This article was first published on November 29, 2019
While the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People each year, the day serves as a bleak reminder to many Palestinians of UN Resolution 181, which legalized Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
“On this International Day of Solidarity, let us reaffirm our commitment to upholding the rights of the Palestinian people.”~ UN Secretary General António Guterres
The United Nations (UN) celebrates International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (IDSPP) on November 29 every year to commemorate the day the UN voted on the Partition Plan in 1947. More than seven decades after adopting UN Resolution 181, Palestinians, Arabs, and global solidarity movements celebrate this day as “the anniversary of partition.” In December 1977, the UN officially chose November 29 as the date for the anniversary.
In 1947, the UN committed to a first step that legitimized the partition of Palestine through granting more than 55 percent of its territory to settlers to establish their own state. Resolution 181 (or the “partition resolution”) recommended partitioning Palestine into three sections: an Arab state occupying 42.88 percent of the territory, a Jewish state with 55.47 percent, and Jerusalem and Bethlehem, comprising 0.65 percent, as a separate entity governed by a special international administration.
Today, more than 70 years after the adoption of the partition resolution recommending the confiscation of more than half of the Palestinian territories and allocating them to the Israeli occupation, Palestinians now possess only 15 percent of their land along with a symbolic day of solidarity. While Arab and Muslim countries have been preoccupied with internal conflicts in recent years, solidarity with the Palestinian people has been relegated to mainly symbolic activities organized by the UN itself, at its headquarters in New York City.
“The International Day of Solidarity traditionally provides an opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine remains unresolved.”
“The International Day of Solidarity traditionally provides an opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine remains unresolved,” states the UN on its website. “[T]he Palestinian people have yet to attain their inalienable rights as defined by the General Assembly, namely the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced.”
Despite the UN’s affirmation of the right to “self-determination,” the Palestinian people were not consulted prior to the resolution, contrary to Article I Paragraph 2 of the UN Charter. The partition resolution also constituted an interference in the internal affairs of a colonized country, contrary to Article II Paragraph 7 of the charter. Accordingly, in the view of many, the partition resolution lacked legal authority.
Furthermore, it has served to deepen the suffering of the Palestinian people instead of putting an end to it. The UN does not have the legal authority to establish or abolish an existing state without the approval of the people of that territory. Yet, given that the UN is an internationally respected body that seeks to represent international consensus, the resolution encouraged other states either to fall in line behind Israel or to turn a blind eye to the rapidly expanding state.
The UN adopted the partition resolution while Palestine was still under the British mandate. However, it did not slow the ambitions of the Israeli state to exert total control over the territory. According to a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel subsequently extended its reach to the rest of the territory so that as of 2015 it controlled “85 percent of historic Palestine” — in the face of international silence.
The partition resolution not only cost the Palestinian people land but it also simply gave it to Israel. Just one year after adoption of the resolution, Israel declared itself an independent state. After the outbreak of the 1948 war between Israel and the Arab states (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria), the Jewish state expanded and took control of 77 percent of Palestine, including most of Jerusalem.
In the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which Israel later annexed. Israel also occupied Sinai in Egypt and the Golan Heights in Syria. This war resulted in a migration of more than half a million Palestinians.
In 1914, the Jewish population in the historic land of Palestine was estimated at eight percent of the total population, according to statistics released just before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. During the British mandate, the percentage skyrocketed and reached 31 percent after the declaration of the State of Israel.
Seven decades on, the UN has failed to put an end to the Israeli crimes committed daily against the Palestinian people. It has failed to ensure Palestinian independence and the establishment of a Palestinian state and has failed to bring millions of Palestinian refugees back to their homes after Israeli forces displaced them.
In an attempt to cover for its failures, the UN adopted Resolution 37/60 in December 2005, which called for “[o]rganizing an annual exhibition on Palestinian rights” at the headquarters of the General Assembly in New York to encourage Member States to continue to provide support and media coverage for the celebration of IDSPP.
In 2015, the Palestinian flag was raised in front of UN headquarters and offices around the world by a resolution adopted by the General Assembly to raise the flags of the non-Member States, including the Palestinian flag, but this gesture rang hollow for some, in light of injustices suffered by the Palestinians in the aftermath of Resolution 181.
The occupation of Palestine is one of the most tragic and pressing humanitarian issues the UN has ever initiated. In January 2015, the number of Palestinian refugees registered under UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) was 5.6 million.
The Palestinian cause, in general, has an Arab and an Islamic dimension, and both are dysfunctional. One involves so-called “radical Islam” fighting moderate Islam; the other involves Arab countries in conflict with each other. The result is that some Arab countries are trying to sign agreements with Israel to achieve victories over their Muslim or Arab enemies. Other Arab countries are making overtures to Israel in preparation for confrontation with Iran. Such countries include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have not disclosed their secret ties with Israel.
While all of this is an unruly mess of complicated entanglements, what remains clear is that, ultimately, IDSPP is an attempt by the UN to mitigate a tragedy it created and to continue to justify a partition resolution that has had tragic consequences for the Palestinian people.