The notion of a Palestinian people and Palestinian identity, although taken for granted today, has neither a long nor a distinguished history. Understanding its origins and what it represents explains why the peace process between Israel and the Arabs has failed and will continue to fail.
Inherent in Palestinianism, from its origins, is the rejection of a Jewish state in any form. That opposition is not negotiable and not open to compromise; it is essential.
Palestinianism was never for anything; its raison d'être was to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. That purpose has never changed.
Concern for Palestine among a few Arab intellectuals, as Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi shows in his book on the subject, did not exist until Zionists began settlements at the turn of the century. Most weekly newspapers from that period which he surveyed were not even from Palestine and had scant distribution.
"Palestinian identity" then, as now, was negative, focused entirely on opposition to Zionists rather than a positive self-definition. Arab Palestinian leaders, like the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, an ardent supporter of the Nazis, and arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat -- both "fathers" of Palestinianism ignored by Khalidi -- rejected Zionism and promoted terrorism.
Local Arab uprisings against British rule were anti-colonial and anti-Zionist, not directed toward another independent Palestinian state. Arab riots and pogroms, like those in 1929 and 1936, for example, were not motivated by Palestinian nationalism; there were no calls for a Palestinian state. The battle cry was, "Kill the Jews."
In 1937, Arab leader Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi told the Peel Commission, "There is no such country as 'Palestine'; 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented!"
The riots of 1936 were whipped up by the newly created "Arab [not Palestinian] HigherCommittee," the central political organ of the Arab community of Mandate Palestine, organized by a group of elites led by Amin al-Husayni. In 1948, the Arab League organized the All-Palestine Government, the first attempt to establish an independent Palestinian state. Led by King Abdullah of Jordan and nominally Amin al-Husayni, who had returned from Berlin, where he spent the war, it called for the union of Arab Palestine and Transjordan. Husayni later arranged Abdullah's assassination.
A Palestinian National Council convened in Gaza in 1948, under Amin al-Husayni's leadership, passed resolutions calling for an independent state over all of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital. Adopting the flag of the Arab Revolt that had been used by Arab nationalists, it called for the liberation of Palestine. But it had no following.
In 1946, Arab historian Philip Hitti testified before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry that "there is no such thing as Palestine in history." In 1947, Arab leaders protesting the U.N. partition plan argued that Palestine was part of Syria and "politically, the Arabs of Palestine [were] not [an] independent[,] separate ... political entity."
In 1947, the U.N. proposed a "Jewish" State and an "Arab" -- not Palestinian -- State.
The womb of Palestinianism was war, the Nakba (catastrophe) in the Arab narrative, the establishment of the State of Israel. Five well-armed Arab countries invaded the nascent state, joining local Arab gangs and militias in a genocidal war to exterminate the Jews. Yet this was not seen as a war for Palestinian nationalism, or Palestinianism; it was an all-out Arab war against Jews, Zionism, and Zionists.
Arab gangs that attacked Jews in 1948, composed of locals and Arabs from the region, were called the "Arab -- not Palestininian -- Army of Liberation." The reason is that prior to Israel's establishment, the notion of a "Palestinian people" simply did not exist, or was irrelevant, because Arab affiliations are primarily familial and tribal -- not national. And because "Palestinian" then meant something else.
Before 1948, those who were called (and called themselves) "Palestinians" were Jews, not Arabs, although both carried the same British passports. In fact, only after Jews in Palestine called themselves Israelis, in 1948, could Arabs adopt "Palestinian," as theirs exclusively.
The idea of an "Arab Palestinian people" was formed and enshrined in UNRWA "refugee camps" -- today, large, developed towns -- where its residents are indoctrinated with hatred, the "right of return"to Israel, and Israel's eventual destruction. Except in Jordan, which granted them citizenship, the residents of these UNRWA towns in Lebanon and Syria are severely restricted and denied basic human and civil rights.
UNRWA's controversial definition of "Arab refugee" includes anyone who claimed residence in Palestine since 1946, regardless of origin; this date is important because it marks the high point of a massive influx of Arabs from the region into Palestine, primarily due to employment opportunities and a higher standard of living. This category of "refugees," moreover, was different from all others in that it included not only those who applied in 1949, but all of their descendants, forever, with full rights and privileges. This is one of the core issues preventing any resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. UNRWA's existence, therefore, perpetuates the conflict, prevents Israel's acceptance, and breeds violence and terrorism.
Ironically, only when Israel took control of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza could the residents of UNRWA towns in those areas move and work freely, obtain decent education and health care, and express a newly designed Palestinianism -- albeit often dedicated to violence and Israel's destruction.
With an annual budget of over a half-billion dollars, UNRWA supports about one-and-a-half million "refugees" in 58 "camps" and 5 million "registered refugees" (throughout the world) -- who can claim their "rights" as "refugees" at any time. The total population is expected to reach 7 or 8 million next year, and it keeps growing.
Were it not for the policies of Arab countries and UNRWA, the "Arab refugees" might have followed the example of Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab countries, came to Israel, and went on to live normal lives. Given the same chance, perhaps, Arab Palestinians might have established a state of their own. The desire to destroy Israel, however, trumps state-building, and it is fundamental to Palestinianism.
The first attempt to define Palestinianism was in 1964, in the PLO Covenant, during Jordan's occupation of "the West Bank" (a Jordanian reference from 1950 to distinguish the area from the East Bank of the Jordan River) and when Egypt held the Gaza Strip. On behalf of the "Palestinian Arab people," the Covenant declared their goal: a "holy war" (jihad) to "liberate Palestine," i.e. destroy Israel. There was no mention of Arabs living in "the West Bank" and Gaza Strip, since that would have threatened Arab rulers. Arab "refugees" were convenient proxies in the war against Israel, not their hosts; Palestinianism became a replacement nationalism for Zionism, a call to arms against Jews.
This balancing act was no longer necessary after 1967, when Israel acquired areas that had been originally assigned to a Jewish State by the League of Nations and British Mandate -- Judea, Samaria, eastern Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip -- and the Golan Heights, all rich in Jewish history and archeology. A year later, the PLO Covenant was amended to cover both "occupations" -- in 1948 and 1967.
Dedicated to armed struggle, their goal has never changed; unable to defeat Israel militarily, however, the Arab strategy is to demonize and delegitimize, creating yet another Arab Palestinian state in addition to Jordan. In order to accomplish this, they concocted a narrative, an identity, and an ethos to compete with Zionism and Jewish history: Palestinianism.
Presented in the PLO Covenant and Hamas Charter (1988), the purpose of Palestinianism is to "liberate Palestine" and destroy Israel; neither reflects any redeeming social or cultural values. Moreover, Palestinianism is moving towards Islamist extremism.
According to Palestinian Basic Law (Article 4), ratified by PA President Mohammed Abbas in 2005:
1. Islam is the official religion in Palestine. Respect for the sanctity of all other divine religions shall be maintained.
2. The principles of Islamic Shari'a shall be a principal source of legislation.
3. Arabic shall be the official language.
"Palestinianism" lacks the basic requirements of legitimate national identity: a separate, unique linguistic, cultural, ethnic, or religious basis. It is nothing more than a political-military construct, currently led by Fatah and Hamas terrorist organizations. Yet it became legitimized by the U.N.
Despite PLO mega-terrorist attacks, and backed by the Arab League, Muslim and "non-aligned" countries, the PLO was accepted by the United Nations in 1974. The following year, the U.N. passed its infamous "Zionism is Racism" resolution, sanctioning Israel's demonization and setting the U.N. on a course of Israel's destruction.
The myth of Palestinianism worked because the media accepted Arab and PLO claims and their cause. Nearly all media, for example, use the term "Palestinian" or "Israeli-occupied West Bank," reinforcing Palestinian claims, rather than the authentic designation which appears on earlier maps, Judea and Samaria, which refer to the regions' Jewish history. The use of "West Bank" is a political, not a geographic statement.
Eventually, by the early 1990s, Palestinianism was accepted by some Israeli politicians, Left-dominated media, academia, cultural elite, and some jurists as a way of expressing their opposition to "settlements" and hoping for some sort of mutual recognition with the PLO. Their efforts culminated in the Oslo Accords (1993), which gave official Israeli sanction to Palestinianism.
Anti-Israel academics around the world promote "Palestinian" archeology, society, and culture as a brand name and a political message. Advertising works; every time someone uses the term "Palestinian," it acknowledges and reinforces this myth.
Palestinianism, however, regardless of its lack of historical, cultural, and social roots, is now well-established and here to stay as a political identity that demands sovereign rights and a territorial base. The question seems to be not if, but where.
The solution is regional. Arab Palestinians are entitled to civil and human rights in their host countries, where they have lived for generations. A second Arab Palestinian state, in addition to Jordan, which was carved out of Palestine in 1921 -- whose population is two-thirds "Palestinian" -- will not resolve any core issues at the heart of the conflict. The conflict is not territorial, but existential; recognition of a Jewish state -- i.e., Israel -- is anathema to the Palestinian cause. That explains why Palestinian Arab leaders refuse to accept it in any form.
The problem for Palestinianism is not "the occupation" in 1967, but Israel's existence; seen as an exclusively Arab homeland, Palestine is an integral part of the Arab world, completely under Arab sovereignty. This is axiomatic; there are no exceptions and no compromises.
Promoted in media, mosques, and schools, anti-Jewish incitement, denial of the Holocaust and Jewish history, and rejection of the right of Jewish national self-determination, by definition, Palestinianism is the greatest obstacle to peace.
The author is a writer and journalist living in Israel.