“Why, after 50 years, has not this conflict (Israel and the Palestinians) been negotiated to a conclusion?” is the question students are asking in Dave Schechter’s column (“Black and White Then Give Way to Gray Now,” June 9).

The short answer is that the leaders of the Muslim world aren’t willing to accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. The search for peace doesn’t obligate Israel to commit suicide.

A more detailed answer requires a look at history. No Arabs ever had sovereignty over the area known as “Palestine,” a Roman term intended to celebrate the destruction of the Jews’ Second Temple and the exile of most (not all!) of the area’s indigenous Jews.

In the late 19th century, Palestine was a sparsely populated, largely undeveloped region of the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish population increased when modern Zionism was born. The Zionists purchased land, increased its productivity, and established schools and hospitals. Many of the people who are today classified as “Palestinian refugees” are descendants of Arabs who entered the area because of the improved living conditions created by the Zionists.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations granted control over Palestine to Great Britain. The British used 78 percent of its “Palestine Mandate” to establish Transjordan (now Jordan).

In 1947, the United Nations (successor to the League of Nations) proposed that the remainder of the mandate be partitioned into a Jewish state and a second Arab state. The Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine) accepted the offer, but the Arab League rejected it. Several Arab nations went to war against Israel, saying the Arabs of Palestine were simply “southern Syrians” in no need of a state of their own.

Several hundred thousand Arabs fled the area during the war, and a similar (probably larger) number of Jews were expelled from their homes in the Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa shortly after the war.

The Jews were quickly absorbed and uplifted by Israel; their descendants now make up the majority of Israel’s Jewish population.

In contrast, the descendants of the fleeing Arabs, now said to number in the millions, have been forced into refugee limbo, denied citizenship and economic opportunity in most Muslim countries, largely unemployed or underemployed in areas under Palestinian administration, and fed a constant diet of anti-Jewish invective.

They are the only group, worldwide, that passes refugee status from one generation to the next and has been told (by Palestinian leaders as well as other Muslim leaders) that the end to their homelessness will come only when the “Zionist entity” has been destroyed and the “refugees” have been given the homes their forebears fled.

Frankly, I don’t see much gray here. Israel (in the white hat) has proffered peace plans and ceded land. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (in the black hats) responded to Israeli withdrawal by increasing the number of missiles lobbed at Israeli population centers and by paying stipends to those who respond to the call to “violently resist the occupation” while the leaders refuse to negotiate.

Toby F. Block, Atlanta