When Jews began to immigrate to Israel in large numbers in 1882, few Arabs lived there, and the majority of them had arrived in recent decades. Israel was never an exclusively Arab country, although Arabic gradually became the language of most the population after the Muslim invasions of the seventh century. No independent Arab or Palestinian state ever existed in the Land of Israel. When the distinguished Arab-American historian, Princeton University Prof. Philip Hitti, testified against partition before the Anglo-American Committee in 1946, he said: "There is no such thing as 'Palestine' in history, absolutely not." In fact, Palestine is never explicitly mentioned in the Koran, rather it is called "The Holy Land" (al-Arad al-Muqaddash).
Prior to partition, "Palestinian" Arabs did not view themselves as having a separate identity. When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 to choose "Palestinian" representatives for the Paris Peace Conference, the following resolution was adopted:
We consider "Palestine" as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic, and geographical bonds.
In 1937, a local Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, told the Peel Commission, which ultimately suggested the partition of Israel: "There is no such country [as Palestine]! 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria."
The representative of the Arab Higher Committee to the United Nations submitted a statement to the General Assembly in May 1947 that said "'Palestine' was part of the Province of Syria" and that, "politically, the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political entity." A few years later, Ahmed Shuqeiri, later the chairman of the PLO, told the Security Council: "It is common knowledge that 'Palestine' is nothing but southern Syria."
"Palestinian" Arab nationalism is largely a post-World War I phenomenon that did not become a significant political movement until after the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel's capture of the West Bank.