UN Resolution 181 | 1947

1947: UN General Assembly Resolution 181: The international community says "Yes" to the establishment of the State of Israe

Re-Birth of a Nation

On 29 November, 1947, a 2000 year old dream became reality: A Jewish State was born anew in its ancient homeland

On that day the UN General Assembly voted on Resolution 181, adopting a plan to partition the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish, one Arab.

Having ruled the area since 1917, Great Britain announced in February 1947 its decision to terminate its Mandate. The Special Committee appointed by the General Assembly recommended the establishment of two separate states, a Jewish State and an Arab State, to be joined by economic union, with the Jerusalem-Bethlehem region as an enclave under international administration

The borders of the proposed state were far from what the Jewish side had hoped for and left the Jewish population without access to key areas of national historic and religious significance. Nevertheless, the Jewish leadership responded positively to the international proposal, cognizant of the historic opportunity: this was the first time after 2000 years that the Jewish people had the chance to restore its sovereignty in its historical homeland. The Jewish leadership was also hopeful that the UN plan would help achieve a peaceful solution with the Arab world.

Resolution 181 was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947, with 33 countries voting in favor, 13 countries against, and with 10 countries abstaining. The historic vote was followed with unparalleled excitement on radio by Jews around the world, while news of the positive outcome brought thousands onto the streets across the future state to dance and celebrate the great moment. , as forth expressions of local Jewish population welcomed the vote and expressed their joy by going out to the streets

Resolution 181 was emphatically rejected by the local Arab population and the Arab States. Denying the Jewish people's right to a state of their own, the Arab countries openly declared their intention of preventing the creation of the Jewish State by all means. A wave of violent attacks was launched against the Jewish population and when  Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, five Arab armies invaded the new state the same night, seeking its annihilation. Israel prevailed in what came to be known as its War of Independence, but the war bore a heavy cost: 1% of the total population died in the war.

The Arab population of the Mandate territory also suffered as a result of the Arab refusal to accept the partition plan. Some 700,000 heeded their leaders' calls to flee or left after being caught up in the fighting. The large numbers who stayed in Israel became full citizens, with equal rights, while their brethren were kept by their Arab hosts in perpetual refugee status to serve as pawns in the political struggle against Israel.

Meanwhile, some 800,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries, finding refuge and a new home in Israel.

At war's end, Egypt had control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan annexed the West Bank. Neither saw fit to establish a Palestinian state in the territory they were to control for 19 years until the Six Day War of 1967.

Israel was admitted to the United Nations as a full member on May 11, 1949, and has been a fully democratic country with equal rights for all its citizens from its inception until today.


The Relevance of Resolution 181 Today

  • General Assembly Resolution 181 remains relevant even today for three key reasons:
  • Resolution 181 confirmed the 1922 recognition by the international community that the Jewish people deserve their own state, a Jewish state, in their historical homeland.
  • The resolution called for the establishment of two states for two peoples - Jewish and Arab - between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, each fulfilling the national aspirations of its respective populations. That formula remains Israel's position with regards to peace negotiations. Then as now, a Palestinian state can only be established through compromise and mutual recognition.
  • The refusal by the Arab population of the mandate territory to accept Resolution 181 demonstrated that they were not interested in establishing their own state if it meant allowing the existence of a Jewish state. This opposition to acknowledging the right of a Jewish state to exist still lies at the core of the conflict.

Summary of the UN General Assembly vote on Resolution 181, 29 November 1947

Adopted at the 128th plenary meeting:

In favour: 33 

Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian S.S.R., Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxemburg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Ukrainian S.S.R., Union of South Africa, U.S.A., U.S.S.R., Uruguay, Venezuela.

Against: 13 

Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen.

Abstained: 10 

Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia.