Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Learning about conflict resolution with the mother of all conflicts

I believe the obstacles to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict need to be discussed in a more thoughtful way than they have been.  At the same time, I have read thoughtful pieces by those who do understand some of the many issues that contribute both to the conflict and to its intractability. While I myself have blogged on the topic, starting this week, I will begin learning about it in a different way.

In Hebrew University’s “Conflict Resolution from Theory to Practice: Israel as a Case Study,” we will look at the issue from multiple directions. I am taking this for the Master of Public Administration track of the dual degree program I am in. To satisfy international requirement in a way that was meaningful to me, I decided to take this particular class at this particular university. So, this past week my husband, one of my sons and I flew to Israel for an extended visit during which I can go to school and spend time with another son who lives in Jerusalem. While here, I am also taking an online summer course on intergovernmental relations from the university at home. I’ve also just started a new job and will be working. Needless to say, I wonder how well I will juggle everything, especially all the reading for both classes.

With anticipation, I took a look at the abstract for the first reading assignment that I will tackle tomorrow.  I am intrigued. Competing narratives and negating each other’s identity are both issues that I am familiar with, but in this first reading assignment, published in the January 1999 issue of the Journal of Social Issues (not a political science or Middle Eastern journal, mind you), Harvard professor Herbert C. Kelman frames the issues in a way that clearly lays out a no-two-ways-about-it conflict. In “The Interdependence of Israeli and Palestinian National Identities: The Role of the Other in Existential Conflicts,” he writes in his abstract, “After summarizing the history of the conflict, [this article] proposes that a long-term resolution of the conflict requires development of a transcendent identity for the two peoples that does not threaten the particularistic identity of each. The nature of the conflict, however, impedes the development of a transcendent identity by creating a state of negative interdependence between the two identities such that asserting one group’s identity requires negating the identity of the other. The resulting threat to each group’s identity is further exacerbated by the fact that each side perceives the other as a source of some of its own negative identity elements, especially a view of the self as victim and as victimizer.”

It is not enough that each side doesn’t buy into the other’s narrative or accept the other’s claim as being a people, let alone a people tied to the land, but here he is saying that each side’s identity is dependent on negating the other’s. I’m not sure I agree with that. I also believe that there is nothing in either’s self-definition that says no one else could have come from this land; that is, multiple peoples could have coexisted thousands of years ago and should be able to today.

But regardless of what I think or what he presumes, it doesn’t matter here. The issue is what comes next. Kelman says that for this reason, there is a barrier to establishing a new identity. And that the victim-victimizer relationship complicates figuring it all out even more. But now he comes from a social issues perspective, when he shares that he will discuss, “ways of overcoming the negative interdependence of the two identities by drawing on some of the positive elements in the relationship, most notably the positive interdependence between the two groups that exists in reality. Problem-solving workshops represent one setting for equal-status interactions that provide the parties the opportunity to ‘negotiate’ their identities and to find ways of accommodating the identity of the other in their own identity.”

Positive elements in the relationship (I look forward to learning about those) will be used to negotiate their identities in ways which allow the other to exist too. I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to invite the leadership on both sides to take part in a workshop…

Anyway, this is how I will spend my summer. How will you spend yours?

EDIT: Now that I’ve gotten past the abstract, I impore you to read “The Interdependence of Israeli and Palestinian National Identities: The Role of the Other in Existential Conflicts.” Though written so very long ago, it is a hugely insightful and rational explanation of the symmetrical social obstacles that are at play on both sides of the conflict. 

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture. Since returning to the U.S. in 2003; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta. An Ashkenazi mom to Mizrahi sons born in Israel and the US, MIL to a French Mizrahi DIL and an Israeli DIL whose parents are also an interesting mix, and a step mom to sons born in the South, she celebrates trying to see from multiple perspectives and hopes this comes out in her blogs. While working in Jewish and Zionist education and advocacy, Wendy's interests also have her digging deep into genealogy and bringing distant family together. All of this is to say, Wendy's life has brought her to the widened framework she uses for her blogs: there are many ways to see and understand.
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