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8 Most Commonly Held Misconceptions About the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Too many Americans hold dangerous misconceptions about the defining conflict in the Middle East.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza goes on, seemingly without end. Israeli troops  continue to kill innocent Palestinians. The United States arms Israel to the tune of  $3 billion a year or more. And most progressives talk as if there’s not a thing anyone can do about it.

This sorry state of affairs persists because so many wrong ideas about the conflict are widely held here. Here are eight of the worst distortions in our discourse.

1. The biggest and most dangerous misconception of all: “Israel is a vulnerable nation surrounded by powerful enemies -- a little David, pure and innocent, bravely fighting back against Goliath-like Arabs bent on destroying it.”

This tale was, and still is, so commonly accepted that most Americans ignore the obvious facts: Israel has been the Middle East’s dominant military power since the Six Day War in 1967. It has a sizable nuclear arsenal while its neighbors have no nukes at all.

The idea of Israeli being destroyed or “pushed into the sea” is a fairy tale. Palestinian violence against Israel never came near the levels of Israeli violence against Palestinians. Now, while Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and economically strangle Gaza, Palestinian violence has virtually ceased. 

Yet the old story of tough little Israel fighting for its life -- which is often read, between the lines, as a story of civilization warding off the barbarians -- continues to be the foundation of most everything the U.S. mass media and policymakers say about Israel. It’s a powerful story, especially when coupled with another, equally common misconception: 

2. “There is no space between the United States and Israel” when it comes to our national interests. Obama administration officials like to say that a lot. They make it sound as if U.S. and Israeli interests are identical.

In fact, there are huge differences. The U.S. has plenty of reasons to want an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis are in no rush. The Israeli right thrives on the vote-getting power of a continuing battle against an enemy. Israeli centrists and even many liberals  tend to ignore the Palestinian issue now that violence against Israel has practically disappeared.  

On the other hand, Israeli leaders have long been eager to strike Iran’s nuclear installations. But U.S. leaders have never even considered giving them the green light.  The George W. Bush administration knew as well as the current administration that military action against Iran would be unthinkable folly. According to a  senior Israeli official, his government has not asked for U.S. permission to attack Iran because it does not want to be embarrassed when it’s told no. As Vice-President Joe Biden said, “There is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed” on Iran.

The differences between U.S. and Israeli interests were on public display most recently during the uprising in Egypt. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that he was eager to see Hosni Mubarak stay in power. After some uncertainty, Barack Obama came down on the other side, recognizing the strategic dangers if the U.S. supported Mubarak. U.S. officials were “on the telephone almost daily with their Israeli counterparts,”  the New York Times reported, “urging them to ‘please chill out,’ in the words of one senior administration official.”

The obvious differences between U.S. and Israeli strategic interests belie a third misconception:

3. “The U.S. and Israel are tied together because they need each other as military allies.” Anthony Cordesman, one of the most prominent hawks in the national security establishment, has  stated flatly what many other experts have also concluded: “America’s ties to Israel are not based primarily on U.S. strategic interests.”

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