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Mission A Guide to Perplexed

Social and Psychological Barriers

by Eran Halperin  08.07.2012 The long history, the deep rooted Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the inability to solve the conflict through peace even after attempts from both sides and inconsistent interventions from other parties, are proof  that the conflict is very complicated and profound.  There will always be a gap in a peace resolution if the basic issues between the two sides are not addressed; the social and psychological barriers can be blamed for adding a large extent of difficulty to the conflict and preventing a solution. These barriers emerge at the beginning of negotiations, in the course of managing them, and while offering agreements. Furthermore, they stall the conflict instead of resolving it.


The goal here is to research the social and psychological barriers in the Jewish- Israeli society which stand as obstacles to a peace conflict resolution. There is no doubt that there are similar social and psychological barriers on the Palestinian side, but let us leave that issue to the research specialists in the Palestinian society.  


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lasted over one hundred years, and it is considered one of the main political conflicts in the world at the moment. In recent years the conflict has undergone many stages and many developments, yet it has remained unsolved. Till this moment, there are many formal peace plans scrambled on the table, such as The Road Map for Peace and The Arab Peace Initiative, and other unofficial initiatives such as The Ayalon Nusseibeh Agreement.


Even though some of the work from The Oslo Agreement in 1993 has still survived, in addition to the mutual recognition between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, there has not been any final agreement to end the conflict peacefully yet.


First, we will be presenting the frameworks and the general concepts. Second, we will expand on the nature of the social and psychological barriers which obstruct peace. 


 The Frameworks and Concepts for the Social and Psychological Barriers


The principal divisions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have not been resolved till this day, and they will not be easily changed in the future due to the socio- psychological barriers that prevent a peace conflict resolution. The cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes work together with the psychological repertoire that lead to distorted results, biased and transitional to the embedded knowledge relating to the conflict. This process discourages the possibility of reaching a peace conflict resolution.


Societies which are located in uncontrolled conflicts hold on to social and psychological repertoires that include different beliefs, opinions, and emotions which keep developing without being resolved. This repertoire contains beliefs which are about the conflict; general and personal reflections towards the other side which are main barriers to conflict resolution.


Beliefs Which Support the Conflict and Reinforce it


The conflict is reinforced by socio-psychological barriers. Persistent social beliefs directly relating to the conflict are defined as "Persistent Ideological Conflict Beliefs". These beliefs are comprised of social beliefs and the psychological repertoire concerning the conflict.


In addition to the ideological beliefs which are relatively stable, there are others beliefs which are added to the repertoire: supportive circumstantial beliefs which develop at certain circumstances and disappear at others. For example, the leader of the opposing group is depicted as a weak leader and attributed unqualified for the accomplishment of peace which is expected between two parties. Therefore, the groups decide not to enter any type of negotiations and consequently continue the conflict and prolong it. All of the direct beliefs that are related to ideological and circumstantial conflicts create distrust, animosity, and threat; reactions which play the role of barriers to peace. This is the cognitive basis for the prolongation of a conflict.


The contents of these beliefs are small pieces to the problem. Theoretically, these beliefs can be changed easily; however the memory repertoire is hard to change, since it is formed from motivational causes, which makes the conflict the only stable reality.


These beliefs develop from several main reasons; the first springs from the functionality of the socio-psychological repertoire mentioned before, which supports ideas on a personal and social level in the relevant societies which contribute to the conflict and make it harder. Another reason is the balanced structure of social beliefs that are related to one another.  This action reflects the similar basis for the conflict ideology. The third reason is that these beliefs are considered basic and are characteristic to the sensation of security which preoccupies the individual and his thinking about the society.


To conclude, prejudices direct selective knowledge about the conflict; they limit knowledge exchange, and lead to distort and aggressive beliefs which result in socio-psychological barriers which obstruct achieving a peaceful solution.


General International Theories


We believe that international theories generally separate the conflicts and do not intervene in the small details; general points are emphasized which obstruct the conflict because of the significance of these beliefs. Many international theories about political ideologies deal with human nature and its ability to change, other theories deal with the effect of people in the society; concentrating on the conflict and providing an intellectual development for the enemy.




Research in the field of international relations and racial differences have shown the influence of emotions on people involved in conflicts. Impulsive emotions must be calmed down, since negative feelings obstruct a peaceful conflict resolution, given that these feelings encourage the psychological repertoire which leads to the reinforcement of the supporting beliefs. Negative feelings appear in two methods:


First: short term psychological emotions which are a result of reactions to specific events that are easy to change. Second: long term emotions which a group or a leader of a group faces, which are sometimes defined as "chronic" emotions. The emotions which control the groups or the political personalities are fear and hate; these feelings are essentially very influential in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. It seems that in certain circumstances one side raises the levels of hate and fear towards the other. As a result, the conflict is prolonged even more.


It also appears that these biased beliefs control human nature, whether circumstantial or temporal. These feelings affect the behavioral methodology; for example: the information that one receives from the news, high authority figures, or the masterminds in control of conflicts between groups. 


To conclude, these negative beliefs relating to the conflict, together with the inter-group feelings, create the opinions of people in a society. These complicate the conflict and increase the negative beliefs concerning it. They also reject any proposal for the sake of solving the conflict whether it comes from a third party or an enemy. In these circumstances, getting over the conflict is very difficult. 

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1 by Doreen Said
Even though I find this eye opening and fascinating, I think we should look at the big picture. The people do not have a say in policy making, and policies are created according to who has interest and how can afford it. I believe it is naive to assume that solving these "Psychological Barriers" will be able to move the leaders and what lead the leader to truly change the current state.
2 by Michelle F
This is some cutting edge stuff.
3 by Meital
Biased emotions and thoughts are too strongly rooted in our psyche to demolish them in a short time period, if at all. It is everywhere - books, TV and movies, school, art - and it is a big part of our day to day life. With this kind of emotional abyss between the sides, reaching an agreement is, I dare to say, impossible
4 by Itamar
A vicious cycle - our psyche infected by the other side actions towards us which in turn affects our psyche towards them - hope the cycle can be broken
5 by Lital
Doreen, you are mistaken. Once these psychological barriers crash, the public would be more prone to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. As the public elects the leader, the current leader will have two choices - one is to go to the negotiating table and reach an agreement or two be replaced. I think you know what of the two will happen.