Before the development of modern nationalism, loyalty tended to focus on a city or a particular leader. The term "Nationalismus", translated as nationalism, was coined by Johann Gottfried Herder in the late 1770s. Palestinian nationalism has been compared to other nationalist movements, such as Pan-Arabism and Zionism. Some nationalists (primordialists) argue that "the nation was always there, indeed it is part of the natural order, even when it was submerged in the hearts of its members." In keeping with this philosophy, Al-Quds University states that although "Palestine was conquered in times past by ancient Egyptians, Hittites, Philistines, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Muslim Arabs, Mamlukes, Ottomans, the British, the Zionists … the population remained constant—and is now still Palestinian."
Zachary J. Foster argued in a 2015 Foreign Affairs article that "based on hundreds of manuscripts, Islamic court records, books, magazines, and newspapers from the Ottoman period (1516–1918), it seems that the first Arab to use the term “Palestinian” was Farid Georges Kassab, a Beirut-based Orthodox Christian." He explained further that Kassab’s 1909 book Palestine, Hellenism, and Clericalism noted in passing that “the Orthodox Palestinian Ottomans call themselves Arabs, and are in fact Arabs,” despite describing the Arabic speakers of Palestine as Palestinians throughout the rest of the book."
Foster later revised his view in a 2016 piece published in Palestine Square, arguing that already in 1898 Khalil Beidas used the term “Palestinian” to describe the region’s Arab inhabitants in the his preface to a book he translated from Russian to Arabic. In the book, Akim Olesnitsky's A Description of the Holy Land, Beidas explained that the summer agricultural work in Palestine began in May with the wheat and barley harvest. After enduring the entire summer with no rain at all—leaving the water cisterns depleted and the rivers and springs dry—”the Palestinian peasant waits impatiently for winter to come, for the season’s rain to moisten his fossilized fields.” Foster explained that this is the first instance in modern history where the term ‘Palestinian’ or ‘Filastini’ appears in Arabic. He added, though, that the term Palestinian had already been used decades earlier in Western languages by the British James Finn, the German Ludwig Schneller, and the American James Wells.
In his 1997 book, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, historian Rashid Khalidi notes that the archaeological strata that denote the history of Palestine—encompassing the Biblical, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Fatimid, Crusader, Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman periods—form part of the identity of the modern-day Palestinian people, as they have come to understand it over the last century, but derides the efforts of some Palestinian nationalists to attempt to "anachronistically" read back into history a nationalist consciousness that is in fact "relatively modern." Khalidi stresses that Palestinian identity has never been an exclusive one, with "Arabism, religion, and local loyalties" playing an important role. He argues that the modern national identity of Palestinians has its roots in nationalist discourses that emerged among the peoples of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century which sharpened following the demarcation of modern nation-state boundaries in the Middle East after World War I. He acknowledges that Zionism played a role in shaping this identity, though "it is a serious mistake to suggest that Palestinian identity emerged mainly as a response to Zionism." Khalidi describes the Arab population of British Mandatory Palestine as having "overlapping identities," with some or many expressing loyalties to villages, regions, a projected nation of Palestine, an alternative of inclusion in a Greater Syria, an Arab national project, as well as to Islam. He writes that,"local patriotism could not yet be described as nation-state nationalism."
Israeli historian Haim Gerber, a professor of Islamic History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, traces Arab nationalism back to a 17th-century religious leader, Mufti Khayr al-Din al-Ramli (1585–1671) who lived in Ramla. He claims that Khayr al-Din al-Ramli's religious edicts (fatwa, plural fatawa), collected into final form in 1670 under the name al-Fatawa al-Khayriyah, attest to territorial awareness: "These fatawa are a contemporary record of the time, and also give a complex view of agrarian relations." Mufti Khayr al-Din al-Ramli's 1670 collection entitled al-Fatawa al-Khayriyah mentions the concepts Filastin, biladuna (our country), al-Sham (Syria), Misr (Egypt), and diyar (country), in senses that appear to go beyond objective geography. Gerber describes this as "embryonic territorial awareness, though the reference is to social awareness rather than to a political one."