December: Zionist Institutions, International Interventions – Compiled by the Center for Israel Education, 2022
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion flies to Eilat in December 1949. (By David Eldan, National Photo Collection of Israel)

If November historically has been a month for some of Zionism’s highest highs (the Balfour Declaration, Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, U.N. Resolution 181) and its lowest low (Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination), December traditionally has been a time for international efforts to kick-start the peace process. Earlier, during Ottoman and British rule of Palestine, the month saw the birth of Zionist institutions vital to state formation.

December 1975 — ‘Path to Peace’ becomes Carter administration’s blueprint for diplomacy

The Democratic-aligned Brookings Institution issues “Toward Peace in the Middle East,” the report of a study group that includes two future key advisers to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Quandt. The recommendations foreshadow Carter’s quest for a comprehensive regional peace that includes a resolution for the Palestinians. The report also adds to U.S.-Israel tensions because Israel does not want the US or anyone else determining what Israel’s security or security needs.

Dec. 1, 1973 — Death of Ben-Gurion

David Ben-Gurion, who led the Zionist effort to gain a state during the 1930s and 1940s and was Israel’s first and second-longest-serving prime minister, dies at age 87. He was the second longest serving Israeli Prime Minister.

Dec. 1, 1932 — Birth of a Newspaper

The Palestinian Post, the precursor of The Jerusalem Post, distributes 1,200 copies of its first, eight-page edition to meet the demand for an English-language newspaper in British Mandatory Palestine.

Dec. 5, 1949 — No to International Jerusalem

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion rejects creating international jurisdiction for Jerusalem, as called for in U.N. Resolution 181. In a Knesset speech, he says what so many of his successors will repeat: Jerusalem is the eternal Jewish capital and must be part of the State of Israel. Nevertheless, the U.N. General Assembly reiterates its intention to create a “corpus separatum” around Jerusalem six days later by passing Resolution 303. In 1980, Israel enshrine Jerusalem in law as Israel’s eternal capital.

Dec. 6, 2017 — U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem

President Donald Trump announces that the United States officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, although the specific area under Israeli control remains a matter for negotiation. He doesn’t commit to moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, but he does so the following May.

Dec. 9, 1987 — Start of First Intifada

Riots in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank start the First Intifada (“awakening”), which lasts until the 1993 Oslo Accords. The immediate cause is an army truck crash that kills four Palestinians, but the violence releases 20 years of Arab anger and frustration since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war.

Dec. 10, 1948 — Proposed but never applied Constitution

The New York Times publishes the 76-article, English-language version of Israel’s proposed constitution. The Knesset debates but never votes on the document. Still, the text, especially the preamble, lays out the vision and purpose of a state for the Jewish people.

Dec. 11, 1947 — Deadline for British Exit

Twelve days after the U.N. General Assembly approves Palestine’s partition in Resolution 181, British Colonial Secretary Arthur Creech Jones tells Parliament that the British Mandate will end May 15, 1948, and that all British troops will be withdrawn by Aug. 1.

Dec. 11, 1948 — Palestinian may return if they wish to live in peace

As Israel nears victory in the War of Independence, the U.N. General Assembly responds to “the situation in Palestine” by approving Resolution 194. The resolution neither names Israel nor talks about partition but mentions Palestine more than a dozen times. It renews the call for an internationally controlled zone around Jerusalem and emphasizes that refugees “wishing to return to their homes and live in peace should do so or compensation be paid.”  Palestinians over time  interpret this clause as endorsing an unlimited “right.” Israel will accept a limited number of Palestinians to return if Arab sides will accept Israel legitimacy. Neither happens. 

Dec. 17, 2014 — European Parliament’s Position

After six previous votes the The European Parliament, the European Union’s legislature, votes 498-88 with 111 abstentions favors a Palestinian statehood in principle and calling for a two-state solution with shared control of Jerusalem. The resolution does not cite U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, the basis of all land-for-peace negotiations since 1967.

Dec. 18, 2003 — Sharon’s Disengagement Plan

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon uses the annual Herzliya Conference to explain his plan to unilaterally disengage from the Palestinians, starting with the Gaza Strip, and how the approach fits with the Roadmap for Peace presented by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.

• Sharon returns to the Herzliya Conference on Dec. 16, 2004, to provide further details about the plan’s implementation, which begins in August 2005

Dec. 21, 1973 — Geneva Peace Conference

The United States and Soviet Union convene a three day Middle East peace conference in Geneva. Both Syria and the PLO are not ready to sit with Israel in public and recognize Israel.  The gathering confirms Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s earlier meetings with Israel and Egypt leaders that agreed on a January 1974 Disengagement Agreement.

• A State Department memorandum shows how Kissinger unsuccessfully tries during a meeting in Damascus on Dec. 15, 1973, to persuade Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to participate in the Geneva conference. 

Dec. 23, 2000 — Clinton Parameters

Having brought Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat to Camp David in August 2000 and negotiators to Washington on Dec. 18, President Bill Clinton presents his parameters for a final-status peace agreement and requests their acceptance as the basis of talks by Dec. 27. Barak’s Cabinet accepts the parameters with reservations; Arafat never gives an answer.  

Dec. 23, 2016 — U.S. Abstention at U.N.

In the final month of the President Barack Obama’s administration, the United States abstains on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, allowing passage of an Egyptian proposal that condemns Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

• A year after telling the Saban Forum about the urgency of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Secretary of State John Kerry on Dec. 28, 2016, defends the U.S. decision not to veto Resolution 2334 and largely blames Israel for the stalled peace process. 

Dec. 29, 1901 — Founding of JNF

The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth L’Israel) is launched after Theodor Herzl’s impassioned plea at the Fifth Zionist Congress. The concept of a dedicated fund for land purchases goes back to Rabbi Judah Alkalai in the mid-19th century.

• JNF is the first of many foundational Jewish institutions launched over the years in December, including Kupat Holim Clalit (General Sick Fund) for health care in 1911, the Histadrut federation for labor in 1920, Keren Hayesod for international fundraising in 1920, the British Government Hospital of Haifa (now Rambam Health Care Campus) in 1938, and, after independence, the Mossad for intelligence in 1949.

Dec. 31, 1937 — Political Importance of Land Purchase

Eliahu Epstein (later Elath) reports on a Jewish National Fund meeting about buying land in Palestine after the Peel Commission’s recommendation for partition in July 1937 and during an Arab revolt against the British. JNF concludes that despite public demands by Arab leaders to end land sales to Jews, Arab landowners are trying to sell more property than JNF can afford, so it’s crucial to concentrate purchases in areas that eventually can form a state.