Paul Greenberg

Why shouldn't the United Nations recognize an Arab state of Palestine alongside the Jewish one called Israel? It wouldn't be the first time. On November 29, 1947, the UN's General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, to partition the disputed territory then called Palestine into two states whose people were going to live happily ever afterward.

Fat lot of good it did.

Riots erupted throughout the over-Promised Land as soon as the vote was recorded. The Arab Higher Committee for Palestine declared it would "fight for every inch" of old Palestine. The learned sages of Al-Azhar University in Cairo declared jihad against the infidels. (The term would become familiar to Americans after September 11, 2001).

Arab militias, aka gangs, began attacking Jewish settlements all across the Galilee. The British, who were supposed to keep the peace as the mandatory authority in Palestine, declared themselves unable to stop the assaults; they had all they could do to disarm the Jews. They wound up turning over their bases in the country to the Arab fighters streaming across the border from what was then Trans-Jordan. ("I will have the pleasure and honor to save Palestine." --King Abdullah I, April 26, 1948.) Suspected of making peace with the Jews, the king would be assassinated by the inevitable fanatic three years later. The UN, to no one's surprise, would prove as impotent then as it is now. It still passes plenty of resolutions; only resolve is lacking.

In 1947, the American president who was shifting back and forth on the Palestine question, now known as the Middle East conflict, was Harry Truman. He would wind up recognizing the Jewish state once it was declared. By then it was a presidential election year, and one of his political advisers (a then young Clark Clifford) kept urging Mr. Truman to support the idea of a Jewish state if he intended to carry New York in the fall.

In 2011, the American president shifting back and forth is Barack Obama. Appearing before the United Nations this past week, he was no longer emphasizing the need for Israel to negotiate on the basis of its vulnerable pre-1967 borders, which were essentially the 1949 armistice lines. Instead, he shifted his emphasis to urging direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, which the Israelis very much want to resume.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.