On 19 May, 2020, PA President Mahmoud Abbas of the Oslo-devised Palestinian Authority (PA) stated that he henceforth rescinded all security arrangements set in place by Oslo with the Israelis.
The politics and timing of Abbas’ statement notwithstanding, and with the pending application of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley promised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in early July, it is timely to consider what the historical background is of the on-paper State of Palestine and whether the Mandate Arabs were promised a state called Palestine in the first place.
Based on the research of Isaiah Friedman, Efraim Karsh, Einat Wilf, Elie Kedourie and extracts from the diary of Robert Meinertzhagen, this article will posit that then, as now, the concept of a promised Palestinian state was a propaganda initiative based on historical revision for a state that was never promised nor intended.
Indeed, the only state which was promised was land for a Jewish state. The “Palestinian Question” is no more than the latest iteration of the 100 year Arab-Israeli conflict cemented into place by a series of British screw-ups which
continue to make peace impossible.
The popular belief that the creation of a promised Arab state in Palestine was based on the false premise that the Arabs would, 1914-1918, rise and eagerly substitute an Arab ruler for an Ottoman Caliphate supported by Britain.
The fact was that the Arabs in almost the whole of the Fertile Crescent remained loyal to Turkey. The common bond was religion and loyalty to the Caliph-Sultan in Constantinople while the British plan of an Arab Caliphate controlled by Britain was a contradiction in terms.
It was also Britain’s mistaken assessment that the Arabs, given certain inducements, would be willing to join the Allies in the war against Turkey.
However, the fact remained that a British-planned general Arab insurrection in all the Fertile Crescent, while planned, never took place. It was mainly the soldiers of Britain, the Commonwealth, and India who played a part in the overthrow of Ottoman rule, not the Arabs. The latter by and large remained loyal to Turkey throughout the war. About 300,000 Arabs fought dutifully in the Ottoman army against the British.
Hussein and the “State of Palestine”
Hussein of the Saudi Arabian Hejaz, was essentially loyal to Turkey and when the War broke out, who offered assistance to the Turks, both military and political while concurrently negotiating with the British. However, the Ottomans distrusted Hussein and dispatched a squad to assassinate him. Fortunately for Hussein the squad was caught. It was only then that Hussein burned his bridges with the Turks and threw in his lot with the British who were completely unaware of Hussein’s involvement with the Turks.
Thus, Hussein’s revolt against Turkey was not in consequence of British promises of a “Palestinian” homeland, but a “revolt” primarily concerned with his own physical survival as the only way of saving himself and his family from the Turkish gallows.
As Friedman pointedly states, “It was completely devoid of struggle for liberation, statehood or Arab independence as erroneously portrayed in historiography.”
Additionally, the British expectation that Pan-Arabism would form an antidote to Turco-German–inspired Pan-Islamism also proved to be a miscalculation.
The Arabs did not regard Turkish rule as alien and did not feel oppressed. As Muslims, they had no desire to separate themselves from a Muslim Empire.
William Yale, the American Intelligence Agent at the time, familiar with the East, stated unequivocally that the Muslims preferred the tyranny and despotism of a Muslim government to the benevolent just rule of a Christian power. He assessed that “the so-called Arab Movement” was essentially and fundamentally a religious, not a national, movement. He predicted that “A strong Arab Empire would be a menace to the peace of the Western World” and that “Pan-Arabism will turn into fanatical Islamism.”
By the early twenties, Philip Graves (1923, 92–3.) stated that the Levantine Arabs were far more interested in Islam than in nationalism and that nationalism centred around a negative hate of Jews and foreigners rather than a desire to create a Palestinian state.
In 1997, Rashid Khalidi (1997, 153), and no friend of Israel, concurred, saying that “local loyalties have never been completely superseded…and they still retain their vitality in the cities and villages of Palestine.” In other words, the Levantine Arabs were loyal to their clans and were not interested in notions of Palestinian Nationalism, even if they supported a non-divided Muslim entity in the region.
Time and again, following the incorporation of the Balfour Declaration into the Mandate for Palestine, the legal position in international law reiterated the recognition of the “Jewish people” in international law.
Never was such a legal ruling made or intimated about the “Palestinian people”.
The Mandate also recognized the historical connection between the Jewish people and Palestine because they had never renounced their claim to their ancient homeland. It was their titledeed.
No such argument can be advanced in favour of the “Palestinian people”.
Throughout their history in the Levant after the Arab conquests and colonisation, the Levantine Arabs remained a kaleidoscope of races and creeds, and national history, tradition, and sentiment were practically absent. Palestine did not constitute a separate administrative unit and its Arabic-speaking population was not a recognized entity.
Even by end November 1917, it was still under Turkish sovereignty and the Palestinian Arabs did not have the status of hosts whose approval of the Jewish National Home had to be solicited. And it was only in 1922 that Turkey renounced sovereignty over her former provinces in Asia and accorded, by standards of international law, legal validity to the decisions that had been taken at the San Remo Conference in April 1920.
With Regard to San Remo, the Conference, 1920, assigned the entire land mass between the Jordan River and the Sea to the Jewish people and this was reiterated by the League of Nations, 1922, and incorporated into the UN Charter, Article 80, which prohibited the UN to tamper with the League of Nations decisions related to Israel’s legality in the area.
Thus, 1967 “borders” for a proposed Palestinian state have no legal validity because those lines were a ceasefire line and any territories beyond reclaimed by Israel in a defensive war have always been subject to land for peace deals. But peace, as the historical record shows, has not been what the “Palestinians” have wanted.
Was Palestine Promised to the Palestinians?
The short answer to this is “No”.
Palestine was always intended to be a homeland for the Jews. Balfour intended this and the Treaty of Sevres legalised it. Jordan was created through a series of indescribably detailed errors and personal political incompetencies by the British rulers and Jordan never had legal title to Judea and Samaria.
No part of Palestine was allotted for an Arab National Home or state, since Arab self-determination was being generously granted elsewhere – in Syria, Iraq (nee Mesopotamia), Saudi Arabia, Egypt and North Africa – which led to the establishment of the 21 Arab states of today, over a vast land mass from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean.