Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Changing Discourse on the Status of Jerusalem


When there is
a permanent status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians it is very
unlikely that one side will live under the sovereignty of the other in
Jerusalem. The discourse about Jerusalem has been changing and for the worse
because it is slipping into a religious issue rather than one of territorial
agreement. There is little doubt that Jerusalem is a volatile matter that
divides the Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, no end of conflict or final
status agreement is going to exclude one side from claiming Jerusalem as its
capital. As of now, Jerusalem and its symbolic value is making the conflict
more difficult to grapple with and pushing the two sides even further apart.
There are a couple of reasons for this.

Settlers have
increased their presence in the neighborhoods around Jerusalem. There are more
settlers in places like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah than ever before. The number
of these settlers has been growing and they are fast approaching a critical
mass that will make them difficult to extract. They will probably have to be
removed from their neighborhoods and that means violence. Their presence and the
willingness of the Israeli government to tolerate them is simply raising the
price Israel will have to pay for a final settlement.

Second, as
settlers and new Israeli neighborhoods pop up borders and dividing lines become
more difficult to identify. Some of these new neighborhoods have been built on
contested land and supported with private money. They are not likely to be
included in a final settlement and will make discussion of boundaries even more
difficult. The longer it takes to develop a two state solution the more complex
and convoluted the situation becomes. With the current pace of new
neighborhoods and arguments over geography, the situation on the ground in
Jerusalem will be so Balkanized that a solution will be impossible.

drips with significance, symbolism, and identity. An agreement that completely
satisfies both sides seems unattainable; hence, both sides must negotiate and
try to find a satisfactory agreement. The most common suggestions are:

  1. a special joint arrangement –
    with neither side declaring sovereignty – that has the two sides sharing the
    city. Religious, historical, and cultural sites would be under the purview of
    an international community charged with guaranteeing the safety and integrity
    of the sites. Freedom of worship would be guaranteed. This is essentially a
    compromise based on “sharing” Jerusalem with international
    involvement. Such an agreement seems “sensible” and
    “rational” but it undercuts the strength of the identity relationship
    that Palestinians and Israelis ascribed to Jerusalem. Many Israelis could not
    stomach the thought that Jerusalem in its full sense was not their sovereign capital
    and homeland. The same is true for Palestinians.
  2. a geographic division of the city
    whereby Israel controls and has sovereignty over its neighborhoods and
    Palestinians have control over theirs. This would require serious and difficult
    negotiation the results of which would be that every inch of land would have to
    be measured and parsed into either Israeli or Palestinian categories. The
    success of such negotiations seems doubtful. This solution does satisfy the
    sovereignty question, but only to a limited extent. Each side would have full
    control (both political and administrative) over its own areas, but whether or
    not this is satisfactory depends on the acceptability of the geographic
  3. the city is recognized as the
    capital of both Israel and Palestine and the two sides share political and
    administrative control. This is a desirable solution but one that requires the
    sort of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that they are now not
    capable of.

Jerusalem as a sacred holy place rather than a negotiable geographic area makes
the discourse about Jerusalem more rigid and less susceptible to influence.
Moreover, it’s easy to talk about land swaps or exchanges, but such discussions
about geographical divisions must be of comparative value. The entire
definition of “what is Jerusalem” remains contested. Land currently
on the outskirts of what is considered Jerusalem could simply be annexed and
defined as Jerusalem. But the matter of comparative value will rear its head.
The Holy Basin (Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif) is certainly “worth”
more than any other neighborhood Jerusalem.

Earlier in the
history of the discourse around Jerusalem, Israel could have ceded East
Jerusalem to the Palestinians and allowed them to establish a capital. But
there has been recent settlement activity in East Jerusalem creating new facts
on the ground and making things more complicated. After annexing East Jerusalem
in 1967, Israel declared Jerusalem as its eternal capital. The Palestinians –
along with a few UN resolutions – do not recognize this declaration. Herein lays
the starting point for conflict resolution.

Why You Will Die for Your Ethnic Group But Not Your Book Club

Political systems
that tolerate and manage diversity are among the most sophisticated and
evolved. Even if there is a tendency toward maximizing self-interest, and
favoring one’s group, modern theory assumes that such narrow interests can be
“learned away.” In other words, the skills and habits of
multiculturalism and diversity will supersede the harsher consequences of
narrow tribal identity. Such assumptions are the foundation of conflict

On August 14,
2011 the New York Times reported a
story about how the Dutch are confronting the question of their own identity in
the face of rising fear of Muslims and the right wing anti-immigration
political party of Geert Wilders. The Dutch have a long history of tolerance
and political liberalism so the racism and hate speech circulating in their
culture is alien to them. But the Dutch cohesion and social solidarity has been
based on a history of cultural and ethnic homogenization. It is easy to enforce
rules of behavior on large groups of people when everyone is alike. In
relatively small groups composed of people with similar values and attitudes it
is easy to produce social cohesion and consistency.

But now the Dutch
are faced with social and religious groups in their society that are different
from the dominant group. Now it is time for the test of Dutch political
liberalism. Tolerating diversity has been so easy for the Dutch for so long
that they have forgotten the power of group identity. They have forgotten that
humans developed an evolutionary advantage by recognizing and favoring their
own group. The evolution of Dutch social graces and tolerance means that most
members of Dutch culture do not talk about ethnicity and race. But no one
objects to the hateful things that Wilders says, and a number of those
interviewed in the New York Times
article stated that Wilders was only saying what most people think. The Dutch
are struggling with group identity and will have to relearn its power. It is
group identity that justifies extreme and violent behavior.

Ever wonder
why there is such a long line of people waiting to blow themselves up? How
could it be that anyone except the most crazed outlier can strap Centex to his
waist and blow himself up? There are so many terrorists in the form of suicide
bombers that we have to conclude that any “normal” person is capable
of becoming a terrorist. Individuals in groups that have been frustrated or
insulted in some way are capable of expressing the most extreme anger. A frustrated
and threatened group identity (such as the Dutch identity threatened by Islam)
is far more dangerous than a threatened individual identity. It is the
identification with a group or cause that is the most potent explanatory factor

The incendiary
power of group identity is clear. A terrorist will do unspeakable things in the
name of their group or cause that they would not consider doing for personal
reasons. I should add that the benevolent and compassionate person who is
motivated to self-sacrifice (the medal of honor winner who dives on a hand
grenade) is no different than the terrorist when it comes to powerful group
identification. Rick McCauley in The
Psychology of Terrorism
explains these processes and clarifies how
terrorists are typically not poor, miserable, and uneducated. They know what
they are doing and do it willingly.

Group identity
(either ethnic, religious, or political) has the evolutionary advantage of
providing safety as well as obvious reproductive opportunities. But ethnic
identity is particularly potent. It represents a long history of the
convergence of interests. Numerous classical studies of group formation have
demonstrated how easy it is to form a group identity. That’s why people
identify so strongly and so easily with sports teams, organizations, clubs, or
any number of social and economic groups. But ethnic groups are a principal
source of values and individual identity. The fact that states and political
systems have so much trouble incorporating ethnic groups into the state is one
example of the strength of this identification. People will tolerate unjust
economic conditions, but will react violently if their ethnic group is
humiliated or dishonored in some way.

I will close
by pointing out that ethnicity is discussed in academic circles these days as subject
to the vagaries of interaction and a social construction. It is true enough
that people are not “born” with group identities. One does not emerge
from the womb as an “Irish nationalist,” or a “Norwegian,”
or a “Red Sox fan.” But one does emerge from the womb determined to
develop group identities. And the most basic group identities are based on what
we see immediately in front of us – gender and physiology. That’s why gender
and ethnic group identities are so powerful. And that’s why people will die for
their ethnic group, but not their book club.

Can Israel be a Jewish State and Not Discriminate Against the Arab Minority

The word on
the street in Israel is that Palestinians don’t have much problem with Israel
being a “Jewish state” but they do have problems with the Zionist
enterprise. Of course, they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state just yet
and refuse to recognize its existence as such. This is some sort of symbolic
denial of Israel and silly in many ways because the partition in 1947 was
designed to create a Jewish state. The whole idea of Israel doesn’t make much
sense if it’s not Jewish. And some day in the distant future when and if there
is truly an end of conflict Israel will be known as a “Jewish state.”

The conflict
is heavily driven by the Arab refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
And even though many Palestinians have more problems with Zionism than Judaism,
they use the denial of Israel as a Jewish state strategically to argue for the
rights of Arab citizens. By denying the Jewish nature of the state they leave
the door open for a Palestinian population that will continue to burrow into
the state of Israel. Palestinians have a strong argument in human rights. About
20% of the population of Israel is Arab and they cannot be denied basic human

An interesting
debate emerges, however, by posing the question as to whether or not Israel
being a “Jewish state” automatically means discrimination against
others. Can Israel be a Jewish state and not discriminate against the Arab
minority? Well, probably not in the purest sense. Activist Palestinians use
this point quite regularly; that is, they make the argument that if Israel is
Jewish it will mean discrimination against its minority citizens. There are two
problems and inconsistencies here.

First, what
does “discrimination” mean? That will depend on how Jewish the state
is. If it is an Orthodox Torah state then discrimination will be considerable
against everybody. But let’s assume Israel becomes a “reasonable”
Jewish state that recognizes Jewish history and culture but still makes the distinction
between the public and private sphere. In other words, anyone will be able to
practice their own religion and culture within the private confines of their
own home. The state will make certain accommodations for Judaism such as rules
of kashrut, the Sabbath, the calendar, cultural touch points such as street
names, religious holidays, education, and the like. The United States certainly
is not a Christian state but Christian influences are pervasive. School
calendars, government offices, and institutional life all respond to Christian
traditions. As a Jewish state, public schools in Israel will teach some Jewish
history and Zionism. But the matter of private schools and whether or not it
will be possible to avoid the state religion will be debatable. There is a
distinction between discrimination and differences. Just because two groups are
different does not mean one is discriminated against.

It is also
curious that this problem emerges with respect to the Jewish state of Israel
with little or no mention of other religious states. This is an easy point to
make: a number of countries contain the name of the religion in the name of the
country such as the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Islamic Republic of
Pakistan. Turkey is increasingly an Islamic country even with its secular
military tradition. Jordan’s constitution says that no one can be king who is
not Muslim and this includes converts. All of these countries have minorities,
and to be sure they’re not treated very well, but these countries also come
from different political and cultural histories. They do not have Israel’s
history of democracy and equal rights, a history that should serve them well as
Israel works out these issues.

countries with more democratic traditions such as Denmark, Norway, in England
also have institutionalized religious identities. The Queen of England is the
guardian of Anglican Christianity. The Danes and Norwegians are all part of an
official Church of Denmark and Norway and these are countries that do not
receive the brunt of the world’s criticism.

The problem of Israel being a “Jewish”
state is really very minor. It is true that the legal aspects of certain
minority rights have yet to be argued through, but these problems should not be
insurmountable. And although conservatives in Israel are increasingly trying to
limit civil rights in an effort to ensure the Jewish nature of the state
through legislation, Israel still has no religious test to hold major office
and the Israeli Supreme Court has a strong tradition of guaranteeing human
rights. I understand that some have fundamental objections to any state with an
official religion, but this is a challenge for another time.

True Deliberation and Conflict Resolution

Conflict transformation is concerned with relationships.
This includes both face-to-face interactions and the ways in which we structure
our social, political, economic, and cultural relationships. It is
communicative in nature because conflict transformation focuses on interaction
and communicative processes associated with evolving change. Ethnopolitical
conflicts almost always involve intercultural exchanges and the problems
associated with managing the distortions that result from ingroup-outgroup relationships.
And deliberation is a democracy building activity, along with being a moral,
political, and decision making process that facilitates conflict resolution. My argument here is that the deliberative process can
produce productive change and can draw on existing social psychological and
communication theories to explain how this change occurs.

The essence of
deliberative communication is to transform preferences of conflicting parties in
order to account for the point of view of others. As scholars such as Dryzek
explain, preferences must be transformed in the interaction. The communication
between conflicting parties is organized around the idea of building a common
good. This is the essence of change from a deliberative perspective. Its
transformative capacity is measured by the amount of change from one side to
the other and the epistemic quality of decisions. Deliberative communication
can best be transformative when a diversity of participants has access to each
other in a public sphere of some sort. This maximizes subjectivity and is important because subjectivity is an anecdote
to undue influence from sources of power that seek to manipulate the process
for their own interests. Subjectivity guarantees the inclusion of multiple

deliberative discussion utilizes principles of communication designed to pool
considerations in order to form higher quality decisions and produce both
individual and decision-making changes that are more significant. Deliberation
differs from arguing because argument is designed to win others over to the
speaker’s side. In deliberation, participants act to engage each other’s
considerations in order to derive new possibilities. Although deliberation does
not always work, it has been shown to be associated with significant changes
with respect to improved decision quality, opinion quality, understanding the
other side, and other individual benefits. The better argument is most cited
reason for the success of deliberation. But even quality arguments, if they
have any chance at all of becoming common beliefs, must capture attention and
remain foregrounded in memory. This is one reason other rhetorical and
communicative issues factor into the success or failure of the deliberative
process. There is an important distinction between deliberation and argument such
that in deliberation reasons precede opinions; that is, in genuine deliberation
one’s opinions are not formed yet and they process reasons in the service of
developing quality opinions. In the case of argument one expresses opinions and
then reasons follow in defense of those opinions. The reasons-opinions
distinction is important for the epistemic quality of deliberation. The act of
deliberation – weighing reasons before forming an opinion – causes people to
think more intensely and deeply about reasons thus producing reasoning of
higher quality. Giving reasons simply to defend already expressed opinion is
unrelated to deriving new ideas and less complex. The expectation of
open-mindedness improves the likelihood of behaving deliberatively.


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