is No ĎIsraeli-Palestinian Conflictí
New York Times
ó If you are reading this, youíve likely seen much about ďthe
Israeli-Palestinian conflictĒ in the pages of this newspaper and of every
other important newspaper in the West. That phrase contains a few important
assumptions. That the conflict is between two actors, Israelis and Palestinians.
That it could be resolved by those two actors, and particularly by the stronger
side, Israel. That itís taking place in the corner of the Middle East under
this way, the conflict has become an energizing issue on the international left
and the subject of fascination of many governments, including the Trump
administration, which has been working on a ďdeal of the centuryĒ to solve
it. The previous administrationís secretary of state, John Kerry, committed so
much time to Israeli-Palestinian peace that for a while he seemed to be here
each weekend. If only the perfect wording and map could be found, according to
this thinking, if only both sides could be given the right dose of carrots and
sticks, peace could ensue.
someone here in Israel, all of this is harder and harder to understand. There
isnít an Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the way that many outsiders seem to
think, and this perception gap is worth spelling out. It has nothing to do with
being right-wing or left-wing in the American sense. To borrow a term from the
world of photography, the problem is one of zoom. Simply put, outsiders are
zoomed in, and people here in Israel are zoomed out. Understanding this will
make events here easier to grasp.
the Israeli view, no peacemaker can bring the two sides together because there
arenít just two sides. There are many, many sides.
of Israelís wars havenít been fought against Palestinians. Since the
invasion of five Arab armies at the declaration of the State of Israel in May
1948, the Palestinians have made up a small number of the combatants facing the
country. To someone here, zooming in to frame our problem as an
Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes as much sense as describing the
ďAmerica-Italy conflictĒ of 1944. American G.I.s were indeed dying in Italy
that year, but an American instinctively knows that this can be understood only
by seeing it as one small part of World War II. The actions of Americans in
Italy canít be explained without Japan, or without Germany, Russia, Britain
and the numerous actors and sub-conflicts making up the larger war.
the decades when Arab nationalism was the regionís dominant ideology, Israeli
soldiers faced Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Iraqis. Today
Israelís most potent enemy is the Shiite theocracy in Iran, which is more than
1,000 miles away and isnít Palestinian (or Arab). The gravest threat to Israel
at close range is Hezbollah on our northern border, an army of Lebanese Shiites
founded and funded by the Iranians.
antiaircraft batteries of the Russians, Iranís patrons, already cover much of
our airspace from their new Syrian positions. A threat of a lesser order is
posed by Hamas, which is Palestinian ó but was founded as the local
incarnation of Egyptís Muslim Brotherhood, affiliated with the regional wave
of Sunni radicalism, kept afloat with Qatari cash and backed by Iran.
you see only an ďIsraeli-PalestinianĒ conflict, then nothing that Israelis
do makes sense. (Thatís why Israelís enemies prefer this framing.) In this
tightly cropped frame, Israelis are stronger, more prosperous and more numerous.
The fears affecting big decisions, like what to do about the military occupation
in the West Bank, seem unwarranted if Israel is indeed the far more powerful
not the way Israelis see it. Many here believe that an agreement signed by a
Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank wonít end the conflict,
because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be
filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both.
Thatís exactly what has happened around us in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
One of Israelís nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow
its neighbors, Syria and Iraq, into dissolution and into Iranís orbit, which
would mean that if Israel doesnít hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be
able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
I look at the West Bank as an Israeli, I see 2.5 million Palestinian civilians
living under military rule, with all the misery that entails. Iím seeing the
many grave errors our governments have made in handling the territory and its
residents, the construction of civilian settlements chief among them.
because Iím zoomed out, Iím also seeing Hezbollah (not Palestinian), and the
Russians and Iranians (not Palestinian), and the Islamic State-affiliated
insurgents (not Palestinian) on our border with Egyptís Sinai Peninsula. Iím
considering the disastrous result of the power vacuum in Syria, which is a
90-minute drive from the West Bank.
the ďIsraeli-PalestinianĒ framing, with all other regional components
obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea ó
ďlike a real-estate deal,Ē in President Trumpís formulation ó if not a
moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern
Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.
anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex,
multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world.
The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy
to see if you pull out a map and look at Israelís surroundings, from Libya
through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.
fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the
people theyíve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and
medievalists; between Sunni and Shiite; between majority populations and
minorities. If our small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel
vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is
the predicament of Israelis and Palestinians as a problem that can be solved by
an agreement between them means missing modest steps that might help people
here. Could Israel, as some centrist strategists here recently suggested, freeze
and shrink most civilian settlements while leaving the military in place for
now? How can the greatest number of Palestinians be freed from friction with
Israelis without creating a power vacuum that will bring the regional war to our
doorstep? These questions can be addressed only if itís clear what weíre
the pleasures of the simple story for the confusing realities of the bigger
picture is emotionally unsatisfying. An observer is denied a clear villain or an
ideal solution. But it does make events here comprehensible, and it will
encourage Western policymakers to abandon fantastic visions in favor of a more
reasonable grasp of whatís possible. And that, in turn, might lead to some
tangible improvements in a world that could use fewer illusions and wiser