What I found interesting about this interview with a leading Syrian opposition leader wasn’t the tentative suggestion that peace could be made with Israel. That means very little. It was his argument for doing so that is more relevant.
Interviewer: But this peace at our expense. You talk with such sympathy to Israel… Israel occupied land that does not belong to it.
Kamal Al-Labwani: That’s true. But so did Germany. We too massacred one another. We too massacred one another. When we conquered Homs, we drove its people out. What the Lebanese are doing…
Interviewer: Does one crime justify another?
Kamal Al-Labwani: Such is life, such is history. This is a people that fled persecution and the Holocaust, and came to this region. They were exploited by colonialism, which prevented them from going anywhere else. We have not dealt with the issue rationally. Let me tell you, it is in our interest today to engage in a peace process. Instead of letting the displaced Palestinians continue to suffer…
Interviewer: Even if the [Jewish] people were displaced and suffered, they found their peace and quiet by conquering the land of other people…
Kamal Al-Labwani: True, but the Arabs had also come and conquered this land. Such is history. People never stay put. The Armenians came, the Circassians, came, the Turks left, and the Ottoman Turks came, and now the Safavids are coming… “The land belongs to Allah, and He gives it to whoever He wills of his servants.” Nobody has a historical right to a piece of land. Historical right is a Nazi, racist, French, German concept, which has caused problems all over the world.
“He gives the land to whomever He will of His servants.” After 40 years, the statute of limitation applies to all these crimes. A person who was born in Israel and whose parents came and did all those things – are you going to hold him responsible for what his forefathers did? Long ago, the Sunnis and Shiites had a dispute, and eventually Hussein was killed. Am I supposed to pay the price today? Does that make any sense?
Al-Labwani’s description of historical right to territory as a racist European concept is revealing. Indeed he is quite correct from the Islamic standpoint. The Arab conquests are based on a nomadic viewpoint in which there is no historical right to territory and in which collections of tribes, sometimes even multi-religious and multicultural, co-exist within a territory without borders.
The Arab Palestinian claims to the land aren’t just absurd because they’re ahistorical, but because it’s not even a concept that they actually believe in. If they did believe in it, they would respect the rights of the indigenous Jewish people.
Muslims became expert at couching their arguments in terms that their target audience found compelling. So they became nationalists because it was convenient. The PLO was set up, not to fight for a Palestinian state, but to reclaim Israel for Greater Syria. Hamas isn’t really interested in a Palestinian State. It dreams of a Caliphate.
Even the Palestinian Authority is not all that interested in statehood. It wants international recognition, but it doesn’t want to set borders or really run things.
Notably in the Koran, Allah gave Israel to the Jews, but the Islamic conquests made any previous territorial grants to non-Muslims null and void.
Muslims are entitled to all the land they can conquer. That’s the basis of their claim to Israel.