Listening to Netanyahu’s speech yesterday, once again I was struck by the centrality of belonging. When Bibi demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he is expressing a desire for them to recognize Jewish belonging in this land. When he asserts his conviction that the conflict is still about 1948 and not about 1967 borders, he is articulating the threat to belonging we all felt at the sight of Palestinian refugees storming our borders.
Daniel Bar-Tal and Gavriel Salomon, two important Israeli academics in the field of peace education, wrote an article in 2006 about narratives of conflict. They suggest that in a situation of ongoing conflict, people develop narratives with four main themes: existential justification of the conflict, positive image of one’s own group, delegitimizing the opposing group and seeing one’s own group as the victim.
Mutual recognition of the belonging of both groups could promote change in all these different themes. Firstly, the conflict would seem less existential if both groups recognized each other’s right to belong. If both Israelis and Palestinians recognized that both sides were here to stay, and had the right to be here, we could turn our attention to working out how both groups could best achieve those rights.
Our positive image of our own group might initially be under threat – listening to the Palestinian narrative regarding 1948 is a painful process for Israelis’ self-image. On the other hand, in the longer term our self-image could undergo positive change. Rather than relying on denying the legitimacy of the Palestinian people, our self-image could be based on our ability to deal with conflict, to recognize our responsibility and to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Recognizing the validity of Palestinian belonging would in essence involve re-legitimizing the Palestinian people.
Finally, recognizing Palestinian belonging and validating their narrative would also involve relinquishing our exclusive position of victimhood, and recognizing the fact that both sides to the conflict are both perpetrators and victims. I hope it goes without saying that the same applies to the Palestinians, who need to recognize the Jewish-Israeli narrative of belonging. Bar-Tal and Salomon conclude that a major move towards peace is to legitimize the narrative of the Other group. Recognizing each other’s narratives of belonging would be a good place to start.