There are several convincing factors as to why Israel, its supporters—both Jews and non-Jews, as well as all men and women of reason—should be satisfied with the signing of two arrangements for peaceful relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and Israeli and Bahrain.
One of them is the historical handicap the conflict between Arabs and the State of Israel and its Zionist character has been cast for a century. Indeed, the frame of reference of the “Palestine conflict” has always been one that includes the entire Muslim world. That world’s identification with and sympathy for the “plight of Palestine” is now, in a sense, dissolving.
What was the historical backdrop to that phenomenon?
As Suleiman Mousa, writing in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, notes that already in July 1922, at the time of the Haj:
“a Palestine delegation arrived in Mecca to explain to the king [Hussein ibn Ali] the dangers inherent in the policy of the Jewish National Home. The British government of Palestine, perturbed at the activities of the delegation, sent a letter to the Hijaz government refuting its complaints and claiming that the Arabs in Palestine were faring well and prospering. The Hijaz government refused to accept this statement and insisted that the Balfour Declaration should be canceled.” (See PRO, FO 686/110) for the correspondence)
The head of that 1922 delegation was Abdelqader Al-Muzaffar, who had led previous Haj pilgrimages to Mecca. Its members sailed to Sudan and from there to Jeddah, arriving on July 11. It established pro-Arab Palestine committees at all the stops and sought meetings with leading political and religious personalities. Their theme was “Defend Al-Aqsa.”
As Doar Hayom reported on July 23, 1922, the Zionist Organization in Egypt published a response to the claims of the delegation in the al-Muqaṭṭam newspaper. It also dealt with the remarks of Alfred Mond purposely misrepresented by the Mufti, as well as the criticism directed at Norman Bentwich, the British Mandate’s Jewish legal secretary, who the Mufti considered as being too Zionist.
This propaganda ploy by the Supreme Muslim Council was a repeat of the efforts that Chaim Weizmann had to counter in Egypt in April 1918, while on his way to Palestine, when it was asserted that the British had granted the Zionists the right to replace the Dome of the Rock with the Jewish Temple. Three days earlier, the Vaad Leumi in Jerusalem was forced to publish a denial that the Zionist flag had been unfurled from the top of the Golden Dome, a calumny to be revived in 1929.
On July 17, the High Commissioner Herbert Samuel himself declared, as carried in Doar Hayom of July 19, that he was forced to address rumors that Omar and Al-Aqsa are in danger, and would be removed from Muslim control, unfounded rumors spread by the delegation that was now in Mecca seeking assistance to “defend Muslim rights.” Two other delegations followed the following year, one to the Hijaz again and another to India. This third on consisted of Jamal Al-Husseini, a Haifa mufti, Imam Mohamed Rashid Reda and Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ansari, a Temple Mount preacher. They remained in India from November 1923 to June 1924, raising money and engaging in anti-Zionist activity.
Oddly, Nicholas E. Roberts ignores the 1922 delegation, as does Yehoshua Porath, although Porath does include a fourth delegation in 1924. A huge sum was collected for major renovation work and construction within the Haram A-Sharif compound.
This charity was a significant instrument that tied Muslims across the world in a religious sense to an Arab Palestine, as well as acting as a political mobilizing tool.
The selection of India was astute. As P.R. Kumaraswamy researched, India was quite able to recognize and admit the religious dimension of the Palestine question.
In April 1921, a year before the Palestine Mandate confirmation at the League of Nations, Mahatma Gandhi observed: “The Muslim claim Palestine as an integral part of Jazirat-ul-Arab [the Islamic land of Arabia]. They are bound to retain its custody, as an injunction of the Prophet” (CWMG, 2000, p. 530). He continued and argued: “The Jews cannot receive sovereign rights in a place that has been held for centuries by Muslim powers by right of religious conquest. The Muslim soldiers did not shed their blood in the last war for the purpose of surrendering Palestine out of Muslim control.”
In other words, according to Gandhi, the non-Muslims could not acquire sovereign jurisdiction over Palestine.
The Indian National Congress similarly adopted an anti-Zionist position at a meeting in Lucknow in June 1921. Its All-India Congress Committee declared that “unless Jazirat-ul-Arab are freed from all non-Muslim control, there can be no peace and contentment in India” (Zaidi, 1985, p. 30), and a few years later, the party demanded “the removal of alien control from the Jazirat-ul-Arab” (Zaidi, 1985, p. 32). The Mufti Haj Amin El-Husseini met the Ali Brothers during the 1924 and 1926 Hajj pilgrimage (Kupferschmidt, 1987, p. 129), had Muhammad Ali, the head of India’s Muslims, buried in the Haram wall in January 1931. Shaukat (Shawkat) Ali was a central figure in the convening of the Jerusalem Conference in December that same year.
Thus, within a decade of being selected by Herbert Samuel to be the Mufti, El-Husseini had established a firm financial base throughout the Middle East and beyond; had created a dominant political force in the Mandate itself that disallowed any dissent from his violent and extremist line; had forced the British to create a new status quo at the Western Wall; had initiated the campaign of terror in 1920, 1921 and 1929 that would, until this day, serve as the sole means of “negotiating” with the Jews; and had formed a support bloc of all the Arab states and countries with Muslim majorities.
One additional external reliance of the Mufti was the arrangement in 1937 with British assistance to have their regional Arab allies, the “Arab Kings”—Amir Abdullah of Transjordan, King Ghazi of Iraq and King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia—mediate an end to the revolt the Arab Higher Committee had initiated in April 1936. Unfortunately, their involvement created serious pressure on Great Britain, and by 1939, pan-Arab pressure led to the White Paper that reneged on the original intent to reconstitute the Jewish national home carried increasing weight in London.
In 1948, Arab states invaded Israel and ever since, the issue of Palestine has always been a regional rather than a local conflict.
Recalling this history and grasping what the previous 100 years had fashioned, one can realize that the signing of the Abraham Accords on the White House Lawn on Sept. 15 with the abrogation of the boycott against Israel and the pledge “to establish peace, diplomatic and friendly relations, co-operation and full normalization of ties between them and their peoples” is a major reverse of the Mufti’s legacy and an opportunity for a promising future.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and commentator.