The Israel-Palestine Conflict Through Thomas Friedman's Eyes

The Israel-Palestine Conflict Through Thomas Friedman’s Eyes

October 11, 2023

The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the world’s most enduring and complex disputes, marked by deep-seated historical, religious, and political divisions. For years, New York Times’ journalist Thomas Friedman has been a prominent voice in the discussion surrounding this conflict. This article aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of Friedman’s perspectives on the Israel-Palestine issue, drawing conclusions about his main recommendations and exploring why the conflict remains unresolved.

About Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author, known for his extensive coverage of international affairs, particularly in the Middle East. He has written numerous articles and books, including “The World is Flat” and “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which provides valuable insights into the Israel-Palestine conflict by exploring its historical, cultural, and geopolitical dimensions. The book underscores that the conflict is not just a simple territorial dispute but is deeply entwined with identity, religion, and a long history of mutual grievances.

Friedman’s observations from his time in Beirut demonstrate how the regional context and conflicts in neighboring countries have a direct impact on the stability of the region. The book emphasizes the interrelatedness of the Israel-Palestine issue with broader Middle Eastern politics, making it a highly complex and enduring problem.

Background on the Israel-Palestine conflict

Late 19th Century – Early 20th Century

Zionism Emerges: The roots of the conflict can be traced to the late 19th century when the Zionist movement, led by Theodor Herzl, emerged. Zionism sought to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Herzl’s book, “The Jewish State,” published in 1896, outlined this vision.

Ottoman Rule: Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire, and Arabs, Jews, and other ethnic groups lived there. Bernard Lewis’s book “The Emergence of Modern Turkey” and Rashid Khalidi’s work, “The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood,” provide insights into this period.

Balfour Declaration and Mandate Period

Balfour Declaration (1917): British statesmen, such as Arthur Balfour, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, were receptive to Zionist lobbying. The Balfour Declaration, a statement by the British government, expressed support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This declaration marked a significant turning point. You can refer to David Fromkin’s book “A Peace to End All Peace” for background on British involvement in the Middle East.

British Mandate: During World War I, the British sought to gain support from various groups, including the Jewish diaspora, in their efforts to secure victory. The idea of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine gained traction, particularly through the efforts of Chaim Weizmann, a prominent Zionist leader. After World War I, the League of Nations granted Britain the mandate over Palestine (Britain had interests in securing control over Palestine as it was strategically located and provided access to the Suez Canal, a crucial maritime route to British India.), which provided Britain with an opportunity to implement the Balfour Declaration’s promise. This period saw increasing Jewish immigration and Arab resistance, as documented in Avi Shlaim’s “The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.”

Evolving British Attitudes

British Mandate Period (1920-1948): The British administration in Palestine was marked by tensions between the Jewish and Arab communities. While the Balfour Declaration initially expressed support for the creation of a Jewish homeland, British policy evolved to address Arab concerns, leading to limitations on Jewish immigration and land acquisition.

Arab Revolt (1936-1939): The Arab revolt in Palestine, driven by opposition to Jewish immigration and land acquisition, influenced British policy. The British White Paper of 1939 restricted Jewish immigration and land purchases, emphasizing the need to protect Arab interests.

Impact of World War II

The Holocaust: The Holocaust had a profound impact on international opinion and on British policy. The horrors of the Holocaust generated widespread sympathy for Jewish refugees and survivors, leading to increased international support for Jewish immigration to Palestine.

Common Themes in Thomas Friedman’s Work on the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Two-State Solution: Friedman has been a strong advocate of the two-state solution, a framework that envisions the creation of both an independent Israeli and Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security. He argues that this solution is the most viable path to lasting peace.

End to Settlement Expansion: Friedman consistently criticizes Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, viewing it as a major obstacle to peace. He contends that Israel’s construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories hinders the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.

Security Concerns: Friedman acknowledges Israel’s legitimate security concerns but often underscores the importance of addressing Palestinian security concerns as well and their aspirations for statehood and self-determination. He highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to security that ensures the safety of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Economic Cooperation: Friedman believes that economic cooperation and development can be a key driver for peace. He has championed projects that encourage joint Israeli-Palestinian economic ventures as a means to build trust and cooperation.

U.S. Role: Friedman emphasizes the critical role of the United States in mediating the conflict. He contends that the U.S. should actively engage in diplomatic efforts to facilitate peace talks and promote a two-state solution.

Analysis of Friedman’s Recommendations

Two-State Solution: Friedman’s support for the two-state solution is rooted in the belief that it provides the most equitable path forward. It acknowledges the national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, respecting their right to self-determination. While this approach remains widely endorsed in the international community, its implementation has faced significant challenges, which have contributed to the ongoing conflict.

Settlement Expansion: Friedman’s opposition to Israeli settlement expansion is shared by many in the international community. Settlements in the West Bank are viewed as a violation of international law and a major impediment to peace. Despite widespread condemnation, settlement construction has continued, raising questions about its impact on the prospects for a two-state solution.

Security Concerns: Friedman’s call for comprehensive security measures that address the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians is crucial for building trust. However, the perceived imbalance in power and security arrangements has been a contentious issue in peace negotiations. Striking the right balance remains a challenge.

Economic Cooperation: The idea of economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is appealing, as it can provide tangible benefits to both sides and build goodwill. However, without a political framework for peace and an end to the occupation, the potential for economic development is limited.

U.S. Role: Friedman’s emphasis on the U.S. role in mediating the conflict has been historically significant. The U.S. has been a key player in peace efforts, but its policies have shifted over time. The Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights added complexity to the conflict. The Biden administration’s approach may bring changes, but the path to resolution remains uncertain.

Why the Conflict Persists

Historical Trauma: The Israel-Palestine conflict is deeply rooted in historical grievances and deep-seated traumas on both sides. These historical wounds are challenging to heal, and they continue to fuel mistrust and animosity.

Leadership Challenges: The region has witnessed a lack of visionary leadership that can bridge divides and make the difficult compromises necessary for peace. Political instability and fragmentation among both Israelis and Palestinians have hindered progress.

Regional Dynamics: The Israel-Palestine conflict is intricately connected to broader regional dynamics. Conflicts in the wider Middle East often spill over into the dispute, making a comprehensive resolution even more elusive.

International Factors: The involvement and influence of external actors, including the United States, can complicate or facilitate peace efforts. Varying international agendas and policies affect the conflict’s trajectory.

Lack of Trust: The accumulation of mistrust and failed peace initiatives over decades has eroded the belief in the possibility of a negotiated solution. Many individuals on both sides are skeptical of the other’s intentions and the efficacy of negotiations.


Thomas Friedman’s writings on the Israel-Palestine conflict have consistently advocated for a two-state solution, an end to settlement expansion, comprehensive security arrangements, economic cooperation, and an active U.S. role in peace efforts. These recommendations reflect widely held views in the international community. However, the conflict’s persistence can be attributed to deep historical traumas, leadership challenges, regional dynamics, international factors, and a pervasive lack of trust.

To resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is essential for all parties to engage in serious negotiations, with a commitment to addressing the root causes of the dispute and making the necessary compromises. While Friedman’s recommendations provide a constructive framework for peace, achieving a lasting resolution will require sustained diplomatic efforts, effective leadership, and the willingness to confront historical grievances on both sides.

Ed.  Photo by Chris Hearn on Unsplash.


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