Debunking the myths surrounding the Palestinians’ historical claims to statehood

Hymie RubensteinTotally misunderstood in the nearly seven-month war between Israel and Hamas is the issue of Palestinian statehood.

This war isn’t about securing national independence for the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank, grounded in the notion that Palestinians merit a state akin to many other unique ethnic groups.

In fact, there are thousands of unique ethnic groups in the world today, few of which have their own country. The Palestinians’ case for statehood appears comparatively weaker than many other longstanding ethnicities. Take, for instance, the predominantly Muslim Kurds, who were denied statehood in 1920 and persist today as an exploited minority across Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Yet the global community largely remains silent on their plight.

Palestinians, in fact, already inhabit a state – the Kingdom of Jordan, a dictatorship headed by an imported monarchy – where they constitute the majority of the population and where it is illegal for Jews to live.

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From the beginning of recorded history, Israel has been the only indigenous sovereign state west of the Jordan River. In contrast, the Arab-speaking inhabitants of modern Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, whose ancestors have lived there for hundreds of years, have never established a locally controlled sovereign nation.

Equally important is whether the ethnic group called the “Palestinian people” deserves special recognition and treatment based on historical and cultural realities: Israel is routinely termed an illegitimate entity by its many enemies, a charge rarely made about “Palestine” and the “Palestinians.”

It is often claimed, for example, that the Palestinians had a country of their own in the past that was lost or stolen from them.

This claim is false. Since the destruction of the second kingdom of Judea (the southern half of the so-called “occupied territories”) in the second century AD, the land the Roman conquerors renamed Syria Palaestina has been governed by one foreign power after another. For nearly 13 centuries, from 638 to 1917 (when the British took charge following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire headquartered in Turkey), no separate administrative or socio-cultural entity called “Palestine” existed.

Nor are the Palestinians an ancient people, as old as or older than the Jews.

Before the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan to divide Palestine into two states, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs, the latter rarely regarded themselves as a distinct people with a separate Palestinian identity. Indeed, in 1937, mid-way through the British Mandate, a local Arab leader told the Palestine Royal Commission, “There is no such country [as Palestine]. Palestine is a term the Zionists invented! Our country for centuries was part of Syria.”

During the British Mandate (1922-1948), it was the Jewish people who were called Palestinians. It was the Israeli capture of the West Bank from Jordan in the Six-Day War in 1967, not some ancient sense of nationalism, that gave birth to an organized demand for an autonomous Palestinian state. And it was not until 1988 that the Palestine Liberation Organization declared (but always sabotaged) its aim of creating a Palestinian Arab state separate from the neighbouring Arab states.

It is also false to say the Palestinians are a distinct people.

There is no unique and separate Palestinian language, religion, nationality, or culture. The people who have recently begun calling themselves Palestinians are the Arab Muslim descendants of numerous localized lineages, clans, and tribal groups. A strong sense of pan-Arab identity and belief in Islam, not some fictitious ethnic identity, are what has always united the “Palestinians.”

The claim that all the Palestinians want is a state of their own separate from Israel is disputed by the new 2017 Hamas Charter, which neither recognizes the existence of Israel nor repudiates its goal of “liberating all of Palestine.”

In short, the explicit aim of the Palestinians and their Arab supporters has always been to appropriate the whole of what they call “occupied Palestine” –  all present-day Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip – and “drive the Jews into the sea.”

The elimination of the Jews, not the creation of a new Palestine nation, is the sole goal of the Palestinians, proven by their rejection of proposals for a two-state solution on five different occasions.

Hymie Rubenstein, a retired professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba, is editor of REAL Israel & Palestine Report and REAL Indigenous Report.

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