Future Reconciliation Prospects in Palestine and Israel

To achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, we need to first diagnose what hinders reconciliation prospects in Israel and Palestine.

palestineFirst, Palestinians and Israelis suffer from a persistent sense of victimhood.

According to the social psychologist Arie Nadler, the concept of competitive victimhood occurs when two parties feel that they are both the victim of what has happened by another group.

This can evolve to a state where the feeling of victimhood creates a sense that the victim has the right to use violence against the other. In other words, justifying the violence in one way or another against the other because the other is the perpetrator.

Victimhood gives him the feeling he has the right to dominate and control more territories to feel more secure. Everybody should empathize with the victim not only locally but internationally. At the same time, he cannot empathize with others because all the attention should be drawn on his case. Being passive, he is not able to take any action to reach any agreement with the other.

Second, both suffer from the binary vision problem: “I am right and they are wrong.”

This creates hatred because it frames the other as evil with a baseless narrative.

According to Nadler, both parties should adopt a “shared identity” where they view themselves as perpetrator and victim.

When both parties see themselves in this way then they can create a shared common identity. This new mentality could help both to settle their differences by being more responsible. Moving forward could create a better future for them and for the new generation.

Israelis and Palestinians frame each other to advance their power.

We frame the other and put him in a specific frame as Judith Butler argues, making different narratives viewed as frames through which the world is viewed. Butler’s discussion on the frames can be illuminating. She observes that frames account for why and how it becomes easier or more difficult to wage a war.

In the case of the Israel/Palestine conflict, the question is: Why and how it becomes easier to mete out violence against the other community?

To do this Butler argues that if certain lives do not qualify as lives or are from the start not conceivable as lives within certain epistemological frames, then these lives are never lived nor lost in the full sense.

These frames through which we apprehend or fail to apprehend the lives of others as lost or injured, just as narratives are politically saturated. They are operations of power. The question is not only epistemological but ontological as well because in the end we are asking the question, “What is a life?”

Butler pushes the process further by suggesting that instead of focusing on apprehending life, priority should also be given to recognition of life. Apprehension is less precise because it can simply mark, register, and acknowledge without full cognition.

Recognition suggests full acceptance of the other.

Narratives influenced by operations of power are bent on taking away the individuality of the perceived or real enemy frames, like narratives, so goes Butler’s argument, function as an editorial embellishment of an image.

A frame guides interpretation. A frame is constructed around one’s deed such that one’s guilty status becomes the viewer’s inevitable conclusion. One is judged in advance. However, frames can be framed or reframed.

To call the frame into question is to show that, like constructed narratives, the frame never quite contained the scene, situation or person it was meant to describe. The frame never quite determined precisely what it is we see, think, recognize and apprehend. Something exceeds that frame that troubles our sense of reality; something occurs that does not conform to our established understanding of things.

If framing is understood as breaking out or breaking from, it can be analogous to breaking from prison which comes with a certain release, a loosening of the mechanisms of control and with it a new trajectory of effect.

The narratives outlined are analogous to prisons out of which people should break.

This should not only result in the production of new frames. It also has to be not that when the frame or a narrative breaks with itself, a taken-for-granted reality is called into question, exposing the orchestrating designs of the authority who sought to control the frame.

This means it is not only a question of finding new content but also working with received renditions to show how they can and do break with themselves. Frames and narratives should break out from themselves and new content must be developed. Those narratives and frames which decide lives will be recognizable as lives, and which will not, must also be exposed.

When neighboring communities share a history of deadly conflict with one another, the turning points or dramatic episodes of the conflict are etched in each side’s communal consciousness. They take on the spiritual resonances of myth. The conflict made us who we are. We are defined by our responses to the injustices delivered on us by the enemy. In the stories we tell about the conflict, about our suffering and endurance, we give voice to our deepest sense of meaning and purpose as a people.

As Appleby Scott argues in his book, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, stories of communal suffering reinforce an enclave mentality formed in reaction to the threatening “other” across town or in the next valley. Myths clash and religious leaders allow or even promote their politicization. Rivals offer dramatically different – and incommensurate – interpretations of the struggle for territorial sovereignty.

The contested past determines the meaning of the present for each side.

Agents of conflict mediation know that getting all sides to agree about the significance of a controversial statement or act by one or more of the rival parties is complicated. The existence of the these multiple histories and mythologies breed suspicion and paranoia.

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In countries such as South Africa, to achieve reconciliation was a long process. They worked hard on it by listening to testimony and fact-finding, the identification of perpetrators, the payment for reparation to victim, healing of memories and the offering and acceptance of forgiveness.

Promoting reconciliation consumed much energy of both people, including leaders, religious instructions, schools, universities and government.

Israelis and Palestinians, however, view moderation as surrender and weakness.

As a Palestinian scholar, I’ve often been asked whether I see any future prospects for reconciliation and peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My answer was always, “Yes I still have hope and I am optimistic one day we and our children will enjoy the fruits of reconciliation and peace.”

All the indicators today show that peace and reconciliation remain elusive.

Although many people if asked the same question respond there will be no peace and no reconciliation in the near future, I still remain optimistic. I remain hopeful that the seeds of moderation we are planting today will give fruit tomorrow.

I do realize that this conflict is one of many conflicts such as in South Africa, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, etc. As all these conflicts came to an end, this one will also come to an end.

We need to be realistic and think strategically.

As Palestinians, we should prioritize and not engage in wishful thinking. The days of the orange groves are gone. We did not learn from the lessons of the 1948 Nakba which led us to the 1967 disaster.

There is a failure to understand the new world we live in and more opportunities are lost. We need to look at the big picture rather. The universe does not revolve around us. We need to stop digging and start thinking how to get out of the hole we are in.

My optimistic attitude is motivated by the need to move on as a people from conflict to reconciliation and peace. We cannot remain stuck to a past that is already behind. We need to heed the words of God when he instructs us in the Holy Quran (Ar Ra’d Surah): “Indeed, God/Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”

So we should start the process of change within ourselves and to reconcile with ourselves to seek a better future. Forgiveness begins within oneself. We cannot keep our head in the sand and say everything is going well and dream to return one day to Palestine.

We need to think of the future generation and avoid having them go through our same bitter experience. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the past is still vivid within the new generation. It is the greatest impediment to repairing the wounds of the past and to reconstruct the society thorough reconciliation.

Improving education is imperative for reconciliation.

We need to work on the values we are feeding our kids. Are we promoting hatred or love? We need to modify school textbooks which serve as a crucial agent of socializing new generations on both sides.

We urgently need to raise awareness of what we mean by “reconciliation” between people in conflict. Moderation means power not weakness, and courage does not mean defeatism.

It is a long process, and the first step is always the hardest.

Therefore, framework-conditions need to be met as Professor Ralf Wüstenberg concluded in his reconciliation studies on South Africa and Germany. Reconciliation includes framework conditions that cannot quickly be dispensed with sharing truth(s) on contested narratives.

What are the demands of both conflicting parties to achieve a stage where they develop the wish for peaceful coexistence?

There is a need to respect contested narratives.

In South Africa there was the conviction that there can be no reconciliation without justice. In the 1990s, the conviction was: no reconciliation without truth. But justice and truth are impossible to achieve so should that mean for the conflict to continue?

No, but for rationality to find compromises which might be painful. In Israel-Palestine it is hard to envision reconciliation if the Palestinians and Israelis are not aware what reconciliation means.

Therefore, how can we achieve reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians when there is no national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas?

Pumla Gobodo is right to state, “If memory is used to rekindle old hatreds, it will lead us back to continuing hatred and conflict. But if memory is used to rebuild, or to begin new relationships, that is where hope lies.”

Imagine, what a difference it would make if Palestinians’ and Israelis’ are willing to be exposed by the different narratives that shape the two separate narratives.

Imagine, if we moved from the imperative of what should be done to constructively address the conditions that need to be met to arrive at peace and reconciliation.

Just think, what difference it would make if we moved from theory to practice.

*This is the third article of a three-part series on the topic of reconciliation. In case you missed it, read the first article in this series by Dina Dajani and the second article by Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi

Zeina M. Barakat, PhD, is a lecturer at Freidrich Schiller University at Jena, Germany. Read other articles by Zeina.