OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

The Palestinian Arabs are ‘open,’ but not to compromise

An interview with Harold Rhode

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas addresses a rally in Ramallah commemorating the fifth anniversary of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death, Nov. 11, 2009. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas addresses a rally in Ramallah commemorating the fifth anniversary of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death, Nov. 11, 2009. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Flash90.
Bennett Ruda

The key to discussing the Middle East is understanding the cultures and languages. In Hebrew, you have the root “P-T-Ch,” corresponding to “F-T-Ch” in Arabic. The root has the general meaning of “open.” But in Arabic, there is an additional meaning: opening up a land to Islam. So the leader in battle is called fatih and the man who conquered Istanbul was called Mehmed Fatih.

Similarly, there is Fatah, the organization. The name is a reverse acronym of the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine—arakat al-Taḥrīr l-Filasṭīn. The reference is to the liberation and return of all of today’s Israel—including Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip—to Islamic rule.

This concept of being “open” means that once a land has been conquered and is “open to Islam,” it is Muslim forever, even if Muslim control comes to an end. The Muslims ruled Spain from 712 C.E. until 1492, when the Christians finally expelled them from all of Spain. But in the Muslim mind, though their physical control over Spain ended centuries ago, Spain still belongs to the Muslims and will never be part of the non-Muslim world. Many Muslims, when mentioning Spain, often add the phrase “Allah-willing, it will again be ruled by Muslims.”

Similarly, there was a time when all of Southeast Europe up to Vienna was under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans saw themselves as Muslims, not Turks. Their defeat in Vienna in 1683 gradually led to the complete Ottoman withdrawal from Southeast Europe, resulting in 1914 in the borders of present-day Turkey. Yet many Turks and other Muslims still talk about the area as being part of the Muslim world. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still talks about Southeastern Europe as being “part of the Ottoman-Muslim area.”

That brings us to the years 1948-49, when Israel defeated five Muslim armies. At the Rhodes talks in 1949, the Muslims insisted on the phrase “ceasefire lines” instead of “borders.” The word “borders” implies recognition of the people living there. Jews would have the right to live in Eretz Yisrael. A Muslim would find that unacceptable because those lands should remain Muslim forever.

To the Arabs, there is nothing magical about the lines drawn in the 1948-49 map. Those borders do not matter. The land is completely Muslim. But from the Western point of view, we’re talking about how to divide up land, this is the point of pushing for the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that the Arabs are not talking about Israel’s borders and how to renegotiate them. They are talking about Israel’s existence. And people cannot compromise on their existence.

This issue of borders and Israel’s legitimacy caused a problem for Yasser Arafat. The 1993 Oslo Agreement was an interim agreement, not a Peace Treaty. Yet, at the very last moment, Arafat kept changing the terms. He was afraid of what might happen. Years later, when President Bill Clinton was trying to get Israel and Arafat to sign a peace agreement, Arafat was quoted as saying he would not sign because he did not want to end up “drinking tea with Sadat.” If Arafat had signed, he would have risked assassination like the Egyptian president, whose signing of the Egyptian agreement with then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was viewed as a treasonous acknowledgment of Israel’s right to “Muslim” territory.

There are YouTube videos of Israeli Muslim children—whose ancestors had been living in Israel for three to four generations—telling an Israeli journalist that Israel was Muslim land and that someday Muslims would get it back. 

When the interviewer pointed out his own family had been living in Israel for many years, since 1948, the teenager responded that this is what he had been taught, both in school and at home: You Jews have no right to live here and we are going to take our land back from you. There was no issue of rights or that Jews were on the land long before the Arabs arrived in 637-638 C.E.

None of that made any difference.

To the Palestinian Arabs, it still doesn’t.

Originally published by Elder of Ziyon.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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