Why are Palestinian leaders rejecting Arab-Israeli peace?

Palestinianism is a form of identity politics intended to make Arab Palestinians think of themselves as victims of Israel, Jews and their supporters, and to promote terrorism.

THE LARGE majority of Palestinians want the current leadership out and they want new elections. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a virtual meeting in September with Palestinian factions about the Israel-United Arab Emirates normalization agreement.  (photo credit: ALAA BADARNEH/POOL VIA REUTERS)
THE LARGE majority of Palestinians want the current leadership out and they want new elections. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a virtual meeting in September with Palestinian factions about the Israel-United Arab Emirates normalization agreement.
(photo credit: ALAA BADARNEH/POOL VIA REUTERS)
In order to understand why Arab Palestinian leaders, led by the PLO and Hamas, reject the Abraham Accords and efforts to promote peace between Israel and its neighbors, and why they refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist, it is necessary to understand their ideology: Palestinianism.
Palestinianism is not a national movement. It is an anti-Jewish movement conceived and dedicated to opposing the right of the Jewish people to reestablish their historic homeland in Eretz Yisrael.    
Although demanding “self-determination” and statehood, and promoting a vague “Palestinian national identity,” their agenda is focused on and committed to destroying Israel. Nearly the entire contents of the PLO and Hamas covenants are devoted to this genocidal goal, and are the basis of Palestinian law and culture.
Palestinianism is essentially a form of identity politics intended to make Arab Palestinians think of themselves as victims of Israel, Jews and their supporters, and to promote terrorism.
Suggesting a “two-state solution,” or “two states for two nations,” therefore, begs the questions: Are Palestinian Arabs a nation, or a people? On what is “Palestinian national identity” based? How will creating a terrorist-run state serve the interests of peace and Palestinians? Although considered a legitimate expression of nationalism, Palestinianism has neither a long, nor distinguished history, which explains why the peace process between Israel and Arab Palestinians has failed and will continue to fail.
Inherently, Palestinianism means only one thing: the rejection of a Jewish state in any form. A few elite Arab intellectuals talked about Palestinianism, but it was not widely accepted. As Columbia University Prof. Rashid Khalidi shows in his book on the subject, not until Zionists began to build settlements did local Arabs propose an alternative.
FOCUSED ON opposition to Zionists, rather than a positive self-definition, “Palestinian identity” then, as now, was negative. Palestinian leaders, especially Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who became the mufti of Jerusalem in 1921, were ardent supporters of the Nazis, rejected Zionism and promoted terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood which he supported, was founded in 1928, and became a world-wide terrorist organization.
Husseini and the Nazis laid the ideological groundwork for the Arab struggle against the Jews before, during and after Israel’s War of Independence. Tripoli-born Fawzi al-Qawuqji, head of the Arab League’s army in Palestine (according to Benny Morris’ book 1948), served the Nazis (as Husseini did), recruiting Bosnian Muslims, and was then sent in 1947 to Palestine to command the local Arabs and foreign volunteers. He died in 1948 when most of the fighting was led by Arab armies from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and Iraqi volunteers.
Anti-colonial and anti-Zionist uprisings against British rule were not directed toward creating another independent Palestinian state. Nor were Arab riots and pogroms, such as those in 1929 and 1936, nationalistic. There were no calls for a Palestinian state; the battle cry was “Kill the Jews.”
Arab leaders like Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi told the Peel Commission in 1937: “There is no such country as ‘Palestine’; ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented!”
During the 1930s, anti-British and anti-Jewish riots were inflamed by the newly created “Arab” – not Palestinian – “Higher Committee,” the central political organ of the Arab community of Mandate Palestine.
In 1946, Arab historian Philip Hitti testified before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry that “there is no such thing as Palestine in history.” In 1947, the UN proposed a “Jewish” State and an “Arab” – not Palestinian – state. Arab leaders opposed this partition plan, arguing that Palestine was part of Syria and “politically, the Arabs of Palestine (were) not (an) independent separate … political entity.” Efforts by Arabs to organize a political leadership in 1948, in response to the establishment of Israel, soon collapsed.
The womb of Palestinianism was war, the “Nakba” (catastrophe) in the Arab narrative, the establishment of the State of Israel. Aided by Britain, five well-armed Arab armies invaded the nascent state, joining local Arab gangs and militias in a genocidal war to exterminate the Jews. This was not seen as a war for Palestinian nationalism, however; it was a war against Jews and Zionism itself.
Arab gangs that attacked Jews in 1947/48 were called the “Arab” – not Palestinian – “Army of Liberation.” The reason is that prior to Israel’s establishment, the notion of a Palestinian people was irrelevant, since Arab affiliations are primarily familial and tribal – not national. And also because “Palestinian” meant something else back then.
Before 1948, those who were called (and called themselves) Palestinians were Jews, not Arabs, although both carried the same British passports. In fact, only since May 1948, when Jews in what had been Mandatory Palestine started calling themselves Israelis, did Arabs adopt “Palestinian” as theirs exclusively. For example, before 1948, the main English-speaking newspaper of the Jewish community was called The Palestine Post; it was changed to the Jerusalem Post.
The establishment of UNRWA in 1949 to provide for “Arab refugees” provided the institutional structure to build and preserve the idea of an “Arab Palestinian people” – and their “right of return.” They became convenient proxies in the war against Israel. Today, in 58 “camps,” with an annual budget of over a billion dollars, the residents are indoctrinated with hatred of Israel. Except for Jordan, which granted citizenship to most refugees, the residents of these UNRWA towns in Syria and Lebanon are severely restricted and denied basic human and civil rights.
Were it not for UNRWA, there would probably be no “Palestinian refugee” problem today. The problem is UNRWA’s controversial definition of “Arab refugee,” which includes anyone who claimed residence in Palestine since 1946, regardless of their origin; this date is important because it marks the high point of a massive influx of Arabs from the region into Palestine, primarily due to employment opportunities and a higher standard of living.
This category of “refugees” is different from all others because it includes not only those who applied in 1949, but all of their descendants forever, with full rights and privileges; the total population is soon expected to reach seven or eight million and keeps growing. This is one of the core issues preventing any resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. UNRWA’s existence, therefore, perpetuates the conflict, prevents any acceptance of Israel’s right to exist and breeds violence and terrorism.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist.