Suffer the Children

The Psychology of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Palestinian children play on a mini ferris wheel along a street in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, July 29, 2014. Finbarr O'Reilly / Courtesy Reuters

It might seem like the unfolding drama in Iraq and Syria had shoved the simmering Israeli-Palestinian conflict aside. It hasn’t. In the last few days Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged verbal blows in the United Nations General Assembly. Each presented his own narrative of this summer’s war in Gaza, the latest round in the century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas accused Israel of launching “a war of genocide,” while Netanyahu said that the Hamas had committed “war crimes” for which Abbas was indirectly responsible thanks to his power-sharing arrangement with Hamas. Even U.S. President Barack Obama dedicated some of his September 24 speech at the assembly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, although the public zeroed in on his statements about the war in Iraq, Obama mentioned the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) only six times, compared to the nine times he referenced Israel and the Palestinians. 

These leaders’ statements, coming more than a month after the conclusion of hostilities in Gaza and Israel, serve as a reminder that the effects of violence between Israel and Palestine long outlast the actual fighting. In fact, the bursts of violence make peace even less likely in the long term.

Fighting empowers those who oppose a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Polling conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed a sharp rise in support for Hamas after the fighting. In fact, in a late-August poll, for the first time more Palestinians stated that they would vote for Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, than any candidate from the more moderate Fatah party if elections were held right then. (A pre-war poll in June showed that only 41 percent would vote for Haniyeh and 53 percent would vote for Fatah’s Abbas.) Similarly, had elections for the Palestinian Parliament taken place in late-August, polls show that Hamas would have secured 46 percent of the vote and Fatah only 31 percent. (A June poll showed Hamas

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