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Israeli Journalist Gives Update On Conflict In Country

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And now we move to a different Israeli perspective on the conflict. Nadav Eyal is a columnist and analyst for Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, and he joins us now from Tel Aviv. Welcome.

NADAV EYAL: Hi there, Lulu. It's my pleasure joining you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to begin with what is happening inside Israel because you wrote, we're seeing serious dissolution. We are seeing the fracturing of our social compact. Much of the conflict within Israel is taking place on the streets between civilians, both Israelis and Palestinians. Explain what you mean by what you said.

EYAL: I, first of all, should say that 20% of the Israeli populations are Israeli Arabs or Israeli Palestinians, and this is a very uneasy coexistence. And what we're seeing in recent days for the first time - probably the worst time since October 2000, which was the beginning of the second intifada, or the Al-Aqsa Intifada, as it was labeled by the Palestinians - we're seeing gangs of Palestinian Israelis and also gangs of Israeli Jews. But mostly the attacks are coming from Palestinian Israelis - attacking synagogues, attacking Jewish property. And in response, you see the extreme Jewish right-wing organizing, and they have weapons, and they are also on the streets. And we saw a lynching of a rabbi in Acre, and then we saw a lynching in Bat Yam of a Palestinian Israeli. And this is a sort of an escalation that we never saw before.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has been the reaction among regular Israelis?

EYAL: Israelis are appalled. The - you know, majorities of - both the Jewish Israeli majority and the Palestinian Israeli minority, they're not participating. This is - these are not mass events. It's not a civil war. But these are small mobs everywhere. They're looking for trouble, basically. It's the worst, in a sense. It's not the Gaza Strip attack, it's not the missile attacks on Israel, it's not the photos we're seeing coming from the Gaza Strip of the horrendous damages done that are getting people really upset. It's Israel itself - its social compact, the very basis of the coexistence, the very uneasy coexistence that we have had here, which seems to be disintegrating.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I covered the conflict there for many years, and what I saw happening was simply less space for the middle, less space for the other side. You know, Israeli politics has been shifting more rightward. The Palestinian political landscape has been frozen under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. And meanwhile, the occupation continues, the settlements expand. When you talk to Israelis - again, regular people - what sense do you get of their interest in resolving this conflict in compromise?

EYAL: When you ask in polls, most people would still say that they favor a territorial compromise with the Palestinians, but do they actually mean it, Lulu? And the answer is that they don't. They don't vote for parties which actually go for that compromise. They don't think that it's too important. In truth, it seems that we are on the verge of a historical breakthrough. For the first time in history, both the Israeli right wing, the Zionist right wing and the Israeli center-left, Zionist left wing was negotiating with the Islamic Movement Party of Israel, which is, of course, Palestinian-Israeli, to join the government. Netanyahu was courting the Islamic Movement of Israel to join his government. It was a historical breakthrough in Israeli society. And then, you know, just a few days later, everything blows up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm curious to think why you think that's happened. I mean, is there a political moment that also was there? Netanyahu failed to form a government for the fourth time. There might be a fifth round of elections. I mean, is the timing of this conflict and the actions in Gaza tied to his political standing?

EYAL: Well, the center-left is arguing, indeed, that Netanyahu wanted this to happen. So they are not talking about - they're not conspiracy theorizing here saying that he initiated this entire conflict. But they are saying that the operation in the Gaza Strip - for instance, Avigdor Lieberman, a very important leader of one of the parties in the center, is basically saying Netanyahu wants this to happen. The answer to your question is that in the short run, of course Netanyahu had a lot to profit from conflict.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is a lot of right-wing extremism in Israel as well that has been fostering a lot of the conflict and a lot of the antagonism.

EYAL: Yeah. There is no doubt that the extreme right wing in Israel, which was hosted by the mainstream right wing, by Netanyahu himself. For instance, Itamar Ben Gvir, a member of the Knesset that just entered the Knesset...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Israeli Knesset, which is, of course, the Israeli congress or parliament.

EYAL: And he is a personal project of this prime minister. And he is a disciple of Rabbi Kahane, which is a Jewish racist. And this man is in the Knesset. And the chief of police - the chief commissioner of the Israeli police has just said this week that he is responsible for the events that we are seeing in Israeli streets between Palestinian Israelis and Israeli Jews. And also we've seen the injustice in Sheikh Jarrah in which Israeli Jews are demanding properties of Jews before 1948 while at the same time Palestinians cannot demand their own property in West Jerusalem that was left behind before 1948.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where will this leave, you know, the situation in the Middle East after this bloody, bloody time?

EYAL: So first of all, we'll see - we shall see how the Gaza Strip operation ends. But what's important that happened in this conflict is not what happened between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. What's really important is what happened within the sovereign state of Israel between Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians. And what Israel will try to do, I think, in the next few months is try to rebuild this very uneasy coexistence. But it will take, I think, many years. And we should remember these events because we have never seen anything like it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Nadav Eyal, Israeli journalist and author of the book "Revolt." Thank you very much.

EYAL: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.