New Wine in Old Skins

Over the last few months, and particularly in the lead up to Ramadan 202, the world media and Arab media are awash with tales and allegations of Israeli occupation, colonialism, oppression and persecution, not to mention allegations that Israel targets and kills journalists.

Then, there are cries to recognise the Arab “Nakba”, an event in 1948 when the then-nascent State of Israel was attacked by five Arab armies intent on wiping out this ‘aberrant’ non-Muslim state in its midst and righting an historical “wrong”.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

The Ancient Levant With Map
credit: Wikimedia Commons

This chant, long a favourite of Palestinian terror groups, supporters and a fashionably “woke” academia outside of Israel, has become increasingly mainstream in recent years, with others even going so far as to claim Arab “indigeneity” in the Levant, a geographical area long associated with Jews and Judaism some 1700 years before the birth of Islam.

And, as Israeli media reported, Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, EU representative to the Palestinian Authority stated that “terrorist attacks against Israelis should not be surprising given the depth of Palestinian suffering from the 74 years of conflict with Israel.” (Times of Israel, June 4, 2022).

This sort of anger and resentment toward Israel reflect “…rising Arab influence on the international scene, Islamist influence in Europe and elsewhere, general support for the Palestinian “underdog” (regardless of whether this approach is sensible), an exaggerated international law and human rights approach to Israel’s wars that ignores their unique circumstances, and, without doubt, antisemitism.

Certainly a case can be made that the international community exercises a double standard, ignores Palestinian rejection of reasonable Israeli offers in 2000 and 2008 of a two-state solution, ignores the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza that for the first time gave the Palestinians a degree of sovereignty over finite territory, and ignores the Palestinian response: suicide bombers, rockets, and tunnels” (Alpher, 2016: 13). It is not difficult to agree with Alpher’s further statement that “Israel has as much right to declare itself a Jewish state as England, Sweden, and Denmark have to be Christian states, twenty-five countries to be Muslim states, and four to be Buddhist states…[and that Israel] has to win all its wars…to maintain its deterrence of existential threats from Iran and Sunni Islamists…{and that] a considerable portion of the criticism of Israel by parties ranging from Jimmy Carter to international and even Israeli human rights groups is often grossly inaccurate (Ibid,15).

A related and similar sentiment is made by Einat Wilf when she says that as “…long as the world is divided into some 200 countries, on the basis of the principle of self-determination for peoples and nations, the Jewish people have a right to this.” (Wilf, “Telling Our Story”, 2018)

Further, inside of Israel, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, May 18, 2022, Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana stated in the Knesset that “…the moshav I live in, is built on land that before the establishment of the state was inhabited by Arabs…We came out of nowhere and expelled them from their land.”

It is exploration of the historical antecedents of sentiments like these and those which present the Palestinians as hapless victims and not victims of their own choosing, which will form the core of this exploratory opinion piece.

Meanwhile, and arguably, today’s political Israel stands with its back against the wall as the pressure from the international community to resolve the problems of state and international law by political means increases dramatically.

On a side note of interest, de-legitimisers of the State of Israel allege that Zionism is a European, Occidental construct, imposed on an Arab Oriental Middle East.

However, Edward Said’s mostly misinterpreted thesis misses the point that while political Zionism was birthed in Europe, its core and antecedents were always anchored in the Orient, in the hope and prayer of a return to Zion (another name for Jerusalem when there was no revisionism about its centrality and importance to the Jews of Judea and surrounds) some 1,700 years before the birth of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. And, as Simon Dubnow notes, the longing for the return to their indigenous homeland in the Orient “has constituted one of the thirteen tenets of Jewish religion as formulated by Maimonides.”), a Sephardic Jew from Cordoba, Andalusia. (Dubnow, 1931, 176-177)

In effect, Said’s thesis of ‘Orientaliam’ which posits a control and dominance of Europe and the West (the Occident) over the Islamic world (the Orient) was, in the crucible of political Zionism which birthed in Europe, actually an Oriental Jewish attempt to regain an indigenous historical territory lost through dispersions and Arab Muslim invasions, occupation and colonisation.

And, even with the ongoing tensions between secular and religious Zionism, it was only as a reaction to antisemitism which included centuries of dhimmi status of Jews in the Arab world, and the persecution of Jews in Europe, that Jewish nationalism in a forced diaspora over millennia looked to reclaiming their homeland as a people and a historically recorded ethnoreligious nation in historical (Oriental) Zion as a survival strategy of the ethnic group against the threats that were posed to the group’s continued existence then (as now). As the sociologist Ernest Gellner put it: “It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way around.” (Wehler 2007:9)

On the flip side, in late 1996, former (Labor) Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, co-initiator of the (largely disastrous as far as peace goes) Oslo Peace Process and 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner for that very same Peace Process, Shimon Peres, offered his view of the Palestinians thus: “Undoubtedly they [the Palestinians] are a talented people, and under the right circumstances they can become a modern people – as modern as any other people in the world. They have several shortcomings. One is that they have never been a people – there never was a Palestinian people until very recently. They have never experienced the taste of statehood – there never was a Palestinian state. And they are eaten up by violence and terror…” (Peres and Littell 1998: 79–80).

Twenty four years later, that comment is pointedly accurate as Palestinians,  the supposed beneficiaries of the political war waged both by  them and on their behalf, remain divided, stateless, hooked on terror, violence, accountability-free foreign aid, and settled in a condition of victimhood, entitlement, and lost hope as their compatriots in the diaspora still dwell in  refugee camps throughout the Arab world seven decades after  their forebears were displaced during the first Arab-initiated war with Israel in 1948.

The Reference Points

One starting point in this exploration for what has come to be (erroneously) referred to as the “Palestinian territories” is that the territories were never under the recognized sovereignty of any country.

Another is that the declaration that “Palestine will be free” assumes that it is being trodden underfoot by invaders and occupiers, and that the Palestinians are the indigenous people of the area. However, even a brief survey of the family names of many Palestinians attest to their non-Palestinian origins. Just as Jews bear names like Berliner, Warsaw and Toledano, so to do “Palestinians” have family names like Elmisri (Egyptian), Chalabi (Syrian) and Mugrabi (North Africa).

It is interesting here to note that the term Palestine, now touted by vested interests as the “ancient historic land of the indigenous Palestinians” was only ever used twice to refer to the area which now comprises Israel and surrounds. Once when the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed it to erase all Jewish connection to Biblical Judaea and its Jews, and for a second time when the British Mandatory ruled the area for 48 years prior to the declaration of the State of Israel and an un-named Arab Muslim state. At all other times, the area was referred to by the Arabs as al-Shams, a region of South Syria, not a putative “Palestinian” state in the making……

It was King David who established Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish nation and whose son Solomon, to sanctify the city as a central pillar of Jewish existence, built the first Jewish Temple there on Mount Moriah, an area now known as the Temple Mount or the Noble Sanctuary.

It was only 1,700 years later that an Islamic structure known as the Dome of the Rock was erected on the site in the seventh century CE.

The nub

A Jerusalem Post editorial in May states: “Acknowledging the Nakba, just like Kahana explained later in his post, is not saying that Israel is guilty of what happened, or that it should change its identity and characteristics. It is simply recognition that the Arab inhabitants of this land are not going anywhere, and it is better to work with them instead of against them.” (Jerusalem Post, 18 May, 2022)

Balfour Declaration - Wikipedia
credit: Wikipedia

The Balfour Declaration had recognized only the Jews as a people with national rights, regarding the Arab population as no more than the “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” who had civil and religious, but not national, rights.”

Over time, it became readily apparent that there were two national communities in the histori-geographical area of Palestine (later carved up to create Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel), one Jewish and one Arab, and both equally deserved to exercise their right to self-determination.

This was never an issue for the State of Israel.

The issue first and foremost was that from the Arab point of view, there was a consistent refusal to share a land they believed was entirely theirs as equals with a minority of foreigners.

However, the Arabs could not historically or reasonably justify how the land was “theirs” given the Arab invasions and colonisation of indigenous Jewish territory circa 610 CE, and so the revisionism of the farthest mosque, the third holiest site in Islam was developed and where Jews praying at the site of Solomon’s ruined Temple was portrayed as “storming al Aqsa”…

Consistently, and often, the Arabs rejected both the notion of partition as well as the notion that Jews could live as other than a minority under Arab rule in the Middle East. They rejected the recommendations of the Peel Commission, Resolution 181 on partition and, by early 1946, in a detailed paper to the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry titled “The Arab Case for Palestine.”

“It was one of the most comprehensive exposés of the Arab position, showed no concern for the recent suffering of the Jews of Europe and their urgent need for relief, nor did it concede that the Jews had any valid historical claim to, or association with, Palestine”. (Laqeur and Rubin,5th ed, 1995:80). Moreover, the paper stated that the Arabs “could not acquiesce in the subjection of “an indigenous population [emphasis mine] against its will to alien immigrants whose claim is based upon a historical connection which ceased effectively many centuries ago.” [emphasis mine] (Susser, 2012)

Furthermore, in the Arab view, the Arabs of Palestine, which was geographically “part of Syria,” belonged “to the Syrian branch of the Arab family of nations; all their culture and tradition link them to the other Arab peoples.” (Susser, 2012)

This sentiment only reinforces Peres’ 1998 statement that the Arabs who today would like to be recognised as a distinct people rather than Arabs with a desire for a nation state in a further divided Israel, were in fact never a distinct nation or people, but relied on sophism to generate a narrative of “indigeneity” and “ancient historical connection” to serve a dubious political goal as witnessed by the published Charters of both the PLO/PA and Hamas.

Thu, despite international law which created Arab and Muslim states of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, the Arab Higher Committee rejected as “unjust” not only the formation of a Jewish majority state, but also of a binational one because for the Arabs, it denied “…the majority its normal position and rights.”

After the Arabs had finally lost the war of 1948, Jordanian and Iraqi forces were in control of the West Bank, and Israel was in control of the rest of Mandatory Palestine, except for the Gaza Strip, which was under the control of the Egyptian army, the Arab Higher Committee and the Palestine National Council declared the independence of Palestine. This hurriedly convened National Council was then shut down by Nasser in 1959 and only highlighted the extent to which the Council was an empty vessel to front for Arab rejectionism.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation was then formed in 1964, in Cairo, with an objective that was clear and absolute: history had to be rolled back until all that had been created under the auspices of the British Mandate in Palestine was completely undone. All of Palestine was to be yet another Arab Muslim state, and the great majority of the Jews who presently lived there would be expected to leave.

In September 1970, Jordan decimated the armed PLO presence in the kingdom and the PLO approved a new political program which now called for the complete liberation of Palestine not in one fell swoop, by an act of war. But by “struggling” “…by all means, in the main by armed struggle [that is, not only armed struggle] to liberate Palestinian land and to establish the people’s national, independent, fighting authority on any part of the land of Palestine that would be liberated” and where the PLO/Fatah/PA would be willing to establish a national authority in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel, at least temporarily, as the result of a negotiation, but which would not entail the recognition of Israel or the making of peace with it.

That is, more or less, the position presently assumed by Hamas in 2022.

The 1979 Israeli- Egyptian peace treaty and the 1982 Israeli operation against the PLO “Fakhani Republic” (named after the area of Beirut the PLO commandeered) in Lebanon left the organisation crushed and isolated.

In order to reinvent itself and become relevant again, the PLO, in 1988, the PLO now endorsed what they had adamantly rejected before: the 1947 UN Partition Resolution and UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, post the Six Day War with the rider that this was despite “the historical injustice inflicted on the Palestinian Arab people resulting in their dispersion and depriving them of their right to self-determination.”

All the while, Arafat’s closest advisors and confidantes such as Khalid al-Hassan maintained that Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, were mutually exclusive and totally irreconcilable. The “national contradiction” (altanaqud al-qawmi between the two could only be resolved “by the disappearance [zawal] of one of the parties.” The solution, therefore, was the “annihilation [qada ala] of Zionism” and the establishment of a democratic state on all the land of Palestine, and until then there could be no final settlement of the Palestinian question.” (Susser, 2012)

This sort of tailoring different messages to different audiences even led Arafat to write a letter to Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin stating that the PLO now recognized Israel’s “right to exist in peace and security,” agreed that all outstanding issues would be resolved by negotiation, renounced the use of force, and even affirmed that the articles of the Palestinian National Charter that denied Israel’s right to exist and/or that were inconsistent with the commitments of Arafat’s letter were “now inoperative and no longer valid.”

The only issue was that the charter, however, could only be amended by the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the overarching body, not the Chairman of the PLO, and, despite what Chairman Arafat publicly professed, for such a commitment to be constitutionally meaningful would require the PNC to virtually rewrite the charter.

It never actually did so.

The Outcome

The Arab- Israeli conflict which over the past 74 years has devolved into the Israel-Palestine conflict is mired not in Israeli refusal to accept Arab nationalist desires, but in the Palestinian refusal to accept the creation of a Jewish state in what it sees as its historical heritage, a heritage which was, in their parlance, “unjustly” usurped by Jewish outsiders.

Thus, the core of today’s rejectionist Palestinianism is Palestinian territorial identity, therefore, related to all of historical Palestine.

The Arab defeat in 1948, and the 1967 boundaries at the end of the Six Day War, both a consequence of Arab aggression, never, in their eyes, determined Palestinian territorial identity, nor was their identity ever confined to the West Bank and Gaza.

“Palestinian-ness was constructed by the experience and cost of Israel’s creation in 1948 and not by its expansion in 1967. Palestinian-ness by definition is in conflict with Israel’s very being. Israeli concessions are, therefore, at best, a partial recompense, and while a theoretical return of Israel to the 1967 boundaries is sufficient to end the inter-state conflict between Israel and the neighboring Arab states, it is not enough to end the conflict with the Palestinians.” (Susser, 2012)

Fifty five years after the 1967 war, the issue of re-gaining all of “Palestine” seems now to be reduced to what is termed the “West Bank” and Gaza. Oslo, Camp David-Taba  came and went as the huge gap on substance of what was said and what was delivered eroded trust, even as two violent and extremely bloody intifadas corroded belief in a workable two-state system.

As a reference to exactly what Israel proposed to the Palestinians, despite the ongoing credibility gap between their words and their recorded actions, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, in 2000, offered to withdraw from 97 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip. In addition, he agreed to dismantle 63 isolated settlements. In exchange for the 3 percent annexation of the West Bank, Israel would increase the size of the Gaza territory by roughly a third. Barak also made previously unthinkable concessions on Jerusalem, agreeing that Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capital of the new state. The Palestinians would maintain control over their holy places and have “religious sovereignty” over the Temple Mount. The proposal also guaranteed Palestinian refugees the right of return to the Palestinian state and reparations from a $30 billion international fund that would be collected to compensate them.

But, even a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would not suffice to end the conflict with Israel because, as the Palestinians (sic) had been demanding for the past 55 years, their actual goal was a Palestine from the river to the sea without a Jewish presence in the Levant.

Thus, Arafat’s only contribution to the Camp David talks was the assertion that, in reality, no Jewish Temple ever existed on the Temple Mount, only an obelisk; the real Temple existed in Nablus (historic Jewish Schem), he said. Not only did he not make any accommodation to Israel, according to chief US negotiator Dennis Ross said, but “he denied the core of the Jewish faith”; this stunning remark illustrating how Arafat had become caught up in the mythology he had created.

Even before the Summit, then Palestinian Authority chief negotiator, now President, Mahmoud Abbas, stated that the Palestinians had already ”made clear to the Americans that the Palestinian side is unable to make concessions on anything.“ This was in addition to Abbas’ 2008 rejection of former Israeli PM Olmert’s 2008 proposal of Israeli withdrawal from what Olmert termed “Arab Jerusalem”, Olmert’s in-principle acceptance of returning to the 1967 demarcation lines, the return of Arab refugees on a case by case basis, and land swaps with the PA which would give them 94% of the “state” and territory they always said they wanted.

These were not “victims” of injustice looking to build a state. These were Arab negotiators looking to de-legitimise and remove the core of a Jewish one.

Like his former boss Arafat, Abbas also walked away from the 2008 peace deal with Israel because, as Olmert later stated in a June 2021 interview, “…the conflict is the “source of livelihood” for Palestinian terrorist groups, and that they had deterred Abbas from making a deal.”           (https://www.timesofisrael.com/abbas-never-said-no-to-2008-peace-deal-says-former-pm-olmert/)

When push came to shove, when it was imperative that the Palestinians walk their talk of the last 55 years regarding “impediments” to peace with Israel such as settlements, the “occupation” and East Jerusalem as a putative Arab Palestinian capital, they simply walked away.

After all, while they had consistently stated that they wanted an end to “occupation”, with no “settlements” and a capital in East Jerusalem, what they really wanted was much, much more than that (as explicated in their view of the “injustice” they believe was visited upon them dating back to 1948). And they had been consistently explicit about what it is they were actually after: “From the river, from the Jordan River, to the Mediterranean Sea, Palestine will be free [of Jews]”. They had always claimed, as their absolute top priority, the establishment of an Arab Palestinian State with no state for the Jewish people in any borders whatsoever.

Moreover, the “Palestinian” insistence that Israel had to accept its political, legal and moral responsibility for the tragedy of the refugees and agree in principle to their “right of return,” in a war initiated by the wider Arab ummah as highlighted above, not Palestinians (sic), would have implied Israel accepting the sole historical responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem; something that was patently not so.

With Palestinians and their apologists claiming Arab Muslim indigeneity in the Southern Levant, going to war to “reclaim” an “unjust imposition”, using terror to achieve a dubious political goal, and actioning lawfare in the Western world for a perceived “injustice” despite that same international law which created Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, the protestations of Palestinians victimology range from claims of colonialism, occupation, the “settlements” and apartheid.

None of those claims are valid either factually or in practice as the Palestinians continue to try to fill the new wine of Palestinianism into the old skins of Jewish indigeneity, unbroken presence and recorded history.

As British Foreign Minister after World War II, Ernest Bevin, no friend to Zionism or the Jews, presciently remarked at the dissolution of the Mandate, that for the Jews, the point of principle, the top priority, was to establish a State. On the other hand, he pointed out that for the Arabs, the top priority, the point of principle, was to prevent the Jews from establishing a State in any part of the land (and, tellingly, not that the Arabs wanted a state called Palestine…). (Seminar by Einat Wilf, The Israeli Arab Conflict, April 10, 2022)

And this is the definition, to the present day, that has been the best summation of the ebb and flow of the 100 year Arab-Israeli conflict.

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Originally published at

C.R.A.P – a pro-Israel activism site where truth is never a casualty…..

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