SIR – S O’Mahony (Letters, July 2nd) refers to what he calls former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir’s ‘contemptuous dismissal of the Palestinian people’. In reality, this was her dismissal of the notion of a ‘Palestinian people’ distinct from other Arabs, a stance for which is considerable historical justification, at least until recent decades.
Mr O’Mahony constructs a straw man in claiming that Mrs Meir based her attitude on the fact that the Palestinian Arabs ‘never had a national government.’ In fact, it was based on more than the mere lack of a government: it was the absence of a national movement itself from the historical record. It is this that marks Palestinian Arab history as different from that of the Czechs, the Irish and other peoples who had national movements long before they achieved self-government.
The revolt he points to in 1830s Palestine against Egyptian occupiers was actually a peasant revolt against Ibrahim Pasha’s measures of conscription, new taxation laws and suppression of clan warfare.
The clan elites who led it fought to reinstate Ottoman Turkish rule in order to restore the privileges previously enjoyed under that occupation.
There was no thought of an independent Palestine; it was a case of rejecting a new empire in favour of an old empire. ‘Palestine’ at that time was not even a distinct province within the Ottoman empire, but was divided between the Eyalets of Sidon and Damascus.
Before 1948, Palestinian Arabs were indignant when called ‘Palestinians,’ a name reserved for Jews. The PLO National Charter of 1964 defined its people as ‘bound by strong Arab national ties to the rest of the Arab Countries’ (Article 1) and ‘an inseparable part of the Arab Nation’ (Article 3). And it defined ‘Palestine’ as the territory of the State of Israel and specifically excluded the West Bank and Gaza Strip, then under the rules of Jordan and Egypt respectively. In other words, it had no problem with occupation by other Arab states, but sought only to ‘liberate’ the territory of the Jewish state.
The geopolitical context for all this should be borne in mind. The original British Mandate for Palestine had extended over territories on both sides of the Jordan river. In 1922, the British government excluded Jewish settlement from the land east of the river, 77 per cent of the total, to form what became Arab Jordan.
Altogether, of the ex-Ottoman lands after World War 1, the Arabs ultimately obtained five independent states on 99.4 per cent of the territory. The Jewish share was one tiny state on 0.6 per cent.
None of this is to suggest that Palestinian Arabs do not now have a national consciousness or that they should not have a state of their own. They could have availed of the many offers since 1967, including the Clinton Camp David deal of 2000. But they must first accept and make permanent peace with Israel.