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December 17, 2015 7:36 am

Delusions of Israelis and Palestinians Are Destroying the Peace Process

avatar by Alon Ben-Meir

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PA President Mahmoud Abbas (right) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: wiki commons.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (right) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: wiki commons.

The deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process appears to be illogical and unsettling, as a majority of Israelis and Palestinians realize that coexistence, whether under conditions of enmity or friendship, is a fact that neither side can change short of a catastrophe.

Both sides understand that the general parameters of a sustainable peace agreement must rest on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with some land swaps. However, both sides choose to revel in illusions and live in defiance of time and circumstances. They seem to prefer continuing violent clashes and bloodshed over peaceful coexistence, while blaming each other for the unending destructive path that tragically both have chosen to travel.

There are fundamental imperatives, coupled with long-term mutual security measures, which represent what was on the negotiating table in 2000 at Camp David and in 2010/2011 and 2013/2014 under the Obama administration’s auspices in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Each round, with various degrees of progress, aimed at finalizing an agreement and yet ultimately failed to do so. The question is: why?

Biased and selective perceptions, reinforced by historical experiences, religion, and incompatible ideologies, have locked both sides into immobile positions. The factors that maintain and enhance these patterns include emotions such as fear, distrust, and insecurity. The psychological outcome is mutual denial of the narrative of the other and mutual delegitimization.

Put together, the operative result is stagnation and polarization. What is therefore needed is a consensus-oriented dialogue at the leadership level by both officials and non-officials, and people-to-people interactions, to resolve the issue of perception — a tall order given the current environment that buttresses rather than ameliorates prejudiced perceptions.

There are certain psychological concepts that are relevant to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the concept of illusion is an essential one. In The Future of an Illusion, Freud offers the following definition: “…we call a belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its relations to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.”

What is characteristic of illusions is that: 1) they are derived from deep human wishes, and 2) the belief is held (or would be held) in the absence of any compelling evidence, or good rational grounds, on its behalf.

It is impossible to deny that both Israelis and Palestinians are in the grip of very powerful illusions that only serve to prolong the conflict and prevent any mutual understanding. In particular, the belief shared by many Israelis that they have a biblical right to the land (including Judea and Samaria) and that God gave it to the Jews in perpetuity is undoubtedly an illusion of yesterday.

This belief is not affirmed because there is real evidence that God deemed it to be (although two Jewish kingdoms did exist — the first in the tenth century BCE and the second beginning in 539 BCE — on the same land), but because it satisfies a deep-seated psychological need for a God-given Jewish homeland.

The belief that by expanding the settlements Israel will augment its national security and maintain its hold on the entire land is an illusion of tomorrow, which generally ignores the presence of Muslims in the same land for more than 1,300 years.

It is important to note how these illusions sustain and reinforce one another, and constitute a psychological barrier that is much more impervious to critical reflection. Israel’s illusions have served to create the logic for occupation.

The Palestinians, for their part, are not without their own illusions. They also believe that God has reserved the land for them, and appeal to the fact that they had inhabited the land for centuries. From their perspective, the presence of the al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in 705 AD in Jerusalem, attests to their historical and religious affinity to the Holy City.

They also cling to the idea that they will someday return to the land of their forbears, as they have and continue to insist on the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, even though this has become a virtual impossibility.

The Palestinians hold fast to their illusions of yesterday and tomorrow just as blindly and desperately as the Israelis, which leads to resistance to and fear of change. As such, unless both sides change course and accept each other’s affinity to the same land, specifically because it is religiously-based, the situation is bound to lead to a catastrophe.

This has contributed to making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both chronic and intractable, as the various illusions are continuously and consciously nurtured by daily hostile and often violent encounters between the two sides.

In seeking to bridge concepts that could link between the domains of psychology and politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it could be proposed that a collective mutual resistance to change (both conscious and deliberate, and inner unconscious) protects a vulnerable identity.

Compared, for example, to the stable and mature political identities of the American, British, and French nations, the political identities of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples are, in a way, in their adolescence.

Identities in this setting are more vulnerable, and the protagonists are naturally more defensive and resistant to change. By its very nature, the players must find it difficult (if not impossible) to articulate this publicly, as to do so is to admit to this vulnerability.

The concept of psychological resistance to change may well affect the political setting in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular; it is closely connected to perceptions at many levels and provides protection for vulnerable identity formation.

It is this mindset, strengthened by historical experiences, which transcends the more than seven decades since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began. Individuals and groups, Israelis and Palestinians alike, have and continue to interpret the nature of the discord between them as “you versus me” in a prejudiced and selective way.

In turn, this has stifled any new information and enabled the continuing resistance to change, which could shed new light on the nature and substance of the conflict and help advance the peace process.

The concept of unconscious resistance to change in this setting links well to the view of perceptions driving the polarization in the conflict. Historical experience, which formulates perceptions, serves among other things to enhance the sense of identity of “who we really are,” a formative collective assumption that sits at the bedrock of both key players and drives functional and dysfunctional behavior.

In principle, such a mindset prevents either side from entertaining new ideas that might lead to compromises for a peaceful solution. The paradox here is that majorities on both sides do want and seek peace, knowing full well that this would require significant concessions, but are unable to reconcile the required concessions with imbedded perceptions that have precluded these compromises as a result of resistance to and fear of change.

Therefore, any framework for peace must include provisions that would dramatically increase the odds in favor of a solution. First, both sides need to commit to reaching an agreement based on a two-state solution out of the conviction that change, which translates to coexistence, is inevitable. Therefore, they ought to adjust to each other’s requirements, which of necessity requires them to make significant concessions.

Second, to facilitate that, they must undertake reconciliatory people-to-people social, economic, cultural, and security interactions to mitigate their resistance to change, which must begin, at a minimum, one year before the negotiations commence to create the psychological and political atmosphere to cultivate the trust necessary for substantive and successful peace negotiations.

The resumption of peace talks will go nowhere unless Israelis and Palestinians change their prejudiced perception and resistance to and fear of change, and finally come to the realization that their fate is intertwined and neither can live in peace and security without the other.

I feel compelled to conclude my last article for the year with a dire warning that both Israelis and Palestinians alike will do well to ponder upon as they approach the end of the seventh decade of their tragic conflict:

Every Israeli extremist and Palestinian militant, those who want it all, must stop and think where Israel and the Palestinians will be in ten years if the current situation persists?

Your illusions of today will not become a reality of tomorrow, and what tomorrow will bring is nothing but more pain, tears, and agony.

Your conflict is evolving ever faster into a religious war. A Muslim-Jewish Armageddon is in the making that will set the whole region on unfathomable fire.

If you are true believers, dare not defy God’s will, for he has thrust you together to put you to the test — you must either live in peace and harmony, or you will be condemned to oblivion and despair.

You possess the power to choose your own destiny. Will it be self-destruction or will it be the fulfillment of a glorious dream?

Rise up and pass a legacy of hope to every Israeli and Palestinian child, for they have the God-given right to grow up and prosper and none should die for your illusions in vain.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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  • Gnomercy9

    There is no one more delusional than a Peace Processor.

    • Mickey Oberman

      Wake up.
      There is no peace process.
      Thanks to the penchant for Abbas to walk away.

  • England’s responsibility for the violence in the Middle east
    The parlous condition of the Jewish people over a large part of the known world, and particularly in such countries as Germany, Poland and Rumania, has called increasing attention to the workings of the Mandate for Palestine now administered by Great Britain under the authority of the League of Nations. The Mandate, when it was written, as well as the antecedent Balfour Declaration, clearly contemplated that the “home” to be established in Palestine was intended for the whole Jewish people who were to be established there by international sanction in the future. The intention was to provide a sane and reasonable solution to the age-old Jewish Diaspora problem, and it anticipated those circumstances which have rendered so large a portion of the Jewish race homeless.
    If this was indeed the purpose of the Mandate it has proved a miserable failure, since it has solved nothing and has only succeeded in adding a new and formidable problem to a world already sinking under the weight of problems. Many reasons are adduced for this failure. Much is made of the irreconcilable differences between Arabs and Jews, instigated by the British, which the mandatory now claims render the Mandate unworkable.
    The circumstances under which the Balfour Declaration and Mandate were issued. Napolean Bonaparte in 1799 offered The Jews in Palestine to reestablish the Jewish Home in Palestine. The false assertion that the Declaration was extorted from an unwilling Britain by Jewish financiers during the War can be obviously disposed of as a pure invention of the anti-Semitic mind. Another and more reasonable claim made to justify Britain’s position in this matter is that she was totally ignorant of the real conditions in Palestine and the actual problems she was letting herself
    in for when she made her bargain with the Jews; Britain renaged abd violated the terms of the Mandate; furtheremore, behind the scenes Britain encouraged Arab riots and violence against the Jews in Palestine and turned a blind eye while hundreds of thousands of Arabs entered Palestine from other Arab Lands. Under examination this contention loses much of its plausibility. For a hundred years Zionism, as we shall see, had been almost as much an English movement as it was a purely Jewish one. As for local conditions in Palestine, it is undoubted that British officialdom knew more about Arab social and economic problems than the Jews aspiring to settle there. From the time the American scholar Robinson attempted to explore archaeological remains in the Holy Land in 1837, London has, through the Palestine Exploration Fund, concentrated on the study of every minute detail that related to Palestine. “Theirs,” state De Haas and Wise, “were the surveys, the compilation of flora and fauna, theirs too the enumeration and localization of the Bedouin tribes; theirs the studies in local conditions, the compilation of customs and excise, estimates of population, speculation as to the origins of peoples, observations on everything that relates to the area between the River of Egypt and the cedars of Lebanon.” 1 Reaching far back into the 1840’s, Lord Palmerston had compiled for his Government thorough material on Palestine, considering the possibility of exercising a British protectorate over that region in the Jewish interests. Since that time the accumulation has been so vast that it is only fair to say that the British archives contain a better survey of Arab social, economic, agricultural and other problems than the Arabs have of themselves.
    As for the Balfour Declaration itself, it may be assumed that Lord Balfour, its author is an infallible witness to its intended purpose.
    He wrote: “The national and international status of the Jews to that of other races . . . would be promoted by giving them that which all other nations possess: a local habitation and a national home . . . [where] they would bear corporate responsibilities and enjoy corporate duties of a kind which, from the nature of the case, they can never possess as citizens of any non-Jewish state.” 2 It will be evident from the records that neither the Declaration nor the Mandate confers upon non-Jews any rights which would allow them to interfere with the growth and operation of the National Home. It is obvious that if these documents were to be interpreted so as to include National Home rights to legally present non-Jews, both the National Home grant to the Jews and the rights of non-Jews would be repealed by implication. The document would then repeal itself, which on the face of it would be a reduction ad absurdum.
    As will also be seen from these pages, British trusteeship of the Holy Land was the result of Jewish demand itself, Wedgwood admitting rather shamefacedly in this respect that the Jews were “almost the only non-Anglo-Saxon people who seem to believe that on the whole England does try to behave decently towards other people.” Although history has proven otherwise. The French offered to take over the Mandate for Palestine, which might have produced a better result. 3
    The records prove beyond any doubt; that, the British Mandatory for Palestine has followed a deliberate violation of the Mandate terms and defaulting British policy in respect to its obligations there, and has itself largely created the conditions which it now so thoroughly decries. A large share of its biased policies have been motivated entirely by British power politics in the Mediterranean, in which the British Mandate was used for the purpose of surrounding British Imperial strategy in the Middle East with the aura of sanctity. A factor of even greater importance, however, is the gross anti-Semitism of a handful of civil servants in the bureaus of Whitehall and Westminster, which exists to these days 2016. It is to the phobia of these men against Jews that most of the troubles agitating the
    Holy Land can be traced. Its wantonness is not flaunted; it is true, like the excesses of the German Nazis or the Polish Endeks.
    It lies icily beneath the shining hardness of bureaucratic logic.
    It is overlaid with the softness of English colonial skill – but, as we shall discover, it is in no sense less intense, and fully as implacable, as the open anti-Semitism of the Nazis on the Continent.
    This, briefly, will be found to be the underlying condition which hides beneath the maze of pretension by which London has consistently and falsely justified its bad faith to the Jews and to the world. It is this factor which has caused the declared policy of the British Mandate to fail so ignominiously and which has allowed the Holy Land in these past years to be given over to Arab hooligans and desperadoes who have murdered its citizens, burned its crops and houses and demoralized its commerce.
    The records are voluminous. The Arabs received over five million square miles of territory after WWI, which established 22 Arab states.

  • Joseph Stein

    For an esteemed professor and veteran middle eastern peace negotiator, adviser, with advanced linguistic abilities, and direct knowledge of regional politics and affairs, you seem to hold some very biased and uni-dimensional views regarding the failings of middle east peace.

    You do not take into consideration the rich historical, legal and political rights of Israel and the Jewish people, which have been enshrined in international law. These legal and diplomatic historical rights are largely ignored but essential to understanding the sacrifices Israel has already made and is willing to make in order to achieve lasting peace. The Weizmann Faisal Agreement of 1919, San Remo Treaty of 1920, Franco=British Boundary agreement of 1920, League of Nations Mandate for Palestine of 1922 (signed by 51 member nations), the Lodge Fish Resolution 360 of 1922, and the Anglo-American Treaty of 1924 form a factual record of Jewish rights in the region. The doctrine of ‘Estoppel’ and the United Nations Charter Article 80 of 1948, have insured sustenance of World Jewry’s ownership of all of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Also ignored is that circa 70% of the land reserved for Jewish sovereignty, was illegally torn away to form the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.

    You also fail that to mention that the multi-ethnic Islamist occupiers of Israel (so-called) Palestinians, could have had accepted a state offered them in 1937 (Peel commission), in 1947, and again 1948 on the Lion’s share of Israeli territory. Instead they choose conflict over peace every time. They could have also asked for a state for 1948-67 when Transjordan Occupied Judea/Samaria. They could have had a state 1967, 1979. In 2000 Ehud Barak prepared to concede 1/2 of Jerusalem, 97% of contiguous Judean and Samiritan Territory, expand the Gaza Strip. The proposal also gave Islamic control to key religious sites, further gauranteeing the right of return for refugees and 30 billion in international reparations. The answer was ‘NO’

    Israel wants peace and Islam wants war. The conflict as never been about territory, borders or justice. It’s always been about killing Jews as mandated in the Quran, Hadith and Sira. You must also know that no treaty Islamists negotiate with Kufars (Jews) is going to honored by them. Your expect Israel to negotiate with Hamas whose charter is the destruction of Israel? Based on your past experience do you actually believe Hamas will not attack Israel again? Murder Israeli women and children while using there own women, children and elderly has human shields? Are Gaza’s current tunnel rebuilding, attempted Iranian rocket stockpiling, and other preparations for further attacks on Israel Jewish delusions? Do you interpret the daily murderous attacks of Israeli citizens incited by PA leaders as a climate for peace negotiations and further Jewish concessions?

    Einstein’s definition of insanity:”Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,’ which is exactly what you are proposing. Your double-standard and biased views of moral relativism, and Jewish religious delusion as an obstacle to peace, are delusional i themselves, or something much worse.

    Israel in a modern democracy, a world technological marvel shining like a jewel in a sea of death and darkness.

    I envision a Middle East with Arabs and Jews working and living together to achieve greatness perhaps unknown in human experience. Together, they will usher in a renaissance that will spread its light from sea to sea