- Pathfinder

Reply To: What were some of your primary takeaways after reading Matti Friedman’s “There Is No ‘Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’”?

John Gay

I think it gets a lot right and helps us to see how the Israelis see things – especially that the security situation in the Palestinian territories before or after a settlement is not solely shaped by the relationship between Israel’s government and a Palestinian government, but that other states could use Palestinian territory to threaten Israel. We already see this with the Hezbollah/Iranian presence on Israel’s border with Lebanon and Syria. The latter is a problem that has led to a years-long Israeli air campaign. I suspect that problem and the Israeli reaction to it would be far more intense if Hezbollah and the IRGC were in the Judean hills and not the Golan. And Israel will always be a politically opportune target for the region’s outsiders and upstarts – Iran and Syria now, Egypt in the days of Nasser, etc. Those two things intersect.

At the same time, I think it is still meaningful to say that an Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists, even if that conflict is heavily conditioned by the involvement of various external or semi-external forces. For example, Hamas has represented a meaningful share of Palestinian opinion even as a beneficiary of external aid. After suffering crushing blows in the 2009 and 2014 wars it has at times acted in ways that suggest it is not a mere pawn to outside players, but pursuing its own vision of Palestinian Islamist nationalism. It seems at times to be trying to place limits on Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s attempts to out-Hamas Hamas (attempts clearly supported by Iran). It broke with Hezbollah for a time on the Syrian civil war even though both movements are rejectionist and friendly with Tehran. In other words, Hamas looks at times like a distinctly Palestinian force.

Similarly, some of the grassroots violence we have seen in recent years (the knifings and ramming attacks, or the many frictions between settlers and their neighbors) looks organic and seems to be conducted by people on both sides who think they are Palestinians fighting Israelis or Israelis fighting Palestinians. This conflict intersects with other conflicts but is not reducible to them. I think it might be more apt to say that the conflict is not the Middle East’s main conflict (despite press coverage), not the main source of the region’s problems, and not the main concern for the security forces in most regional countries.