Another historical marker for the Middle East on the eve of Annapolis: Nov. 29 marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations approval of a partition plan to divide the Jews and Arabs of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. How fitting, sadly enough, that this week also signals the umpteenth diplomatic attempt to resolve the same Arab-Israeli conflict.
How far have we come in six decades if on the eve of the planned Annapolis conference Saeb Erekat, considered a moderate negotiator on the Palestinian side, is still balking at recognizing Israel as a Jewish state? “Palestinians will never acknowledge Israel’s Jewish identity,” he said last week.
Yet that was a key element of the UN partition plan, which came about when the British Mandate was about to end. The newly formed UN decided to give both the Arabs and Jews roughly half of the contested land of Palestine. The Jews were reluctant because of the lack of territorial continuity and the fact that Jerusalem was to become internationalized, but in the end agreed because the plan would give them sovereignty. Indeed, the Jews of Palestine greeted the news of the UN vote with dancing in the street.
The Arabs rejected the plan outright because they refused to accept a Jewish state in the region, and their response was to turn to violence the very next day, soon leading to the 1948 war that broke out the day after Israel declared statehood.
Sixty years later the government and people of Israel are still trying to compromise, making difficult concessions in the hopes that the majority of their neighbors is prepared to recognize a Jewish state, as have Egypt and Jordan.
The events of Nov. 29 are so significant because they prove that the international community recognized the legitimacy of the Jewish people having a state of their own. That was 1947. Will the Palestinians finally come to understand that reality in 2007?