In November 1917, a letter sent by A. J. Balfour, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to Lord Rothschild, stated that the British Government viewed with favor « the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people » and that it would « use its best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object ». This initiative, commonly known as the « Balfour Declaration », proposed, as a location for the Jewish « home », the territory of the biblical Palestine, an Ottoman-controlled area inhabited at the beginning of the XXth century by a multiconfessional Arab-speaking majority.
But what boundaries for this Palestinian home for the Jewish people?
As the Zionists, the Jewish nationalists, proposed in September 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference, the approximate eastern boundary of the Jewish National Home in Palestine was dividing the Mandatory Palestine into two parts along « a line close to and west of the Hejaz Railway (and Amman - n.b.) terminating in the Gulf of Aqaba ».
The text of the British Mandate for Palestine included an article (no. 25) which aimed to redraw de facto the map of the Jewish National Home to be established in Palestine. This article stated:
« In the territories lying between the Jordan (river - n.b.) and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined, the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions. »
On September 16, 1922, the League of de Nations approved a British memorandum which excluded the eastern Palestine (Transjordan) from the articles related to the Jewish National Home. According to this memorandum, The Mandate Palestine was divided between Palestine, under direct British rule, and Emirate of Transjordan, a semiautonomous entity under the rule of the Hashemite dinasty from the Kingdom of Hejaz.
Following the Transjordan Memorandum, the Palestinian territory east of the Jordan River became exempt from the Mandate provisions concerning the establishment of the Jewish National Home.
After the « loss » of the Transjordan Palestine, most of the Jewish nationalists have focused their efforts on the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Cisjordan Palestine.
(Most, but not all, of the Zionists have accepted the territorial challenge. Among the unhappy nationalists, the Revisionist Party, founded in 1925 by Vladimir Jabotinsky, demanded that the entire territory of the initial British Mandate for Palestine, including Transjordan, become immediately a sovereign Jewish state.)
In 1938, a Palestine Partition Commission (Woodhead Commission) was established to propose a detailed partition scheme for Palestine. The Plan A of the Commission proposed a coastal Jewish state, two British-mandated areas, Nazareth and Jerusalem, with a corridor from Jerusalem to the sea, and the remainder of Palestine, with the city of Jaffa, merged eventually with Transjordan into an Arab state. The Plan B was identical to the Plan A, except that the Jewish state was amputated: the Nazareth Territory was transformed into the Galilee Territory and the southern part of the region south of Jaffa was annexed to the Arab state. A Plan C established a Jewish state, territorially amputated again, an Arab state and three mandated territories to be administrated by the British until the Arab and Jewish population could agree on their future. The Plan C recommended a united Palestine under the formula of a customs union between the all Palestinian entities. Finally, the British Government announced that the partition of Palestine was impracticable...
In February 1947, Britain announced its intent to terminate the Mandate for Palestine, referring the matter of the future of Palestine to the United Nations.
On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Palestine to be divided between two new states (Arab and Jewish) and for the establishment of a Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem. The proposed Arab State (43% of the Mandatory Palestine) included central and part of western Galilee, the regions of Samaria and Judea, the enclave of Jaffa and the southern coast, with the today Gaza Strip. The proposed Jewish State (55% of the Mandatory Palestine) included the Eastern Galilee, the coastal plain and most of the Negev desert, with the present-day Eilat. The Jerusalem special region included the city of Jerusalem, the city of Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.
Additionally, in order to provide the necessary conditions for economic stability in Palestine, the UN proposed the establishment of an Economic Union of Palestine during the transitional period.
Six months later, in May 1948, the British Mandate over Palestine expired. The Jewish elite proclaimed the State of Israel « by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of UN General Assembly ». British army left the Palestine and Arab armies from Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon invaded the newborn Israel in an effort to forestall the creation a Jewish state in Palestine. It was the first of several wars fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Israel managed to occupy all of the Negev desert, except for the Gaza Strip, occupied by Egypt. The present-day Cisjordan (West Bank), with the eastern part of Jerusalem, remained under Arab control and later, in 1950, this territory will be annexed by Transjordan.
In July 1949, as a result of the armistice agreements between Israel and the Arab states, a temporary frontier was fixed between Israel and its neighbors.
In October 1956, during the Suez Canal Crisis, the Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt in order to assure free circulation through the Suez Canal and to open sea communications through the port of Eilat. Most of the Sinai Peninsula is temporarily occupied by Israel, but the western borders of Israel remained unchanged.
In 1967, after the Six-Day War, Israel regained the Sinai Peninsula and took control of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, with the eastern Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights will be annexed in 1981, but the Sinai Peninsula returns to the Egypt in 1979-1982. The Gaza Strip and West Bank became « occupied territories » and Jerusalem, reunited, became the capital of the State if Israel, a decision disputed by the Arab-Palestinian establishment and the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Founded in 1964, the PLO called for the destruction of the Israel (« the Zionist entity ») and the creation of an independent Arab state in the territory of the Mandate Palestine. Needless to say, the PLO project was unacceptable for Israel and its Jewish citizens...
In 1973, a new political organization emerged in Israel: Likud, under the prodding of Ariel Sharon. Likud was in large part the direct ideological descendant of the Revisionist Party founded by Jabotinsky, but the new entity adopted a platform that championed Israeli sovereignty « between the Sea and the Jordan », thus implicitly abandoning the claim to the territory of the Transjordan (the present-day Kingdom of Jordan).
According to the Likud Founding Texts, « the Jordan River will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel » and « Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel ».
Two irreconcilable « one-state » solutions for Palestine... An Arab state project, supported by the PLO, and a Jewish state formula, wanted by Likud and the Israeli right parties.
In 1988, however, the PLO endorsed a compromise solution: the creation of a Palestinian state in the « occupied territories », with East Jerusalem as its capital. Later, in 1993, the PLO recognized « the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security » et opened the way to a « two-state » solution for the Palestinian conflict.
In 1993, the PLO and Israel signed the Oslo Accords: the Palestinian Authority became an interim administrative body, established to assume the responsibilities of the Israeli military administration in populated Palestinian centers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the final status negotiations with Israel are concluded.
According to the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, the borders of the future State of Palestine are « based on the pre-1967 borders »: the Palestine would include the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the eastern Jerusalem, as the capital of the new state. The framework of this solution is set out in the UN resolutions on the « peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine », going back to 1974.
In Washington, Obama Administration supported « a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine ».
In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud since 1993 and the Prime Minister of Israel since 2009, endorsed for the first time in June 2009 the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but he demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish national state with an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of the Israel. However, he will quickly change his mind and in March 2010 he declared that Israel would never agree to withdraw from the Jordan Valley under any agreement signed with the Palestinians. Five years later, in March 2015, Netanyahu, having already returned to a hardline approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, had to promise that no Palestinian state would be established as long as he remains in office as Prime Minister of Israel.
One-state or two-state solution for Palestine?
Asked if he supported a two-state or a one-state solution to the long-running conflict in Palestine, Donald Trump, the new U.S. president, declared in February 2017 that he « can live with either one ». « If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best. »’
On December 6, 2017, the same Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and declared again that U.S. would support a two-state solution only if agreed upon by both sides.
On May 14, 2018, 70 years after the creation of the State of Israel, the U.S. was moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and was opening a new chapter in the Middle East’s history.
And so, life went on, but things were never the same again...
In December 1917, Jerusalem, the most famous Palestinian city, was captured by the British army and the Palestine became again a name on the political map and, later, a new British dependency, as the Britain was awarded the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1920 during the San Remo Conference.
The British Mandate for Palestine was based on the resolution adopted on April 25, 1920 between the Allied Powers and incorporated in the Balfour Declaration. According to this resolution, the British Government was responsible for putting into effect the Balfour Declaration in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian home for the Jewish people, « it being understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine ».
One year after the 1936 Arab Revolt, a British Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by Lord Peel arrived at the conclusion that two national movements coexisted in Palestine, each espousing mutually conflicting aspirations: « Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State. » The Peel Commission stated that the Mandate was unworkable and recommended, as a solution, the partition of Palestine.
In 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a new reconfiguration of the political map of Palestine: The Jordan Valley area had to be annexed to the State of Israel and the rest of the Palestinian lands had to obtain an improved political autonomy. Rejected by the Palestinian Authority, the Netanyahu’s plan had a short life as the Palestinians reclaimed again a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a solution based on the 1967 lines.
The Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, marked the beginning of a new era for the region: as the Hamas main objective is the establishment of an Islamic State of Palestine « from the river to the sea » and the destruction of the State of Israel, the chances for peace in Palestine seems to be now zero to none.
A Story in Ten+ Maps by Cristian Ionita, Ph. D.