Because of the war in Israel, the debate on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has flared up again considerably. Progressive MPs stand up for Palestine and theologians oppose what they see as Israel’s evil policies with a manifesto. And on the other hand, Christians point to the Biblical land promises for the people of Israel. The current debate is a good time to clarify the issue on the basis of 14 theses.
1. The word ‘Palestinian’ means inhabitant of Palestine, of whatever origin such a person may be. Until the 1950s, Jewish residents of Palestine were therefore also called ‘Palestinians’. Conversely, the present-day ‘Arabs’ (inside and outside Palestine) have hardly any ethnic and few historical ties; in fact, they have only one thing in common: the Arabic language. Consequently, there has never been a ‘Palestinian people’ as a separate ethnic identity.
2. Arabic-speaking people (Muslims as well as Christians) have lived in Palestine for many centuries, but so have Jews, and in some times there were even more of them than Arabs. It is therefore wrong to claim that the land of Palestine belongs to Arab Palestinians (especially Muslims).
3. Consequently, there has never been such a thing as a ‘Palestinian state’ in all these centuries; there were only Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs under Mameluk rule (until 1517), under Turkish rule (until 1920), under British rule (until 1948), under Jordanian rule (until 1967). Moreover, the ‘Palestinians’ in Gaza had Egyptian nationality, and those in the Golan Heights had Syrian nationality.
It is historical nonsense that the Israelis have always ‘blocked’ the creation of a Palestinian state.
4. It is therefore historical nonsense that the Israelis allegedly occupied ‘Palestinian territory’ in 1967. What they did – essentially in self-defence – was occupy the ex-Turkish/ex-British/ex-Jordanian territory where both Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs had traditionally lived. However, there were land holdings of Arabs in that area, and those holdings the Israelis had to respect, just as the Arabs had to respect land holdings acquired by Jews.
5. It is historical nonsense that the Israelis have always ‘blocked’ the creation of a Palestinian state. Following the United Nations decision (Nov 1947), not only the Jews, but also the Arabs could have immediately founded their own state in their allotted territory, just as the Jews did (May 1948). Under great duress from the surrounding Arab countries (who thought that the state of Israel would soon be destroyed), they did not do so, and many must regret that to this day.
6. In 1948, many Arabs left the area that comprised the state of Israel since May. The Jews did have a hand in that here and there by frightening them, but it was at least as much the surrounding countries that frightened the Arab Palestinians; moreover, they told the Arab Palestinians that their departure would only be for a short time, because after the state of Israel was defeated, they would be able to return to their homes. This turned out to be a huge mistake.
It is not true that the majority of Arab Palestinians would be in favour of the two-state solution.
7. By the way, while hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled the newly created state of Israel (and were stored in refugee camps to this day), there were also hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from surrounding Arab countries (and found a new and free home in the new state of Israel).
8. The Arabs in the state of Israel, although de facto second-class citizens there, are far better off both economically and politically than the Palestinians in the aforementioned refugee camps (and, for that matter, even better off than Arabs in neighbouring countries).
9. It is not true that the bulk of Arab Palestinians would be in favour of the two-state solution; or at most they are in favour of it insofar as it is a temporary interim solution. The most consistent Muslims (as e.g. represented by Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the rulers of Iran) want nothing more than the destruction of the state of Israel (if not of the people of Israel). Consistent as well as more moderate Arab Muslims have therefore never recognised the state of Israel on principle.
The deepest issues in and around the state of Israel are not of a historical, political or international law nature, but of a religious nature.
10. The international community accuses Israel of ‘colonialism’ and ‘imperialism’. This is absurd distortion of history. It was Israel that had agreed in 1947 to divide the country and give Jerusalem international status. It was the Arabs who, instead of agreeing to this, waged war against Israel time and again. The only time they managed to capture Old Jerusalem (1948/49), they immediately chased out all the Jews.
11. The city of Jerusalem does not appear in the Qur’an at all; it does mention the ‘uttermost’ or ‘farthest’ mosque, and later Muslim generations projected it in Jerusalem. (Al Aqsa mosque means ‘uttermost’ or ‘farthest’ mosque.) The Muslims were therefore never promised a (messianic) kingdom of peace and justice around Jerusalem, as was promised to Israel (a promise that is still in force).
12. Israel’s settlement policy has often been heavily criticised. However, these settlements (a) exist only in the so-called C-zone, which is (since the Oslo Accords, 1993-95) the zone where Israel (with the consent of the Palestinians at the time!) has full civil and military control; and (b) the territories in question are not stolen from ’the’ Palestinians, but honestly bought from Arab Palestinians (whether it has always been so neatly done in practice, I will leave for now).
No political or international law solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is therefore conceivable. We are therefore waiting for the coming of the Messiah.
13. The deepest problem in and around the State of Israel is not of a historical, political or international law nature, but of a religious nature. Since the conquest of Palestine in the seventh century, it has been inconceivable to consistent Muslims that a Jewish state would exist there. What has become Allah’s land can never again be given away to Jews. Conversely, it is unthinkable for consistent Jews to live in any place other than the land promised by God to the fathers.
14. No political or international law solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is therefore conceivable. In principle, the Arab Muslim world will never be able and willing to recognise a state of Israel, and the Israelis will never be able and willing to give up their settlement policy or take back the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Arab camps. The wait is therefore for the coming of the Messiah and – from Jerusalem – the establishment of his world empire of peace and justice.