In her recent commentary, Kylie Stephens reflected on her trip to Israel last month (“Learn the history to understand the Middle East conflict,” Jan. 3). She called for all Americans to recognize the humanity in both Israel and the disputed territories and that we all make an honest attempt to explore both sides of any conflict. I agree. It would also be useful to fact-check Stephens’ statements.
The original 1947 U.N. Partition Plan did aim to give Jerusalem international status, but what Stephens omits, perhaps deliberately, were key historical issues: (1) Arab leaders rejected this plan outright and went to war and lost. Jordan, which occupied Jerusalem’s Old City after 1948, immediately removed all Jews living there. Since 1844, every census of Jerusalem has shown its Jewish population to exceed its Muslim population by at least 50 percent; (2) Yes, there was a 1967 war, but only after Jordan’s King Abdullah I bin al-Hussein refused to restrain did Israel take control of all of Jerusalem. Subsequently, Israel permitted the Palestinians to build homes in East Jerusalem. Curiously, between 1948 and 1967, that is for the 19 years Jordan was an occupier, it and the other Arab nations never attempted to establish a Palestinian state nor make Jerusalem its capital. Why? Maybe it wasn’t so important. Maybe it was because Jordan wished its capital to remain in Amman.
Stephens is only partially right about the subsequent recognition of Jerusalem’s role as Israel’s capital. In 1995, the US Senate voted 93 to 5 and the House 374 to 37 to formally recognize the city as Israel’s capital, calling for the U.S. Embassy to move there from Tel Aviv by 1999. (Yes, Republicans and Democrats can work together!) Since President Trump’s recent announcement of a “recognition of reality,” Guatemala announced that it too would recognize the obvious. Other countries are in discussion. Russia, to the great surprise of many, announced its intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem, even before Trump. Stephens is correct that the move “escalates tensions with Arab nations,” but as anticipated by many, the dire predictions of massive armed resistance proved little more than several demonstrations planned exclusively for reporters and their readers that did not amount to even a bump in violence.
Stephens opined “that greater historical context is necessary [for readers] to truly understand the conflict.” She then states that “a brief, yet balanced, account of the modern history of the region reveals a conflict that is less about religious hatred and more about a lack of justice and equality.” This is simply false. It has always been about religion. Ottoman Turkey claimed the region was a Muslim caliphate, its supreme leader was the sultan, and religion legitimized his political power. It is true that during the late Ottoman period, Muslim, Christian, and Jews were neighbors and sometimes lived in peace. In reality, it might better be described as an “ambiance of toleration.” The Arab potentates treated Jews as “dhimmi” (second-class citizens). The Jewish communities lived in constant fear for their safety. Occasionally throughout the Ottoman empire, Arab mobs sacked synagogues or worse.
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Yasser Arafat, when speaking in 1994 in South Africa, announced he would abrogate the Oslo accords when the time was right. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeated many times that the Palestinians will never accept Israel as a Jewish State. As Abba Eban, the late Israeli statesman famously lamented, Arabs have a history of “never having lost an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Currently, no government can negotiate with “Palestine” because it has two heads living in two different areas. Both are strong and sometimes in violent opposition to each other. Moreover, Abbas is near the end of his time and there is not an agreed succession plan from the PLO, let alone from both “Palestines.” Yes, there are human problems on the West Bank. Ms. Stephens clearly went to these regions with the agenda of highlighting the issues facing Muslims. She willfully ignores what happened in Gaza when the Israeli army left.
Revisionist history makes for good reading. Accurate history helps us better understand each other and may lead to peace.
Stanley Robboy lives in Chapel Hill.