The Pull of Nationalism


Nationalism is the love of nation. It is the love of your group and usually your ethnicity and those who look and behave like you. I’ve written before that nationalism and group identity are natural and even a source of pleasure and security. It’s a strong impulse based on the belief that you are of common descent with others like you. I had a student last year who was Irish and claimed to love all things Irish and was a fierce defender of Ireland. He had never been to Ireland and knew little more about Ireland than green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. But he felt this kinship with Ireland.

Of course the most vicious nationalist was Hitler and he and his glorification of Germany represents certainly the extreme. I don’t care to focus or write about Hitler because it is too easy and so much has been said that his character is almost cartoonish, which is not to say that he should not be studied and understood. And nationalism can rear its ugly head even if it is not in this extreme form of Hitler’s National Socialism or the Nazi party. But there are some interesting qualities of nationalism that I think are common to the idea personifying the nation whether it be benign and warm nationalism or the vicious extreme. Three of these qualities are described below.

  1. It is pretty much impossible to fight a war without it being associated with a “nation.” Again, nation is typically associated with a large political collective, but small groups who consider themselves oppressed and victimized can see themselves as consistent with the ideas of nationalism and the nation. ISIS is both a political and a religious group and while they are typically not described as nationalists there impulse to glorify Islam and political Islam is fueled by the fires of a nationalist psychology. Relatively few wars these days are purely over pragmatic and rational resources. Most of the difficult conflicts in the world have some element of nationalism or ethnic identity that stimulates violence.
  2. Nationalism wraps its ideas in sanctity. There is a sense that the state, or the land, or the people are sanctified which makes them special and above the fray. Nationalist literature refers to the ease with which soldiers go off to their death because they know they are defending sanctified land and ideas. Groups like ISIS justify unimaginable horrors (beheadings, sexual assault, slavery) on the basis of their presumed sacred ideas. And there is nothing sophisticated in any intellectual or political sense about these ideas.
  3. When issues and ideas are sanctified it’s easy to turn them into binaries; that is, the contest becomes between the forces of “good” and “evil.” You see in their literature metaphors of darkness and light. This creates a virulent form of competition and discourse where the only way to win is to annihilate the other and defend yourself which is justifiable because the threat is existential. There is no talk that might develop new relationships or negotiation in the service of common goals of “tolerance” or “give-and-take” or “compromise.” The struggle is only between life and death.

Psychologies that are conducive to sustaining the type of intensity and extremes associated with an Armageddon mentality begin to crop up and develop. Ordinary people begin to believe their leaders and nationalist entrepreneurs who are telling them that they are a “chosen elect” who are duty-bound to rid the world of an enemy. People are not born with these ideas and extremist capabilities. They are recruited into a smaller group environment and socialized (the common term “brainwashing” applies here) into a set of beliefs and psychological states of readiness to accept what seems to be indefensible and outrageous beliefs.

Of course, the first thing to do is to identify a threatening outgroup and begin the process of heaping blame on the group on your way to justifying any sort of treatment of this “enemy.” This group can be Jews, the West, democracy, or any convenient outgroup. It is the extremes of nationalism that are important to pay attention to. I reiterate that common ingroup identity is probably evolutionarily necessary and capable of individual protection and reinsurance. We may think that Hitler and Nazi Germany were extreme examples, but you do not have to look far to see it happening again.


The Deal with Iran

The case against the deal with Iran.

Obama on phone



The case for the deal by Thomas Pickering


Key Communication Elements of Dialogue

Conflict! I’m interested in the efficacy of communication and write regularly about how communication works and why it is fundamentally and by definition the best way to elicit change. One of the most important contemporary questions is how differences engage one another; how do individuals and groups with incommensurate realities and significant cultural variation manage their relationship? One way is intergroup dialogue which has been written about but remains an ethereal concept considered by many to be an idealized form of communication that is difficult to achieve. I remain resolute in my conviction to continue to discuss dialogue as a pragmatic and achievable form of communication that is not overly romanticized. Dialogue is a particular type of communication designed to solve problems that require mutuality, cooperation, and change. In these terms – mutuality, cooperation, and change – are not niceties but theoretical requirements.

Intergroup dialogue is really about action. It’s about how you collaborate with others across differences with the goal of social justice and problem solving in mind. Solidarity-based communication is that between similar people working on a similar problem. The interaction is cohesive and reinforcing with goals of stimulation and accomplishment of objectives to bring about any desired change. But bridging discourse, as termed by Dryzek, is between people of who are different and trying to find ways to manage the differences between them, trying to reach across information, cultural, and intellectual divides. Most important dialogue struggles with bridging discourse and it is of course the most difficult.

There are a variety of perspectives and approaches to dialogue, but one of the most thoughtful and theoretically well-developed perspectives is critical-dialogue as described by Nagda, Gurin, and others. These authors have identified four communication processes that are particularly important and pertinent to the dialogic process. Each of these four is required and part of the challenge of establishing conditions for successful dialogue. You can read more about these processes here.

  1. Engagement: This is primarily the requirement that dialogue be taken seriously and individuals be personally involved and committed. These are not the conditions for social loafing; dialogic contact with somebody of difference, when the problems are real and significant, needs the participants to engage in the full range of committed communication. Participants must take risks, assert themselves into the story, and do the hard work of listening empathically as well as critically without overweighting one.
  2. Appreciate differences: Politics is essentially the management of differences. Solving problems in general conflict resolution is the same. Differences are fundamental and the goal is not to eliminate them but to manage them. For this reason, an appreciation for differences is crucial. Democracies in particular use the communication process to manage differences. There is simply no peaceful resolution to problems without understanding the perspective of others, creating trust across differences, and even trying to participate and when appropriate adopt differences. Again, the goal is not simply the aesthetic appreciation of differences but the pragmatic issues of empathy, understanding, and the ability to argue and communicate in a manner that resonates with the other.
  3. Critical reflection: Again, the unreflective and rigid presentation of self is always limited by the boundaries of the self. Critical reflection is the ability to examine one’s own assumptions including finding those places characterized by bias, stereotypes, and distortions related to how the other is perceived including unfair sources of power and manipulation. Any genuine attempt to solve problems requires participants to think critically about their own patterns of communication and thought processes. Moreover, participants in dialogue must be able to recognize the sources of bias and inequality in both themselves and others but in particular themselves.
  4. And finally, building associative relationships: Participants in dialogue groups must build something together. As often as it has been said, and as easy as it sounds participants in conflict must eventually explore common goals to develop new associative relationships that are conducive to resolving intergroup conflict. There is plenty of research that supports the impact of intergroup dialogue. Its goal is to foster the bridging of differences and these four communication patterns of the mechanisms that accomplish these goals. True enough they require additional research and operationalization but these form the foundational theoretical underpinnings

Communicative Contact Works on Even the Toughest Cases

One introduction to these issues by Miles Hewstone appears here. It is a YouTube video and worth checking out and I don’t think you have to watch it all.

Various analyses (especially Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006) clearly support the effectiveness of intergroup contact for improving attitudes towards outgroups. Communication scholars concerned with these matters are enthusiastic about the role of contact and its ability to improve attitudes and intergroup relations. The word contact, by definition, implies communication. Such communication does not have to be particularly systematic or controlled, and can be anywhere along a scale from spontaneous and unplanned to highly designed, but some sort of communication is implicated. Contact means interaction in the broadest sense.

But during conflicts it is relatively common knowledge that a few people cause a lot of trouble. The majority of a group might desire resolution and be genuine about achieving it but have their efforts thwarted and undermined by a few extremists. It’s easy enough to understand contact as effective for people who genuinely want to work out problems and solve difficulties. But what about the highly ego involved, intolerant, prejudiced, ideologically oriented person who is resistant and inflames others? This would be the “difficult conversation” that I have written about before; these difficult and ideologically oriented people are the “Fierce Entanglements” that characterize intractable conflicts in particular.

Typically, we assume that successful contact with highly prejudiced people is difficult given their intolerant nature but, on the other hand, there are strong theoretical reasons for believing that the contact experience should be beneficial to desired attitude change for the particularly intolerant. Contact reduces anxiety and increases empathy and is clearly capable of reducing anti-outgroup sentiments. The establishment of even a minor social relationship begins the process of including the other in the self which helps undermine the forces contributing to intolerance.

The research is pretty consistent with respect to the value of contact whether prejudices are minor or major. Hodson in 2011 explained that individuals with intolerant attitudes and who had few outgroup contacts were particularly negative in their prejudicial attitudes. But those with more prejudices benefited from increased contact. Examples were prejudice heterosexuals who had contact with homosexual, White prison inmates who formed relationships with Black prison inmates, and those with more intolerant attitudes all benefited from communicative contact with target outgroups. Contact, the explanation goes, increases empathy and psychological closeness to the outgroup. It also moderates the effects of those factors that intensify prejudices such as the sense of threat. Prejudice whites consider Blacks threatening as do prejudiced heterosexuals feel threatened by homosexuals.

It is gratifying to know that contact relevant issues such as threat and anxiety are associated with the effectiveness of communication. If it were not possible to improve attitudes after a communicative encounter through the mediating variables then the contact hypothesis would be in question.

Practical considerations dictate turning our attention to getting people to the actual experience of contact because although authoritarian and high dominance people benefit from contact they tend to avoid it. This articulates nicely with the main problem of managing intractable conflict which is getting people to the table talk to one another in the first place. The most intolerant are the ones who most need contact but also most avoid it. It certainly is not surprising that the intolerant avoid contact because if they were the type of people who sought out diverse contacts they would not be intolerant in the first place. It’s comparable to someone who is sick or has troublesome symptoms but avoids medical care.

Contact designed for positive outcomes must direct its attention to the prejudiced person, and away from simple outcomes such as attitude change and begin to examine other issues that might be political or economic but are more directly relevant to conditions that foster the reality of contact. Communication works, but you have to get people to the communication table first.






Paul Berman on the Confederate Flag and What BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) Does not Seem to Understand

Confederate flag



The article by Paul Berman on the Confederate flag debate is just too good to pass up. Click here to read it.








The BDS movement (which stands for boycott, divest, and sanction) against Israel is an aggressive social movement designed to challenge the existence of the State of Israel. The video below is a typical example of the BDS arguments against Israel. They are the standard exaggerations designed to criminalize and delegitimize Israel. The goal is not simply to pressure Israel but to challenge the very existence of the Jewish polity. Take a few minutes to watch the video.

A report on just who runs, funds, and supports BDS is available here. The report explains how BDS presents itself as a movement for human rights designed to economically pressure Israel. The BDS organization claims it is doing little more than engaging in the democratic process by organizing for a social cause. They present themselves as a grassroots Palestinian organization inspired by issues in human rights. The truth is that BDS is part of the ongoing campaign to subvert the Israeli economy in an effort to damage the state.

The BDS movement misleads institutions and international organizations into believing that they are a benign social movement looking to establish a Palestinian state and the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians. The truth is that they are far more aggressive and have malicious intentions with respect to the state of Israel.

What the BDS Does Not Understand

But interestingly the BDS movement does not realize the damage it does to Palestinians. They are so preoccupied with their own ideology that they are, in fact, doing more damage to the Palestinians and the prospect of peace than they are to Israel.

The BDS is making things worse for the Palestinians. BDS is misreading the relationship between the Palestinian economy and the Israeli economy. A recent article in the publication Fathom explains how Palestinian unemployment is related to strains in the Israeli economy. There has been a marked decline in Palestinian employment in Israel which the authors estimate amounts to 13% of Palestinian GDP in 2005-2006. Palestinian work in Israel is central to the good health of the Palestinian economy. And this will remain true even after some future peace agreement is signed. The state of one side’s economy in a conflict is important to the peace process because economic stability is necessary after treaties and agreements are signed. Otherwise, economic problems are the primary reason peace accords fail. Estimates are that the size of the Palestinian labor force needs to double. The report in Fathom goes on to clarify the impact of restrictions on Palestinian labor and on the future importance of a flow of labor into Israel from Palestine.

BDS is raising poverty levels in Palestine. When BDS opposes economic ties with Israel – Palestinians go hungry. The settlements are a problem and Israel must confront them in the future. There is little doubt that a hypothetical future peace arrangement will include the removal of many settlements. But to boycott settlement products only damages Palestinians. Settlements provide work for Palestinians who are paid on the average twice as much as those employed elsewhere. Moreover, there are some successfully Israeli-Palestinian business arrangements that will be important as future models of coexistence but boycotts threaten these partnerships.

Economic partnerships and interdependence creates unity and trust. They are an important foundation for peace. Organizations such as Hamas gained popularity through their social support programs and Hamas will be more attractive as economic conditions worsen. Boycotts and divestment will not lead to cooperation, improved fiscal infrastructures, and energized entrepreneurship. Any successful consequences of BDS will harm only Palestinians and, ironically, slow the removal of settlers from the West Bank.




What Makes for “Difficult Conversations?”

locking horns difficult conversationsConversations are difficult when one or both parties are fixed on an ideological position they consider a core value fundamental to their concept of truth and personal identity. These difficult conversations are the genuinely “hard” part of managing conflicts and in many ways more important than the military dimension. It is certainly easier to kill someone then to change their ideology. Moreover, security measures do not sufficiently engage the problem when the true enemy is an ideology that must be communicatively confronted. Conversations are difficult for four reasons primarily.

  1. The nature of their content: those political or religious positions that claim to speak to God and know the mind of God, and believe that God has a plan or an inevitable future, will be particularly recalcitrant. Yes, radical Islam fits this definition but so do extreme versions of Christianity, Judaism, or any body of thinking and literature rooted in religious cosmology. Some are more dangerous than others because of a tradition of activism and preaching. Orthodox Judaism, for example, does not have a tradition of expansionist preaching and is thus less threatening than some other traditions even though they are still a narrow vision based on the presumed word of God. Cultures of shame and honor are also particularly sensitive to humiliations of various sorts and often likely to respond violently.
  2. Radical versus assimilationist thinking: some people hold strict religious or political opinions and even want to impose them on others but they take a slow education oriented approach. They support a comprehensive system of influences – economic, artistic, educational, cultural, and political – and assume that in time others will assimilate into the “truth.” But those positions that include radical approaches, which desire quicker satisfaction, are more likely to advocate violence and be more difficult to work with. Slower assimilationist approaches are more subject to counter influences. After a generation, for example, of living in the United States a family may have absorbed the values of liberal democracy. Conversation with the radical is clearly more challenging because it typically uses more threats, blame, humiliation, and demands for apologies.
  3. Belief in an essential cause: participants in discussions often get to a point where they have identified what is considered the “essential” cause of the problem. This essential cause takes on considerable explanatory power and becomes difficult to change. For example, some blame the United States for the rise of violent Islam and it is US foreign policy that becomes the “essential cause” of the problem. Others might cherry pick the Koran and find references that are used as essential explanations for violence. A belief in an essential cause is typically accompanied by blame which is psychologically satisfying.
  4. Incommensurate narratives: when the two cultures in conflict are particularly distinct and the qualities of each culture are significantly different, then these differences make the conversation difficult. Cultures like the Israelis and Palestinians present different accounts of historical events and selectively emphasize and organize motivations. These incommensurate narratives are cultural conflicts that make interaction even more difficult because the two sides are locked into images of the past and myths about the future. This concentration on the past becomes powerfully influential because the sides believe that lessons learned from the past are particularly timeless and resistant to change. The narrative or story each group tells about its self becomes glorified as a timeless truth and a steady beacon. Consequently, tolerance and change our challenge.

Of course, there are other qualities of conflict – psychological, communicative, political, economic – that make conversations difficult. But these four pose particularly demanding (shall we say almost impossible) conditions that make for difficult conversations.

Making Communication Smarter

slow democracy Ellis and Fisher decision-making book

I have made the point on more than one occasion that it is the communication and interaction process that closes or shrinks gaps of indeterminacy. It is communication that reaches across divides and differences between people. But the really important part of this entire equation is the nature and type of communication. Communication is only as effective and as functional as it can be when it is designed and directed properly. in other words, when the communication is smart. Just putting two or more people together and telling them to communicate can cause as much damage as good. In fact, it is statistically likely to cause more harm than not.

So, when I say that the “type” of communication is most important, what does that mean? The answer is complex with many possibilities but let’s look at some basic issues and some foundational principles that can help guide people make better decisions. First, is the nature of the decision-making task itself. When the task has a specific correct answer that requires expertise then groups and even communication are less important because a single qualified individual can solve the problem. We can organize a collection of people in any manner, and apply all of our theoretical knowledge, to build a bridge or solve a complex mathematical equation but the group will never figure it out satisfactorily because they don’t have the individual knowledge or expertise. A group working on these problems will be of no use and any solution that did emerge would probably be quite deficient. Political conflicts such as that between the Israelis and Palestinians do not meet these criteria. They are not problems with single correct answers that simply require expertise and training.

But now, assume that people are working on a problem of common interest and one that can potentially benefit from a variety of voices and perspectives. For certain problems groups are better than individuals because of the accuracy that emerges from averaging affects. Thus, if there were a bowl of jellybeans and we were asked to guess how many jellybeans are in the bowl, your best option would be to take the average of all guesses. This is the type of task that benefits from the error reduction that comes from the averaging effect of multiple estimates. But this too is not a particularly realistic type of group problem characteristic of contentious politics.

The third and richest type of interaction experience is a group that requires a commitment of each member along with the value of any knowledge, insight, or perspective they bring to the table. Training or directing people toward improving their communication is most crucial here because there is a hornet’s nest of small stings and psychological effects that distort perceptions, attitudes, and decision-making. Sunstein and Hastie in their book “Wiser: Getting beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter” offer up plenty of  does the most recent episode does the most recent episode of House of cards and with clear telling Frank she is leaving him. Is that the most recent episode or is there another one after that after thatsuggestions for training group members and improving their communication skills. They suggest things like the value of groups composed of diverse membership, healthy dissent, fair and energetic participation, the strength of empirical evidence, avoiding irrelevance, quality arguments, being on the lookout for bias, and getting along with fellow group members just to name a few. But it turns out that most of this advice is ignored or participants are unable to learn.

The errors and mistakes that group members are subject to are legion. Group members are stubborn, egotistical, overly confident, lazy, incompetent, naïve, conformist, or easily influenced by a leader. They engage in all sorts of cognitive heuristics related to groupthink, the confirmation hypothesis, the availability hypothesis, negativity bias, and a host of other information processing plagues. In fact, one might assume that these group participants are best left out of the decision-making process.

But despite all these cognitive pitfalls deliberation is still crucial for democracy and the simple truth is that many of our decisions are not subject to deliberation at all. Moreover, students beginning in the early stages of their education are not taught how to adopt a deliberative stance. There are many things about living in a political culture that are required such as organizing, campaigning, arguing, or negotiating but the list rarely includes deliberation. Deliberation is about reflection, inclusion, and quality argument made in the public sphere. It is the process most suited for quality preference formation.


Social Media Data and Conflict

The issue of social media and political conflict is relatively under studied and the site for important research. Actually, my next book project will be about social media and conflict. But first we have to look at some demographic data to learn more about how these media are being used. The data below come from here. First a few bullet points of brief explanation.

social networks and age distribution data

  • Instagram has become the most approachable social media network
  • No surprise to anyone, Pinterest has a primary demographic of women.
  • If you’re looking to capture the attention of the young and upcoming generation of Internet users, get creative with Snapchat, Vine, and Tumblr.
  • LinkedIn is great for B2B, which is also no big surprise. One area that is often overlooked with LinkedIn is education and high-level professional marketing. LinkedIn has the most highly educated and high-income users consisting of 44% Americans with an average income of $75,000 or greater.
  • Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest most particularly are not aging well. They aren’t holding on to their users or engagement. They aren’t capturing the younger generation and their attempts to do so are failing.
  • Twitter has stood the test of the time better than other older social networks.
  • For how recent Pinterest experienced their massive growth, they just as quickly experienced complete indifference from their once excited users.
  • Facebook seems to be the way everyone stays in touch, but the social network fewer and fewer people actually use. The anticipation of how they will maintain popularity or what brilliant idea may replace Facebook keeps us all on the edge of our virtual seats.

We must consider how information is delivered across each of those networks.

Facebook, Google+, and Twitter have nearly the same demographic numbers according to this graph, but they are entirely different social media networks.

Facebook has a sense of consistency, but a problem of actually getting your content seen.

Twitter is a mayhem of hundreds of posts per second, yet they are becoming increasingly visual and you can practically do no wrong. With Twitter, you can post 10-15 times a day and only be seen once by a follower.

Google+ has a more technical and international demographic. Google+ readers tend to connect to Google+ at the same time of day that they connect to their personal email accounts—briefly in the morning and most certainly at night.

While each of these networks appear to be practically the same, they all have their perks and deliver information very differently. Just the same, many users exist across all three of these popular networks, but almost everyone has just one favorite. It is important to speak to your demographic across each of these channels to reach them in their time, in their way, and the way they expect to hear from you.

The data from above isall basic business demographics designed primarily to market products. But if we extrapolate its political implications remain pretty interesting. I will be quick here because we will take up this issue in future posts. But, for example, new digital media allows us to “meme track.” Meme tracking is identifying the flow of the specific concept to determine its movement from individual to individual and its influence. Phrases and words can be tracked across different electronic media and help answer the question of whether or not ideas move from the blogosphere to the mainstream media or vice versa. Meme tracking has implications for conflict resolution as well as understanding how ideas are taking shape in influencing the initiation of conflict. The future post will explain in more detail how this occurs.


Should Israel Exist

Israel is bornRecently, an acquaintance sent me an article with the inflammatory title “Why Israel Should Not Exist.” My acquaintance sent it eagerly and mentioned how much he was awaiting my response because the article was so trenchant and challenging. You can read the article here. Upon realizing that it came from the publication “Counterpunch” I knew it was going to be pretty left of center but I read the article carefully and gave it its due. What a collection of nonsense and distortions! The article should be an exercise in a journalism class on recognizing bias and manipulating the readers. But let’s take a look at it point by point. Maybe somebody will learn something.

The text is full of clichés and politically loaded language and the author seems to flitter by them so easily I get the impression that they are common and taken for granted in his thinking. Single words or phrases are categories for entire spaces of reality and I can usually tell when someone has organized his reality according to some common clichéish categories. Here are just a few examples: the term “Zionist” in the numerous places below appears with frequency because the author imposes the normal caveat that he is not anti-Semitic but anti-Zionist. I will give him this distinction just because it’s important to defend the difference between being anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist, but I doubt sometimes that people are really making a distinction. There is clearly anti-Zionism that is a cover for anti-Semitism. But we won’t go there today. The sections below in quotes are taken from the article in question. We start with the author’s conception of Zionism.

  1. “Zionism is for that sector of the Jewish people that believes it is their God-given right to establish a state of Israel in the holy land at the expense of the Palestinians who lived there for 2000 years” Zionism is about no such thing; it is nothing more than a concern for the care, cultural development, and security of the Jewish people. Zionism says nothing about Palestinians or God-given rights to land. These things happen to emerge but they are not part of actual Zionism. Zionism is philosophically rooted in the principle of self-determination – the same principle applied to Palestinians and other groups.
  2. “Zionism is a continuation of European colonialism.” The author and his minions better start following these issues a little more carefully. In fact, Israel was one of the first to decolonize the Middle East. The Balfour declaration helped Arab nations escape the colonial clutches of France and the United Kingdom. The Balfour declaration was good for the Arabs. Moreover, there were plenty of states that became colonies or protectorates but only Israel gets accused of being “colonial.” Here’s where you better be careful about claiming your anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. The colonial settler charges are rooted in the ideological denial of Israel’s connection to the land. And to continue if you need more arguments, the term settler colonization is only applicable if the population has no historical or indigenous relationship to the land, which clearly is not the case for the Jews. Calling Israel a settler state is nothing more than name-calling. Anyone who does it is already ideologically grounded and biased and simply interested in attacking Israel. Again, the “I’m anti-Zionist not anti-Semitic claim” gets a little unsteady. American racists always had it explained to them how they didn’t understand their own racism. Why would liberals critical of Israel be less subject to such influences?
  3. The author loves the phrase “Zionist project.” This is postmodern language for intentional hegemony and criticism. If you refer to it as the “Zionist movement” or “Zionist aspiration” it would not be so devilish sounding.
  4. Good God, the author quotes Ilan Pappe as an authorative of source. Don’t you realize man that he is the most discredited academic in Israel? The author’s bed table reading must be pretty scary. You might as well quote Chomsky on the American media.
  5. The source (quoting Pappe) says that Israel destroyed 400 Palestinian villages, massacred thousands of civilians and forcibly displaced almost 1 million Palestinians who ended up in refugee camps. He then uses the phrase “ethnic cleansing” to describe what the Jews did to the Palestinians. He even invokes the term Holocaust. The author of the article doesn’t even hint that other historians, far many more of them who are more credible, discount all of these numbers. Sure, there were some unfortunate circumstances of war and Israel is not completely innocent but most of the Palestinians fled and there are far fewer documented instances of wrongdoing than in most violent conflicts.
  6. The claim that the United States has used its veto power to prevent anti-Israel resolutions is a piece of circular reasoning that has nothing to do with the issue. Do you know how easy it is to gather up a few people who will sanction some Israeli United Nations act or support a resolution condemning Israel. All you have to do is go to a few of the Arab delegation and they will gladly condemn Israel. Nobody takes it seriously.
  7. “Almost half a million Jews live in the illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem despite UN resolutions demanding that they be dismantled” Sorry my friends but the legal status of settlements is just not established. Painful as it is for you, you cannot simply and glibly point to illegal settlements. Nor can the movement of Israelis be regarded as violating the human rights of the occupied individuals.  The situation is unlike that of the deportation of Jews to their deaths in the Nazi extermination camps. The 1949 Geneva Convention was aimed at preventing in the future what had happened in World War II: the forced transfer of large numbers of Jews by Nazi Germany and associates to the extermination camps.  It was never intended to apply to Israeli settlements.
  8. There is no international law to ban Jews, whether Israelis or otherwise, from settling in the area of the original Palestine Mandate established by the League of Nations.  The Mandate clearly says, in Article 6, that the administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage … close settlement by Jews on the lands, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.”  Eugene Rostow argued thirty years ago that “until the final status of a particular area is resolved, there is no legal basis for barring Jews from settling there.”
  9. “There is a disproportionate number of Palestinians killed in this conflict.” Call it what you like, but the Israelis have the right to defend themselves. They have been subjected to terrorism and a host of violent incidents all of which justify response. It’s unfortunate but these things are relational and the behavior of one side is dependent on the behavior of the other. This response is typically viewed as an excuse by those critical of Israel but there’s little more to say – it’s a simple fact.
  10. I will dispense with much of a response to “apartheid.” Apartheid is a political system that has nothing to do with Israel. Israel has no laws forcing its citizens into residences or legal restrictions. But remember, if he wants to use the word “apartheid” to describe the condition of Israel’s Palestinian Arabs—who enjoy rights denied to many ethnic and religious minorities throughout the Middle East and beyond—so many countries are going to quack that the term is going to lose any meaning. We should reserve “apartheid” for countries that deny an entire ethnic, racial or religious group the right to citizenship or the right to vote. Israel isn’t one of them.
  11. Finally, the author poses the standard “one state solution”. This is simple enough to respond to because it’s a nonstarter. It would mean the end of the state of Israel and the noble Zionist aspirations to simply find a homeland for the Jews would all be for nothing and make no sense. No Israeli, except in the most extreme case, supports a one state solution. Even if they are not religious or particularly nationalistic in the end they want a state of Israel, devoted in some way to Jewish particularity, to be standing.

I will stop here because there is always no end to these arguments especially when the participants would not recognize the end anyway.

The Argument Landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Israelis and Palestinians flagThere remains those who still discount the centrality of communication and believe that difficult conflicts such as Israel-Palestine simply must continue with bloodshed, difficulty, and recalcitrance. But the argument landscape while not pristine could arc toward success with just a little help. Below are some data (see The Program for Public Consultation, US Institute of Peace for additional data and sources) that lay out the argument landscape and strongly suggest that with more work the scales can be tipped toward acceptance.

There are more than a few rational voices populating this conflict and there’s a fair amount of agreement over what solutions could look like if people were truly willing to achieve peace. Solutions are not so difficult; there are plenty of them. The difficulty is getting people to the discussion table. In the table below is a proposed final status package deal. It deals with final status issues and covers what many specialists considered to be the key points. It is rational, sensible, and workable.

In a study conducted by the principal investigators sponsored by the Program for Public Consultation both the Israelis and the Palestinians were presented this package. Each side generated arguments for and against the proposal.

So the terms of the package deal are as follows:
1. A sovereign Palestinian state would be established. The boundaries would generally be based on 1967 borders, but Israel  would annex 3-4% of the West Bank that includes major settlement blocks with comparable land swaps to be
2. Gaza and the West Bank would have a secure, unobstructed link, either in theform of a tunnel, highway or bridge.
3. For Jerusalem, Israel would have sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods,while the new Palestinian state would have  neighborhoods. The Walled City would be under a special regime that would include both international control, and Israeli and Palestinian participation.
4. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians would have military forces in the Palestinian state, but Palestinian Security Forces would handle internal security in the Palestinian State. International military forces, such as NATO forces possibly under American command, would be stationed along the Jordan River.
5. Palestinian refugees would be compensated for loss of property, would be allowed to return to the Palestinian state, with a limited number being allowed to return to Israel.
6. Palestinians would recognize Israel as a state of the Jewish people and of all its citizens.
7. Israel and Arab and Muslim states would establish full diplomatic relations and open trade.
8. Israel and the Palestinians state would explicitly agree to end the conflict and Palestinians would relinquish all claims pertaining to the conflict.

Although the original report contains considerably more detail, the primary conclusion is that each side after evaluating the arguments found the negative arguments to be substantially more convincing. About 50% of the participants from each side would recommend accepting the package. That is not a bad number. The Israeli Jews who preferred rejection were asked their reasons and it was because they did not believe the Palestinians would accept the framework so there was no point in them accepting it.

Moreover, both sides said that if the other side accepted the agreement the likelihood of additional acceptance was strong. The key issue here is that these arguments are rejected or held at a distance because of failures of trust and additional communication – just enough additional communication to alter the landscape and manage the arguments that are the primary points of contention.

The study also reported that the two issues most widely cited as a problem where the division of Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state with land swaps. Recognition of Israel as a home of the Jews and a Jewish state is also a difficult issue.

The issues here are no longer one of achieving the best Habermasian ideal argument. The influence of psychological resistances, the difficulty of change, trust, and the willingness to form new relationships are the barriers to improving the landscape. Continuing to confront the arguments along with civic, interpersonal, and political engagement will alter the landscape such that the flowers bloom brighter and the weeds shrivel up.


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