assumption that an armed conflict between Arabs and Jews would lead to World War III.”
Golda Meir, another future prime minister, addressed a rally in Jerusalem saying: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words. Jews, Mazel Tov (Good luck).”
Zionist proponents of the Jewish state unleashed a massive campaign aimed at garnering key votes in the East ahead of the binding vote.
India was publicly opposed to the partition resolution and bound to create trouble. Jewish scientist Albert Einstein, wrote directly to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, reminding him that Jews have been the “victims of history for centuries.” India should think twice, he said, before it stood in the way of Jewish dreams of salvation. But Nehru refused to budge on partition. He spoke with anger and contempt for the way the UN vote had been lined up, saying that Zionists had tried to bribe his country with millions and sent daily warnings to his sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, saying that her life was in danger “unless she voted right.”
A member of the Indian delegation at the UN, Kavalam Panikkar, addressed the Zionists saying: “It is ideal for you to try and convince us that the Jews have a case. We know it, but the point is simply this: for us to vote for the Jews means to vote against the Muslims. This is a conflict in which Islam is involved. We have 13 million Muslims in our midst. Therefore, we cannot do it.”
China, however, was swayed from initial rejection of the resolution to what the Zionists described as “benevolent neutrality.” Chinese ambassador to the UN Wellington Koo said that “China has her own difficulties. The Chinese Republic has 20 million Muslims, whose leaders hold important positions throughout China.” His country would abstain.
On 29 November 1947 the General Assembly voted 33 to 13 in favor of the Partition Plan, with 10 abstentions. The ‘nays’ came from Greece, Cuba, India, and the entire Arab world. The US, all of Western Europe, the entire Soviet bloc, and most Latin American countries voted in favor of partition. The division was to take effect immediately after the British Mandate expired in mid-May 1948.
It was a fatal blow to the entire Arab world. Politicians suggested taking the matter to the International Court of Justice, claiming that the General Assembly was unauthorized to partition a country against the wishes of its inhabitants. Al-Azhar in Cairo called for a holy war. A volunteer Arab army was assembled in haste, created from Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi guerrillas, who were crushed on the battlefield months before the state of Israel was created in mid-May 1948.
In previous years and decades, the Partition Plan anniversary would mean 24-hour coverage dedicated to the audacity of the decision. Schools would close on November 29 and writers would pen lengthy exposes against the backdrop of massive demonstrations in major Arab capitals.
None of that is happening in 2018.
Netanyahu’s office has announced that he will “soon” be visiting Bahrain, one month after a landmark visit to Oman and weeks after his sports minister landed in Abu Dhabi. The Israeli-Gulf rapprochement reflects just how much times have changed throughout the Arabian Desert, where Iran — rather than the Israelis — is seen as the more dangerous enemy.
Qatar has had economic relations with Israel since 1996, while Morocco sent a royal envoy to attend the funeral of Israeli President Shimon Peres in September 2016.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is known for his soft stance towards Israel. After news broke of the Khashoggi assassination, Netanyahu called for supporting the oil-rich kingdom, describing Saudi Arabia’s stability as “important for the region.”
While Gulf states are inching towards its de facto implementation, former heavyweights in the Arab world, like Syria, Libya, and Iraq are too divided and ablaze to object. So are the Saudis, deeply embroiled in the Khashoggi affair. They still control all major media outlets in the region, including MBC and Al-Arabiya, which if put at the service of rapprochement, can do Israel a great service.
Just two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, currently have full diplomatic relations with Israel, but more are likely to follow.