Photo Credit: WH Photo by Tia Dufour.
U.S. President Donald Trump, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyani sign the Abraham Accords on the South Lawn of the White House, Sept. 15, 2020

Typical of the Palestinian Arab claim to the land is the
statement Abbas made in front of the UN Security Council in 2018</a >:

We are the descendants of the Canaanites who lived in the land of
Palestine 5,000 years ago</b >, and continuously remained there to this day. Our great people remains
rooted in its land. The Palestinian people built their own cities and
homeland, and made contributions to humanity and civilization. [emphasis
added]

Two years earlier, in 2016, Abbas expanded on this.
On official PA TV Abbas said</a >

They [the Jews] are thieves who stole the land, and who want to steal the
history, but history cannot change and cannot be falsified. The facts bear
witness to it. We have been here for the last 5,000 years, and have not left
this land. We have not left this land.
Our forefathers are the monotheist Canaanites and Jebusites. They are
the ones who built Jerusalem, before Abraham was even here. [emphasis added]

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What drives the Palestinian Arabs in general — and Abbas in particular — to
such obvious fabrications?

On the one hand, there is the Palestinian Arab goal to usurp the strong
indigenous Jewish connection to Israel.
But there is another element.
There is the attempt to establish a basis for Palestinian nationalism.
In his book The Seed of Abraham, Rafael Patai discusses the development
of Arab nationalism in general –and why Palestinian nationalism by definition
pales in comparison.Many of the Arab countries in the Middle East are newly created as a result of
British, French and Italian machinations. The straight borders of many of
those Arab countries testify to the arbitrariness of both the borders and the
states themselves.

Writing in 1986, Patai notes

It is remarkable how rapidly the population of each of the newly created
Arab states developed a national consciousness and patriotic feelings of its
own. This process was facilitated in the major Arab states by historical
memories that the leadership soon learned how to utilize. Sentiments in
French mandatory, and later independent, Syria were thus related back to the
great days when Syria, with Damascus as its splendid capital, was the center
of the great Umayyad caliphate, while the newly reestablished Iraq saw
herself as heir to the Abbasid empire whose center was the Iraqi capital of
Baghdad. However, no other Arab country had as solid a basis for priding
itself of its glorious past as Egypt, which, although its greatest age lay
far back in the millennia of the jahiliyya [Arabia before the advent of
Islam], nevertheless came to view that early Pharaonic period as part of its
national history.

Some Arab countries could create a national consciousness based on their place
in Arab history. Other Arab countries, lacking that tie, could instead boast
of their ancient history — even if that history belonged to a land they had
conquered and was not actually their own.

Where did that leave the Palestinian Arabs?

Up the creek.

In Palestine, such attempts at establishing a great Arab national past ran
into a vexing problem.
Since Palestine had never been an independent Arab country, its period of
pride had to be sought in the biblical Israelite age.</b >
As we have seen in an earlier chapter, the Arabs considered themselves heirs
of Abraham the hanif [maintained pure monotheism], and claimed that Abraham,
with his son Ishmael, was the founder of the sanctuary at Mecca. One writer
even claimed that Abraham himself was an “Arabian.” Thus the more general
claim could be made, even though it retained tenuous at best, that Palestine
was the scene of part of Arab prehistory. [emphasis added]

That is where Jewish history got in the way.

The difficulty arose in connection with the long period between Abraham
(whose Arab progeny settled in Arabia) and the end of the Hebrew monarchy,
during which there was no Arab presence in Palestine, while the Banu
Isra’il (“Children of Israel”) were undeniably masters of the land. Hence,
in contrast to Egypt, the Arabs could not claim that they had also in
Palestine a national history going back to the long millennia of the
jahiliyya. (p.309; emphasis added)

But according to Patai, a sense of Palestinian nationalism did develop, and
Patai describes it as a slow process that started with Arab differences with
the Jews of the Second Aliyah who — unlike the First Aliyah — insisted that
only Jews be employed as workers to work the land.

That nationalism continued after the reforms of the Young Turks led to the
modernization of the Ottoman Empire and Arab representation in the new Turkish
Parliament.

And this reaction against the Ottoman Empire led to the possibility of an
unlikely (from today’s vantage point) alliance:

At the same time Arab nationalist leaders recognized that their cause could
benefit from Jewish help. In June 1913 was held in Paris the first
conference of Arab nationalists which was an overt anti-Turkish
demonstration, and in preparation for which
Arab approaches were made to the Jews with a view to setting up an
Arab-Jewish alliance</b >. In the course of these contacts it appeared that most Arab leaders in
Cairo and Beirut took a positive view of Zionism were basically in favor of
Jewish immigration to Syria and Palestine, and expressed their understanding
of “the valuable assistance that the capital, the diligence, and the
intelligence of the Jews can provide to the accelerated development of the
[Arab] areas of Turkey.” (p.312; emphasis added)

Patai quotes Ahmad Mukhtar Bayham, an Arab leader from Beirut at that
conference who declared, “The entry of Jews–yes! But the entry of Turks–no!”

The president at that conference, Abd al-Hamid Zahrawi made a statement:

Because they [the Jews] are our brothers in race, and we regard them as
Syrians who were forced to leave the country at one time but whose hearts
always beat together with ours, we are certain that our Jewish brothers the
world over will know how to help us so that our common interest may succeed
and our common country will develop both materially and morally (p. 313)

It sounded promising, but in the end, no agreement was reached on Zionist
issues such as Jewish immigration and land purchases.

But it is in this context of the potential alliance between Arabs and Jews
that we can appreciate how it is that Chaim Weizmann and Emir Faisal were able
to come to an agreement that recognized Zionist goals in then-Palestine.

 

Today, the Abraham Accords are not necessarily a bolt out of the blue. Perhaps
the potential for Jewish-Arab cooperation existed all along.
At one time, they faced a common enemy: the Ottoman Empire.
Today, that common enemy is Iran.
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Bennett Ruda has been blogging at daledamos.blogspot.com for 13 years. He is active on Google Plus, while also posting under his blog pseudonym on Facebook and Twitter. He lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he lives with his wife, two children and 2 cats.