Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

America Is a Root Cause of Israel and Palestine's Latest War

| Oct. 18, 2023

How 30 years of U.S. policy ended in disaster.

As Israelis and Palestinians mourn the dead and fearfully await news of those now missing, the tendency to look for someone to blame is impossible for many to resist. Israelis and their supporters want to pin all the blame on Hamas, whose direct responsibility for the horrific attack on Israeli civilians is beyond question. Those more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause see the tragedy as the inevitable result of decades of occupation and Israel's harsh and prolonged treatment of its Palestinian subjects.

Others insist there is plenty of blame to go around, and that anyone who sees one side as wholly innocent and the other as solely responsible has lost any capacity for fair-minded judgment.

Inevitably, arguing over which of the immediate protagonists is most at fault obscures other important causes that are only loosely related to the long conflict between Zionist Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. We should not lose sight of these other factors even during the present crisis, however, because their effects may continue to echo long after the current fighting stops.

Where one begins to trace causes is inherently arbitrary (Theodor Herzl's 1896 book, The Jewish State? the 1917 Balfour Declaration? the Arab revolt of 1936? the 1947 U.N. partition plan? the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, or the 1967 Six-Day War?), but I'll start in 1991, when the United States emerged as the unchallenged external power in Middle East affairs and began trying to construct a regional order that served its interests.

Within that broader context, there are at least five key episodes or elements that helped bring us to the tragic events of the past two weeks....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M..“America Is a Root Cause of Israel and Palestine's Latest War.” Foreign Policy, October 18, 2023.

The Author

Stephen Walt