In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Arab-Israel Conflict

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Texts
  • Atlases
  • Anthologies
  • Memoirs
  • Ottoman Palestine
  • Rise of Zionism
  • British Mandate of Palestine
  • 1948–1949 War and Aftermath
  • 1967 War and Aftermath
  • Israeli Occupation
  • Oslo Peace Process to Present
  • Frameworks for Resolution
  • Intra-Palestinian Politics

Political Science The Arab-Israel Conflict
Alan Dowty
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0124


The sheer volume of literature on the Arab-Israel conflict is enormous. Most of these writings are, however, contentious, if not polemical; scholarly research occupies only one wing of the edifice. But even this scholarly literature is vast, and it tends to be identified, for the most part, with one side or the other. This does not mean that research conducted by “involved” parties can be reflexively set aside. Such research can be valuable, sometimes precisely because of this involvement—but the reader needs to be aware of the scholar’s relationship to the subject of the research. The ideal of a truly disinterested, unaffiliated, “objective” adjudicator of Arab-Israel issues is not irrelevant, but it is an ideal that is met, if at all, only by a small proportion of the prominent scholars who have contributed the most-important works in the field. Without the “involved” scholars, there would be little for a bibliographer to report. A second issue is an imbalance arising from the greater number of scholarly works on the conflict coming from Israeli and Jewish academic researchers compared to the number written by Palestinian or Arab scholars (at least regarding books in English). In part this imbalance has lessened in recent years with more Palestinian academic works, and from the appearance of “post-Zionist” or “revisionist” Israeli or Jewish scholars who have published studies highly—even devastatingly—critical of the standard Israeli narrative. (“Revisionism” in this context should be distinguished from Revisionist Zionism, which is, in fact, at the other end of the spectrum.) Post-Zionists tend to fall into two schools: positivists, who simply use primary sources and declassified documents to debunk founding myths that have seldom been challenged; and “post-modernists” or “deconstructionists,” who see academic research as a manifestation of a power relationship and identify the Palestinians as the oppressed party. The conclusions of the second group, in particular, are often quite supportive of the conclusions of Palestinian and Arab scholars who work from the same premise. Apart from these differing approaches, scholarship on the conflict also corresponds in large part to the historical stages of its evolution: the Ottoman period, both before and after the beginning of Zionist settlement in 1882; the British Mandate between the two world wars; the interstate conflict phase from Israel’s creation in 1948 to the 1967 war; the reemergence of the Palestinians in the 1970s and 1980s; and the rise and fall of the Oslo peace process since the early 1990s.

General Overviews

Scholarly overviews of the Arab-Israel conflict are often written as histories, since much of the debate concerns historical issues. Tessler 2009 and Morris 2001 are the leading comprehensive histories, with broad rather than partisan perspectives. Tessler 2009, written by a scholar at home both in Arab and in Israeli sources, does this through a nuanced presentation of both narratives. Morris 2001, by an Israeli historian identified in the past with “post-Zionist” critics of standard Israeli historiography, takes a more empirical approach by mining the sources and letting the chips fall where they may. Shlaim 2000 represents a more clear-cut post-Zionism, interpreting Israel’s historical policies in a highly critical framework. Khouri 1985 presents the classic scholarly Palestinian reading of the conflict, while Barari 2009 provides as counterpoint a useful critique of Arab scholarship on Israel. Scham, et al. 2013 is a very useful comparison of Israeli and Palestinian narratives, with contributions from both perspectives. Roy 2012 discusses how recent events have brought a “paradigm shift” in understanding the conflict. Boyle 2003 and O’Brien 1991 focus on the legal and moral dimensions of the conflict, presenting reasoned cases for the Palestinian perspective (Boyle 2003) and for Israeli arguments (O’Brien 1991).

  • Barari, Hassan A. Israelism: Arab Scholarship on Israel, a Critical Assessment. Reading, UK: Ithaca, 2009.

    An Arab scholar’s critique of academic research on Israel in the Arab world, which he describes as “Israelism”—a label suggested by Edward Said’s description of Western scholarship on the Middle East as “orientalism.”

  • Boyle, Francis Anthony. Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law. Atlanta: Clarity, 2003.

    Assessment of the legal dimensions of the conflict, highly sympathetic to Palestinian arguments.

  • Khouri, Fred J. The Arab-Israel Dilemma. 3d ed. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

    Though somewhat out of date, Khouri’s work still stands out as a serious academic study of the conflict from an Arab perspective. Unflattering portrayals of both sides, though harsher on Israel’s leaders.

  • Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–2001. New York: Vintage, 2001.

    This extensive account adheres closely to primary and secondary sources in an inductive approach to accuracy and objectivity. Also useful as a basic reference.

  • O’Brien, William V. Law and Morality in Israel’s War with the PLO. New York: Routledge, 1991.

    Though written a decade earlier, this work deals with many of the same questions as Boyle 2003 but reaches conclusions much more favorable to Israel.

  • Roy, Sara. “Reconceptualizing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Key Paradigm Shifts.” Journal of Palestine Studies 41.3 (Spring 2012): 71–91.

    DOI: 10.1525/jps.2012.XLI.3.71

    A scholar of Palestinian affairs presents the case that the Oslo peace process has worked to the disadvantage of Palestinians by accepting territorial fragmentation, focusing on issues of occupation, and transforming the conflict into a humanitarian issue.

  • Scham, Paul, Benjamin Pogrund, and As’ad Ghanem, eds. Special Issue: Shared Narratives—A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue. Israel Studies 18.2 (Summer 2013).

    DOI: 10.2979/israelstudies.18.2.1

    This is a special issue of an Israeli academic journal, with four of the ten substantive articles contributed by Palestinian scholars. Provides an illuminating overview of the basic issues of the conflict.

  • Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. London: Penguin, 2000.

    Shlaim’s Israeli origins lead this to be classified as “post-Zionist” history; in any event, it is a carefully researched critique of Israel’s approach over the entire course of the conflict.

  • Tessler, Mark. A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

    Comprehensive and detailed, this history gives a sympathetic hearing to the claims and counterclaims of both sides. Its voluminous and thorough coverage makes it useful as a basic reference on all stages of the conflict.

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