UN General Assembly Resolution 181 is one of the most significant milestones in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle and one of three baselines used by different Israeli or Palestinian politicians in evaluating what are the rights of this side or that in the conflict.
One baseline used by some on both sides is historical reality and rights arising from this. Some use the relatively recent Jewish immigration to Palestine to conclude that Palestinians have the right to historical Palestine. Others, both Jews and Palestinians, will dig deeper into history and go back thousands of years to find justification for their rights to the land.
These conflicting claims ultimately led to the involvement of the United Nations. The first UN resolution that dealt with disputed rights in Palestine was the 1947 partition plan, UNGAR 181, which was posited as a compromise between two peoples disputing the whole land of Palestine. That compromise was based on dividing Palestine and legitimizing the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine in historical Palestine.
The reality of the day, the prevailing balance of power and subsequent wars, eventually led to a situation whereby another landmark was established with UNSCR 242, which calls for an end to the Israeli occupation in the areas of historical Palestine occupied by Israel in 1967, i.e. the West Bank including east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
That resolution drew another baseline for what is legitimate and what is not legitimate and created a new basis for compromise, the borders of 1967.
It is difficult to think of other bases for compromise. Some Israelis, including the current government, downplay the significance of the borders of 1967, and try instead to move the borders further east. But when Israelis try to move the basis for compromise east, Palestinians will do the opposite, and try to move the basis for compromise west, by, for example, invoking UNGAR 181.
An important conclusion here is that the less legal and political weight we give to the 1967 borders as a basis for compromise, the more weight is given to 181, at least among Palestinians and Arabs. That’s why the international community, represented by the Quartet countries and vocalized in the roadmap, stipulated that the final resolution would require Israel to "end the occupation that began in 1967".
Borders and points of compromise are not the only significant aspects of UNGAR 181. The other and maybe more significant factor is the establishment of a legal foundation for the principle of two states. In the Palestinian and Arab perception, and probably from a legal perspective as well, the two state concept is not a half measure. Having an independent Palestinian state is the other face of the coin of having an independent and legitimate Israeli state. In other words, the establishment of a Palestinian state is necessary for the legitimacy of the Israeli state. That is the essence of UNGAR 181, which was the source of legitimacy for the creation of the state of Israel.
One should look at international legality vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its entirety and not in a selective way. UNGAR 181 legitimizes the principle of two states, Israel and Palestine, while UNSCR 242 in addition to the most recent UNSCR 1397 which adopts the roadmap, determine the specific, realistic and legal borders between those two states.