On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish, one Arab. Most Zionists accepted the deal, while Arabs almost universally rejected it and declared war.
One Muslim delegate, referring to Jews living in Arab nations, warned that “The blood will flow like rivers in the Middle East.” Iraq’s prime minister threatened that the Jewish state would not survive, saying “We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in” while Syria’s leader claimed “We shall eradicate Zionism.”
Seventy years later, a lust for Jewish blood is a staple of Islamic State, Hezbollah and Hamas, whose charter calls for the elimination of Israel. Iran’s leaders call Israel “Little Satan” and vow to wipe it off the map.
In important ways, then, not much has changed. Jew hatred remains mainstream enough to flourish in the sunshine as well as the shadows, including at major American university campuses and European parliaments. Year in, year out, Jews are the victims of most of the religious hate crimes in the United States.
Some UN bodies exist to demonize Israel while ignoring wholesale slaughter and oppression in other lands. Indeed, if that partition proposal were submitted to a much-larger General Assembly today, it probably would not get majority support, let alone the two-thirds approval it got in 1947.
Yet in other ways, everything has changed. Israel, which declared independence in 1948, is a mighty regional power militarily and its economy and technical innovations are world-renowned. This is exceptionalism, Israeli-style.
Politically, it’s made progress, too. Peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt have proved remarkably durable and other Arab states have established quiet working relationships with the nation they tried repeatedly to destroy.
Paradoxically, the rise of Islamic terrorism has created common ground with some former enemies. Even Barack Obama’s flawed nuclear deal with Iran, vehemently opposed by both Israel and Saudi Arabia, is bringing the two nations closer because they share a vision of Iran as an existential threat.
A recent article in the Jerusalem Post described growing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia as “perhaps the most significant shift in the region” and called a secret visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Israel in September evidence that official diplomatic relations are possible.
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s top mideast adviser, also visited both countries in a bid to improve Israeli-Arab ties and help broker an Israeli-Palestinian deal.
On that second point, pessimism remains the safe bet. Although Trump reversed Obama’s tilt toward the Palestinians, neither president has had success in changing the essential dynamics: The violent refusal of Palestinian elements to accept Israel’s right to exist.
While much of the public debate is couched in terms of borders and settlements and sovereignty over Jerusalem, the larger truth is that Palestinians have pursued Israel’s destruction with more zeal than they applied to building their own state.
While you would never know it from most coverage in the American media, a two-state solution was offered to both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, but neither would say yes. To do so would have meant signing their own death warrants at the hands of fellow Arabs committed to Israel’s destruction.
The result is that many Palestinians remain scattered in “refugee camps” around the region established nearly 70 years ago, unwanted by their hosts while serving as political pawns. In their own self-governed territories, they are bitterly divided and impoverished, with much of the population living on international handouts and a fantasy that a Palestine without Jews is inevitable.
At times, there have been brief interludes of hope that internal change was coming. Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, told an Israeli journalist that he believed the Arabs’ 1947 rejection of the partition was a mistake that he hoped to correct.
That was six years ago. Since then, Abbas, finishing the 13th year of a four-year term, has done little to turn that idea into reality.
As I prepare for an upcoming trip to Israel and the West Bank, my third visit to the region, I expect to find an even more dynamic Jewish state, where even the constant threat of catastrophe does not interfere with a zest for life.
Then again, that’s Israel. A miracle among nations.