November 29 is an opportunity to recall the reasons underlying the decision of the international community in 1947 to divide the country into two nation-states: a "Jewish State" and an "Arab State," in the words of the partition resolution. The United Nations committee that investigated the subject and recommended partition submitted a detailed report to the UN General Assembly, which in the end was adopted in the famous vote. The report said, among other things:
"It is a fact that both of these peoples have their historic roots in Palestine, and that both make vital contributions to the economic and cultural life of the country [...] The basic conflict in Palestine is a clash of two intense nationalisms. Regardless of the historic origins of the conflict... there are now in Palestine some 650,000 Jews and some 1,200,000 Arabs who are dissimilar in their ways of living and, for the time being, separated by political interests. [...] Only by means of partition can these conflicting national aspirations find substantial expression and qualify both peoples to take their places as independent nations in the international community and in the United Nations. [...] Jewish immigration is the central issue in Palestine today and is the one factor, above all others, that rules out the necessary co-operation between the Arab and Jewish communities in a single State. The creation of a Jewish State under a partition scheme is the only hope of removing this issue from the arena of conflict."
The usual way of finding fault with the concept "Jewish State" is to endow it with a groundless anti-democratic interpretation, and then to claim that the concept is anti-democratic in its essence. But in the Partition Plan, and in its wake in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, a "Jewish State" means a state that realizes the right of the Jewish people to national independence.
The right of nations to self-determination is accepted as a universal democratic principle, although there are some who want to see this principle as a kind of club with a sign on the door saying "Entry to Jews is Absolutely Forbidden." The Jewish State, according to the Partition resolution, is not supposed to be the state of its Jewish citizens alone: The borders of the state were supposed to include a large Arab minority, and the committee report requires the Jewish state to guarantee this minority full civic equality.
Some claim that the expression "a Jewish and democratic state" is a contradiction in terms; the Partition Plan, on the other hand, asserts that the two states, the Jewish one and the Arab one, must be democratic. Some claim that a Jewish state by necessity requires religious coercion; the Partition Plan obligated the two states to guarantee full religious freedom in their jurisdictions without getting into the complex question about the connection between the Jewish nation and the Jewish religion, or the different but very strong and meaningful connection between Arab nationalism and Islam.
The Israeli Law of Return is attacked as a discriminatory and anti-democratic law. On the other hand, the report of the UN committee in 1947 not only anticipates massive Jewish immigration to the Jewish state after its establishment (and even notes that in order to enable this immigration, the Jewish state was allotted an area relatively larger than the percentage of Jews in the population of the country), but states that the dispute between the two nations on the subject of immigration is the main reason for the need for partition and the establishment of a Jewish state in part of the country.
Partition was supposed to remove the subject of immigration from the arena of the conflict, in other words, to turn it into the internal affair of the Jewish state, while the Palestinian Arabs, in their state, would no longer have to fear that Jewish immigration would turn them into a minority in their homeland. All the principles were therefore determined and formulated in 1947; since then, there is little that is new in the interminable debate on the subject.
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