An often-overlooked piece of Palestinian behavior is key to the pursuit of peace. The Palestinians teach their people that no Jewish kingdom ever existed in the land they call Palestine, and that there was never a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Presumably some Palestinians know these teachings are false, but for most they are “facts” learned in school and taken for granted. These falsehoods are deliberately spread by the Palestinian leadership. To publicly deny them is to be viewed as disloyal, and anyone who tries to assert the truth risks retribution.
This is not just a matter of ancient history – it’s not merely an “alternative narrative” which needn’t be contested because it’s just talk. This false story helps explain the Palestinian refusal to make peace, because so long as Palestinians think the Jews were never here before, they will see Jews as a foreign colonial implant with no moral claim or right to the land. Modern Israel’s claim to land in Palestine depends on the Jews’ historic connection to the territory. Without this history, the nation of Israel would be merely foreign invaders, not a people who can be seen as returning home.
When a powerful foreigner comes and takes your territory just because he wants it, you have no honorable way to yield your rights. Accepting such a foreign invasion would be a cowardly sacrifice of honor. By insisting that this is what happened, the Palestinians’ leaders are in effect burning their bridges behind them, so that their people will be forced by their honor to fight on, and prevented from making an honorable peace.
The Palestinian leadership’s willingness to look foolish by denying well-known historic facts — including basic Christian history — demonstrates the importance to them of denying their people the moral and psychological basis for an honorable peace.
The United States can make an important step toward peace by publicly assuring the Palestinians that there were indeed ancient Jewish kingdoms in the land, and a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount before the birth of Muhammad. There are plenty of Muslim sources that the US can use to teach these facts.
Denial of the Jews’ ancient connection to the land is much more important than Holocaust denial. Israel’s claim to the land has nothing to do with the Holocaust. The international decision that Palestine should be a Jewish homeland was made by the League of Nations a generation before the Holocaust. Jews claim the land based on their continuous emotional and religious attachment to it since ancient times – not as compensation for six million dead.
Since Palestinians and other Arabs care about honor, we should make it possible for them to recognize that there can be an honorable peace with the Jews. (Although there would still be Muslim objections to Jewish rule in Israel.)
Israeli diplomats should call on the US to end the Palestinians’ denial of history, even though the State Department apparently regards the truth as something offensive to Arabs.
What better public disagreement can Israel and the US have than a disagreement about whether to allow the Palestinians to continue denying Jewish history? What better diagnostic tool can there be to determine when Palestinians are truly ready to live with Israel than looking at whether they are willing to acknowledge the Jews’ connection to the land?