Dividing Palestine

Part of a series of brief posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine.

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

During World War One, Britain encouraged both Arab nationalism and Jewish Zionism as part of their military struggle with the Ottoman Empire. Both were promised national independence in Palestine in return for the support of the British war effort.

During World War One, the Great Arab Revolt against Ottoman ruled was led by Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca and his three sons Abdullah, Faisal and Ali. In return the British had promised support for an independent Hashemite state stretching from Syria to Yemen. 

Meanwhile, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 indicated that the British government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and promised to “use their best efforts to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine …”

While this declaration had no legal status under international law, it did represent an explicit endorsement of the idea of a Jewish national home within historic Palestine. 

Delivering on the declaration was one of the terms for the mandate given to Britain by the League of Nations to provide “administrative advice and assistance … until such time as they are able to stand alone.” The British understood their role to include the establishment of a national home for the Jews while also preserving the civil and political rights of Palestinian Arabs, but this became increasingly fraught as tensions grew between the two local communities in Palestine.

In 1921—as a partial fulfilment of their promise to Hashemites, and despite their commitment to creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine—the British Mandate authorities established the portion of Palestine east of the Jordan River as the Emirate of Transjordan, ruled by Abdullah I as its first Emir. This emirate remained a British protectorate until 1946 when it gained its independence and adopted the name “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” 

With the establishment of the United Nations, Britain relinquished its mandate to develop the autonomous political and social infrastructure of Palestine.  Resolution 181 (II) on 29 November 1947 agreed to a partition plan to create separate independent Arab and Jewish states within Palestine, while reserving Jerusalem and its suburbs as a special International Zone (‘Corpus Separatum’) outside either national state. Although Arabs comprised 67% of the population, they were allocated just 43% of the territory. The partition was accepted (with some reservations) by Jewish groups but was rejected by the Palestinians and all other Arab nations.

After the war of 1948 (see next post), Palestine was divided: with 78% of historic Palestine under Israeli control and the remaining 22% split between areas controlled by Jordan (East Jerusalem and the West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza). Following the Six-Day War in June 1967, all of historic Palestine was under one power, although expressed through a Military Occupation in the areas beyond the ‘Green Line’ of the 1949 Armistice. The Green Line is widely regarded as the de facto international border between Israel and Palestine following UN Resolution 242

Under the Oslo Accords, the areas occupied by Israel in 1967 were divided into three categories: Areas A, B and C. Area A was designed to be exclusively administered by the Palestinian National Authority, while Area B was to be jointly administered by the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Area C was to be administered solely by Israel. These arrangements have not been fully implemented, as Israeli military forces routinely enter Area A.

During the Second Intifada (2000–2005), Israel constructed a physical barrier more or less along the Green Line to prevent easy movement of people from the West Bank into Israel and Jerusalem. The wall cuts deep into Palestinian lands on the West Bank to include Israeli settlements as well as natural water reserves, and in places separates Palestinians from their fields or other members of their family.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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