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The Origins of the Palestinians, as Told in Their Own Family Traditions

Giving a speech in Berlin in March, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas claimed that the Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanites, who lived in the land of Israel in ancient times. This assertion—always offered without any sort of evidence—has long been a favorite of the senior Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat, who claims himself to be descended from the people of Jericho—victims, he elaborates, of the “war crimes” committed by the biblical Joshua. Examining the evidence concerning Palestinian origins, Pinḥas Inbari pays particular attention to the traditions preserved by Palestinian clans and tribes:

When one looks into what the Palestinians say about themselves, . . . there is no [mention] of “Canaanite” ancestry. Most of the families find their origins in Arab tribes, some of them with Kurdish or Egyptian background, and there are even—by word of mouth—widespread stories of Jewish or Samaritan ancestry. Although one might have expected some effort to adduce a Philistine ancestry [after the ancient people from whom the name “Palestine” was derived], there is almost no such phenomenon. . . .

It turns out that the Erekat family, [for instance], originates in the large Huweitat tribe, which belongs to the Ashraf (families that trace their lineage to the family of Muhammad). They [claim to be] related to the descendants of Hussein, grandson of the prophet, who migrated from Medina to the Syrian desert and settled in the Aqaba area.

The Erekat family itself settled in Abu Dis and Jericho [in the West Bank, as well as] Amman and Ajloun (in Jordan). . . . In general, the list of heads of the Erekat family includes many Jordanian cabinet ministers. Why is the family so prominent in Jordan? Because the Huweitat tribe was among the main tribes that backed the Great Arab Revolt of the Hashemites in Mecca, and it moved north along with T.E. Lawrence—that is, at the same time as the Zionists were establishing themselves in Palestine. . . .

The Ottoman empire was a gigantic open space, and internal migration and free movement of individuals and nomadic tribes were a common and characteristic feature. Hence, Arab tribes that settled in the land of Israel were . . . of different lineages. . . . Up to the present, almost every Palestinian family, [like most Arab clans], describes its origins by identifying either with the Qays tribes (who trace their origins to the northern part of the Arabian peninsula) or with the Yaman (who trace their origins to the southern part). . . .

The purpose of the “Canaanite” narrative, however, is not to shed light on the Palestinians’ real ancestry, but to deny the Jews’ narrative. Why the Canaanites? Because they were in the country before the Israelite tribes were and thus have precedence. According to Nabil Shaath, [another senior Palestinian politician], Jewish history is but a “potpourri of legends and fabrications.” The Canaanite narrative cannot promote reconciliation and compromise but only the destruction of the Israeli-Jewish narrative, according to the same principle by which the various communities are now destroying each other in Syria.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Canaanites, History & Ideas, Middle East, Palestinians

The Threats Posed to Israel by a Palestinian State

Oct. 23 2017

To the IDF reserve general Gershon Hacohen, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would, given the current circumstances of the Middle East, create a graver danger for the Jewish state than either Iran or Hizballah. More damaging still, he argues, is the attitude among many Israelis that the two-state solution is a necessity for Israel. He writes:

Since the Oslo process began in the fall of 1993, dramatic changes have occurred in the international arena. . . . For then-Prime Minister Yitzḥak Rabin, Oslo was based on the superpower status of the U.S. . . . At the time, the Arabs were in a state of crisis and aware of their weakness—all the more so after the U.S. vanquished Iraq in the First Gulf War in the winter of 1991. . . . It was that awareness of weakness, along with the PLO leadership’s state of strategic inadequacy, that paved the way for the Oslo process.

[But] over the [intervening] years, the America’s hegemonic power has declined while Russia has returned to play an active and very influential role. . . .

Something essential has changed, too, with regard to expectations in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. At first, in the early days of Oslo, the expectations were of mutual goodwill and reconciliation. Over the years, however, as the cycle of blood has continued, the belief in Palestinian acceptance of Israel in return for Israeli concessions has been transformed in the Israeli discourse into nothing more than the need to separate from the Palestinians—“They’re there, we’re here”—solely on our own behalf.

The more the proponents of separation have honed their efforts to explain to Israeli society that separation is mandated by reality, enabling Israel to preserve its identity as Jewish and democratic, the more the Palestinians’ bargaining power has grown. If a withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state is a clear-cut Israeli interest, if the Israelis must retreat in any case for the sake of their own future, why should the Palestinians give something in return? . . . Hence the risk is increasing that a withdrawal from the West Bank will not only fail to end the conflict but will in fact lead to its intensification.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Oslo Accords, Russia, Two-State Solution