conflict & communication online, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2005
ISSN 1618-0747




Daniel Bar-Tal
Psychological obstacles to peace-making in the Middle East and proposals to overcome them

Analysis of the relations between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians, in the context of the Al Aqsa Intifada, suggests a sad paradox. On the one hand, the majority of people in both societies are ready for far-reaching compromises in order to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict peacefully. But, on the other hand, the majority of people in both societies stereotype their opponents with extremely negative characteristics and feel a profound mistrust that prevents any possible negotiation and solution of the conflict.
The paper explains the described paradox on the basis of the theory of transitional context, focusing on the Israeli Jewish society. The transitional context consists of observable and well-defined physical, social, political, economic, military and psychological conditions that are of a temporary nature and construct the environment in which individuals and collectives function. These conditions arise as a result of major events and major information that are perceived and apprehended by society members, and then they affect their behavior and functioning.
In the case of the Israeli Jewish society, the context consisted of major events and provided major information that shed light on them, related to the Camp David summit and the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000. This context served as a basis for the emergence of fear, delegitimization of the Palestinians and a self-collective view as a victim, which became major obstacles that prevented any meaningful negotiation towards the achievement of a peaceful solution. They in turn led to support for violent acts against the Palestinians, support of a leader who projects a determination to deal harshly with the rival, feelings of irreconcilability and support for unilateral separation from the Palestinians.
The last part of the paper describes in general terms the psychological state that both societies should strive to reach in the present situation of violent conflict without negotiations. After almost four years of violent confrontations, Israelis and Palestinians should try to achieve a state of peaceful coexistence, which means mutual legitimization, equalization, differentiation, and personalization, as well as the introduction of hope and mutual acceptance. In essence, coexistence refers to a state of mind shared by the members of a society. In order to achieve coexistence, it is necessary to change the psychological repertoire of the societies involved in the peace process. The achievement of this change depends first of all on the intentions, determination, activism and strength of those who support the peace process, including leaders, political parties, NGOs, and individual society members. Second, a successful process of establishing a climate of coexistence in a society depends on the mobilization of societal institutions to propagate the new messages of the peace process. Mass media and the educational system play an important role in this mission.
As its final point, the paper suggests that the fundamental prerequisites for changing the psychological repertoire that inhibits the peace process are: a. negotiations between the rivals which will allow the development of mutually acceptable agreement and b. cessation, or at least a significant reduction, of all types of violence.


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On the author:
Daniel Bar-Tal is professor of social psychology at the School of Education and director of the Walter Lebach Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence through Education, Tel Aviv University. He also is coeditor of the Palestine Israel Journal. He served as the President of the International Society of Political Psychology (1999-2000). His research interest is in political and social psychology studying psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peace making. Recent books: Shared Beliefs in a Society (Sage, 2000); Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society (together with Yona Teichman; Cambridge University Press, 2005); Patriotism: Homeland love (ed. together with Avner Ben Amos, Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 2004, in Hebrew).

Address: School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, 69978, Israel . eMail: