Professor Rashid Khalidi raises a very pertinent question in his article Unwritten History, recently published in the Boston Globe. In essence, he laments that the Palestinians have not written down their own history and he observes that their failure to do so has made their claim for Palestinian statehood more problematic.
Mr. Khalidi's initiative must be welcomed by all those who seek the historical truth in the Middle East conflict. But we may wonder why it is that the history of the Palestinian people has suddenly become such an important issue. After all, many years ago, Yasser Arafat lifted any lingering doubt by tracing Palestinian history all the way back to the Jebusites!
Peoples – real ones – know their history. History precedes the collective consciousness of a people. Jews, Kurds, Tibetans, Mongols, and a myriad others are very much aware of who they are. They need no latecomer to remind them of their origins, or to forge a newly minted history to redefine their identity. They know their past achievements and they have a common will for the future. So, if forty years after the word "Palestinian" entered the international lexicon – in its new, twisted and widely circulated meaning – we are still in search of their history, we may conclude it is because there has never been such a people. The "Palestinian people" was a late creation for political purposes aimed only at destroying the national aspirations of a real people – the Jews – rather than building a peaceful society.
I do not know what motivated Mr. Khalidi to delve into the historical quest of the Palestinian people. Was it to prop up a "cause" whose merit is increasingly questioned by their former supporters? Was it to create a means to cement the many disparate factions who are speaking with different voices? Or was it to counter what social anthropologist Ernest Geller observed, namely, that "nationalism [often] invents nations where they do not exist."? Whatever the motives may be, this historical investigation should be respectful of factual truths, which does not seem to be the thrust Mr. Khalidi had in mind, in view of the article he penned.
In his second paragraph, Mr. Khalidi writes:
"The United Nations resolution of 1947 that led to the establishment of Israel called for such a [Palestinian] state. In the years before that, Palestinians similarly failed to win independence from the British, who held a League of Nations mandate over Palestine, in part because of internal rivalries, but also because of the constellation of forces arrayed against them."
The reality is quite different and Mr. Khalidi should know it: The United Nations did not "call for a Palestinian state".
The non binding UN Resolution 181 of November 1947 "recommended" a Partition of Palestine. This resolution passed with a two third majority. It was accepted by the Jewish Agency and rejected by all Arab states and the Arab High Committee in Palestine. Similar Arab rejections occurred in the 1930s (Peel Commission, White Paper, etc.). Way before Resolution 181 passed, Mandated Palestine had already been partitioned through the creation of Transjordan by the British government, which breached the original provisions of the Mandate as they were set up in the San Remo Conference of 1920. In that regard, a further partition of Palestine, recommended by the UN in 1947, was clearly against international law and violated Chapter XII of the UN Charter.
Nothing in the above is "hidden history" as Mr. Khalidi pretends. It is all perfectly documented and it is only hidden to those who are bent on forging new facts to suit their agenda. Without going through every paragraph of Mr. Khalidi's article, it is clear that revisionism is rampant in its most obscene form. We are told that only the Egyptian army attacked Israel in 1948. One may wonder then why Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, together with Egypt, signed armistices in the first half of 1949, and Iraq withdrew its troops (without signing). We are told that Zionism was "both [a colonial] and a nationalist movement." Mr. Khalidi would be hard pressed to explain this contradiction in terms. We are told that the PLO "could have held out for a better deal than the highly disadvantageous terms of the Oslo Accords." A better deal? Was the Barak proposal at Camp David not good enough for the PLO? Is Mr. Khalidi's idea of a better deal a fast track to the "phased plan" of destruction of Israel as the "moderate" Faisal Husseini declared in Kuwait in June 2001, when he promised "a Palestinian state…from the river to the sea"? It is not through these manipulative approaches that the "Palestinian people" will acquire their lettres de noblesse. But Mr. Khalidi's exercise is useful in that it shows to what shameful lengths the promoters of the Palestinian cause are prepared to go in their futile quest to turn lead into gold. It also shows his misguided belief that going back a mere eighty years is sufficient history to buttress the inexistent identity of the "Palestinian people."
Salomon Benzimra contributed to this article
Rachel Neuwirth is an occasional contributor to American Thinker.