DOV WAXMAN: Welcome to Israel in Depth where scholars, authors artists and leading experts come to discuss topics about Israel in depth. You're listening to a podcast by the Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles I'm Dov Waxman, the director of the Nazarian Center and the host of this podcast. Joining me for this episode of Israel In Depth is Dr. Jay Rothman, who is a scholar-practitioner of creative conflict engagement. He's the founder and president of the ARIA Group which supports individuals, groups, organizations, and states creatively engaged with identity-based conflicts. He's currently a visiting associate professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. He spent the last seven years before this one teaching at Bar Ilan University in Israel and guiding conflict resolution projects in Arab Jewish relations within Israel and between Israelis and Palestinians in the city of Jerusalem. Dr. Rothman is the author of dozens of journal articles about conflict resolution and five books, including most recently, Re-Envisioning Conflict Resolution: Vision, Action and Evaluation in Creative Conflict Engagement. Perhaps he is best known for his work on identity-based conflict in cooperation which is spelled out in his book Resolving Identity-Based Conflicts in Nations, Organizations, and Communities. Thank you, Dr. Rothman, for joining us on Israel in Depth.
JAY ROTHMAN: Thank you very much, and delighted to be here with you. One addition about my my biography is: I'm here in San Diego, as a fellow of the Murray Galinson San Diego-Israel Initiative and the Israel Institute, They're my sponsors, so I want to give a shout out to them.
WAXMAN: Great. Thanks. So I want to start off first of all since we're going to be talking about identity-based conflict and applying this to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Let's begin with understanding what an identity-based conflict is and how it differs from other conflicts. Can you can you explain this notion?
ROTHMAN: Sure. So, one of the ideas is that human beings have basic and universal human needs; that all of us have a need for dignity, a need for meaning, a need for well-being, a need for distributive justice. And there are needs that are existential, that without them we wouldn't be us. One of the needs that's perhaps at the core of all of these is the need for identity. That I want to be able to be distinctive in my own personhood and I want to be able to have valued relations with the groups that I choose to be part of, that I'm born into, and continue to decide if they are important for me to be connected to.
For reasons of solidarity, for reasons of, again, all of these other needs of meaning and safety, and well-being. That there's a sense of coherence in my life, because I'm connected to something bigger than myself. Identity-based conflict is when these existential needs, these identity-based needs are threatened or frustrated by the very existence of other groups who also have identity-based needs that seem to be posed in contradiction to our own.
So to distinguish these from from the more conventional types of conflicts, conflicts over resources, over territory, over power, national interests - right, that's how we
mostly define international conflict...is the defense and promotion of national interest, which are economic, which are territorial, which are the ability to defend and promote one's nation nations agenda. So that's the sort of hardshell of international relations. Within the hardshell of states bouncing off each other and protecting and promoting and defending and fighting for their national interests, you have community groups, usually majority and minority groups. And often times there's a struggle for for control, for access, and most of all � most importantly - for recognition, particularly of the minority voice. That is that they themselves say we have a voice that is is negated, is unrecognized, and is not seen as contributing as much to this polity as we really ought to be. And what we've seen and what do. So that resistance then leads to rebellion and ultimately conflict.
WAXMAN: So the key distinction then is between a conflict based upon identity and at the kind of psychological needs of their participants and an identity�and a conflict driven by conflicting interests. But of course, interests are always involved in conflict. So how do we know whether any particular conflict is an identity-based conflict. In other words...their conflict driven by these psychological needs, these collective needs, and individual needs, as opposed to a conflict driven by interests and material needs.
ROTHMAN: Right. So let me let me share an iceberg model, and I call it the ROI model of conflict. Above the water, we have conflicts that are basically over resources. And it's above the water because we can see them; they're tangible, they're empirical, they're measurable, they're bargainable. We can give and take them. And most conflicts are in that arena. Then we go down beneath the water, it's a bit translucent. You can't quite see them, but there we have a goal or objective-based conflicts. Conflict objectives - things that we want our priorities, our preferences, our agendas.
And those often are in contradiction, largely oftentimes out of poor communication or poor coordination. Then at the very bottom of the iceberg � that which sunk the Titanic, that which keeps conflicts protracted. Or for so long like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Or those conflicts over basic identity needs. We can't see them. It's really hard to identify them, actually. And so a lot of the conflict process and conflict engagement is enabling people to narrate their needs through their stories. Through their stories of what's happened to them in the past that leaves them vulnerable and hostile, perhaps to the other side.
What is it in the present that they're trying to build on to overcome some of that past. What are the needs that they have within their collective identity that helped them lead into the future?
So those identity issues at the bottom of the iceberg is what we're paying attention to. Now as you say, when you have an identity conflict you're also going to have goal conflicts. And you're also going to have resource conflicts. So you have to pay attention to all of them. It doesn't necessarily go the other way around though. If you have a resource conflict, identity conflicts are not necessarily at stake. But once they are, it's at our peril if we try to address conflicts as resources instead of really
seeing what are the roots that we have to surface and engage before we can then
move into the more concrete interest based disputes that we do also have to be negotiated and compromised over.
WAXMAN: So this is really a fundamentally different way of reframing, if you like, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's often described as a class as a territorial conflict. As a conflict between two nations over the same piece of land. And really, by looking at it as an identity-based conflict we have a different understanding of the conflict.
Is that correct? Is it. One of the core features of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular, that makes it an identity-based conflict as opposed to as many people understand it (and as the media tends to depict it) is simply a territorial conflict.
ROTHMAN: So there's been some evolution that that in the early parts of the Zionist movement , in the early parts of the nationalist clashes last century - the end of the last century. They were competing over territory and access to that territory. And in many ways that competition shaped the conflict.
However, at the same time, you had all of these identity issues that each side was was jockeying over with each other and against each other. But nonetheless, as the conflict evolved in its early years it was really about access and ownership of territory. As the conflict got more and more addressed in terms of Israeli-Arab conflicts, right, eventually the main transformation (as you point out in your recent book being with the agreement between Israel and Egypt), it stopped being as much of a territorial conflict between Israel in the Arab world - and much more an identity-based conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
That is, each side saying this Jerusalem is ours, and it can't be yours.
This Jerusalem, when you control it, leaves us out - and therefore we need to control it.
This Jerusalem is what gives us dignity and honor and respect in the world � and nothing will keep us from pursuing it as ours. So those deeper issues start becoming very core to the conflict, and until and unless we center them and say: only when we pay most attention to those collective, communal, social, psychological dynamics are we going to be able to put back on the agenda the negotiation over compromises, and so forth. Identity-based conflicts don't lend themselves to compromise. We have to figure out how to cooperate. That's the demand.
WAXMAN: So this is in a sense a dynamic model which understands that conflicts and the very nature of conflicts can change over time, and I suppose particularly when it comes to long-running intractable conflicts, even if they originate in material disputes. That they typically but partly because of their length � the duration of these conflicts - they become identity-based conflicts. These companies become part of the protagonists collective identities.
ROTHMAN: Right, we call them protracted social conflicts. And I actually disagree with the notion of intractable, which suggests it can never be addressed, really.
I call them intransigent or protracted. And yes, the time element in which resource issues become you can't address them, you're frustrated by trying to, you know, trade land for peace. And you keep not succeeding, and so therefore the deeper identity issues that have already been lurking become the prominent ones; they become the issues that if you don't address them, they will continue to unfold any kind of efforts you make to address the resource issues. The interests.
WAXMAN: And this certainly seems to be where we're at with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After you know near a quarter of a century of efforts to resolve the conflict through territorial partition, regarding it simply as a territorial conflict - one over land. And therefore, you know, the belief that this conflict could be resolved by trading land for peace, as the slogan goes, have hit a dead end really. And I think, you know, there's widespread recognition among scholars as well as among experts and diplomats that that's not going to work again. That what is it, the definition of insanity is to keep on trying to do the same thing and expect different results.
WAXMAN: If we apply this now. If I'm right that your analysis suggests that fundamentally the reason why the peace process has failed to result in any kind of peace is because it was premised on a faulty understanding of the nature of the conflict.
ROTHMAN: That's right.
WAXMAN: Um, if we then recognize that this is really an identity-based conflict, this has become an identity-based conflict, what would that mean for our efforts to resolve it. What would conflict resolution look like in that in that case. What would we be telling future peacemakers or maybe Jared Kushner to be doing differently?
ROTHMAN: Okay, so let�s�let me look at a couple things. Let's look at needs and narratives. Right. We need to start paying attention to the human needs of the collective groups on both sides. What are the human needs of the Palestinians? What are the human needs of the Israelis? Where do they converge? Where do they clash. Let's pay attention to that. What are their narratives? How they tell their stories. How do they tell their stories in ways that the clash, and that potentially could mesh and merge? And doing that, how does that create an agenda for us. Let me give a very concrete and explosive example. Right. We now have the peace initiative, a peace plan, or the annexation plan, depending on your perspective. And at its root was what happened you know about a year ago now. If that's the right time. When Trump recognized Jerusalem moved the embassy to Jerusalem.
WAXMAN: Yeah about a year ago.
ROTHMAN: So I was there then, and I was actually working on Israeli-Palestinian projects. And things came to a halt around there, on both sides. There was just, you know, this was a monumental change. And what this change did when we look at this dynamic of recognition versus negation - and that's often at the core of these identity conflicts. Sides want to be recognized for their distinctive identity and for the needs that those identities are there to address. In solidarity, well-being, future coherence,
and so forth. And yet they're usually, oftentimes, they are often negated, either by the majority in their midst or by the world at large. And both of those things have happened to both Israelis and Palestinians. Right, we have a double minority complex in there, where the Israelis are minorities in the region and majority in the country. And Palestinians are a minority in the country and extended territories, and a majority in the in the region. So both sides feel this great threat and both sides feel negated, right, in their minority status. So we come along to Jerusalem and Trump President Trump says, Jerusalem that the embassy will now be in Jerusalem. Now for the Israelis, that was tremendous recognition. Right, it's recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the strongest power in the world is going to support that and ensure that. For the Palestinians, it�s the ultimate negation.
They who claim that their legacy and their history and their dignity is connected to Jerusalem just as the Jews do, now have their claim denied and dashed. So if we had been looking at this as an identity-based conflict, Trump could have said one additional word and everything would've been different. That's it. All he needed to say is, we are moving the American Embassy to West Jerusalem. Right. That right away because it gives recognition to both sides and negation to neither. Not political so political agendas get get harmed by that. But community identity agendas do not. So for the Israelis, we�re recognizing West Jerusalem as your capital where our Embassy should sit. And for Palestinians, were saying some day there may be a capital in East Jerusalem. We�re not taking that off the table. And so that changes everything once you have a lens which says we have to be deeply sensitive to the identity dynamics for any kind of policy proposals or agendas that were setting for future peace.
WAXMAN: Right, I think in terms of both sides negation of the others identity and negation of the others collective narratives, that's that's been a long-standing feature of this conflict � this mutual denial. What has�what prevents either side from granting that recognition to the other? Is it is their own fear if you like acknowledging the others narrative or acknowledging the others identity that that will somehow undermine their own narrative and their own identity.
ROTHMAN: Sure. Sure - and Oslo gets a bad rap for lots of good reasons. But it also accomplished a lot of things. And one of the things that it did accomplish was the movement from negation to mutual recognition. It was the time�I was at the White House when Clinton pulled together Arafat and Rabin. And it was like pulling two mobile global forces together to reluctantly recognize the legitimacy of the other. Right. Rabin was more hesitant but once he shook�they both shook with with great fervor. Well unfortunately that handshake turned very quickly into an arm wrestle when back to policy they both were trying to say, this is ours not yours. I remember one of the first fights after that handshake was over the on border crossing to Gaza. Both the Palestinians saying we�re going to control this and the Israelis saying, no we�re going to control this. I read it today, Dov, in Israeli media that there's this conflict in East Jerusalem about who�s going to test covid-19 cases. And we have to understand that this is a time to get beyond those political questions. And of course both funds of both sides are not jockeying for their own sense of, their own sovereign rights. And there's a third way. If we say that either mine or yours, then we get to the state of neither side. Us or � both has to be we share this problem. We share this pandemic. And if you get it, we�re going to get it. And we have to find ways to develop policy therefore that doesn't preclude the ultimate dispensation disposition of of sovereignty. But also at the moment says were all in this together. We all are sovereign from communities and we find ways to coordinate and cooperate so that identity needs in our basic well-being is addressed.
WAXMAN: So in terms of the path forward I mean you mentioned the Oslo peace process. At least in its outset you know was positive �recognized this need for mutual recognition and that was what began the peace process. But one of the long-standing criticisms was that it was really a top-down process. That it didn't� Wasn't sufficiently complement augmented by the� Is the approach that you'll proposing one not so much top down but bottom up. In other words, you are trying to get people on both sides to shift their identities and their narratives . to recognize the other. And that in turn will lead�if we take Jerusalem as an example. It�s maybe not surprising that the political leaders are all squabbling. But maybe more surprising is that the residents of Jerusalem who ultimately you know�it's in the interests of all the Israeli Jews in West Jerusalem that there isn't a massive outbreak of covid-19 in East Jerusalem, for example. They share that common identity as Jerusalemites. Is that where the work should be taking place?
ROTHMAN: Well I think to some extent it is. The work that I've been doing is largely a tract 2 - those actors who are not formal political actors but they have access to them and they're also very connected and in many ways responsive to their communities. So we bring them together to try to go out of the box and come up with new agenda proposes. New ideas for how to get out of the logjam and really insert insert the agenda of people's collective identity needs into that negotiation strategy. So on the one hand analytically it's actually bottom-up. It's bottom-up in the sense that people's needs and narratives are those which have to set the agenda. Process wise, we have all sorts of initiatives. Unfortunately there often no caught in the crossfire of political games. And therefore they oftentimes don't have the weight and the impact they should. But symbolically they are doing the right things. Those efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods together is a project that I was working at Hebrew University just before I left where we are bringing neighborhood leaders together and trying to get them to say�explore how there are some intersections across.
WAXMAN: You are someone who is not just a scholar of this but as you�ve mentioned, a practitioner. You�ve been engaged in these in these projects on the ground. Could you give us�Can talk about some success stories. I mean I think the many listeners on them for myself you know what we hear so often when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is doom and gloom - you know the inability of Israelis and Palestinians to work together. The inability of peace proposals to get make any traction. Does your experience on the ground as a practitioner give you more hope. And if so can you give us some examples of the kinds of success stories that you've you've witnessed?
ROTHMAN: So the hope comes from the engagements I have themselves. And I've had many many many decades. I've been doing this since the early 90s, and I'll give a couple examples. One argument from this level of track two which is those actors again who have access to political leaders top political leaders. But they themselves are not politicians are having to defend the role. They also feel like they be also coming from a sense of real solidarity and commitment to their own communities. So so in the 90s I was running workshops between those folks. And it was actually stunning how quickly we could get them off the set of antagonistic framing of, you�re to blame � oh no, you're to blame. And the sense of hurt and fear that they expressed about each other. Keep in mind these are not all progressive, leftist groups. They ranged from � within the middle the middle right in the middle left. But very quickly they were able to move to the stories that were most important to them, vis-�-vis Jerusalem. Each side saying what it meant to them. Telling tales that were very moving. And each side listening to those stories. And then before we move on to saying out of people's commitments to the city, let's have each of you sorta summarize what you've heard about the other story in your own voice. And they were able to do that as well. That Palestinians and Israelis understand each other's narratives ultimately When they�re able to be invited and able to be brought out and are not jockeying for for position in their political agendas.
So their ability to reframe and refocus on what really matters to themselves and to hear that from the other side is very moving. And then more politically important setting up an agenda. An agenda which says how do we figure out the sorts of things that need..that we need to do the work on a shared city. And they focused on education. Like how do we begin to adapter textbooks to be more inclusive and supportive of each other's backgrounds and cultures. We worked on economic development. What sort of projects or efforts will be mutually interesting and we've focused on joint tourism. Right? If and when this joint tourism and tourism from the Arab World will move from becoming one of the poorest cities to becoming one of the richest cities in Israel and connected to Palestine. We moved into security issues � right. How do we have some kind of coordinated security. This was before Oslo when they were doing. So we already were beginning to work on these sort of issues of functional cooperation in which to build a city in which we live together separately but we also have to knit our are civic society together with each other was really focused on. And they were very successful. Where they weren't so successful was then moving those into the top level political agenda. And that�s where Oslo came along and began to shift that into operational agendas.
WAXMAN: So you give us a sense of the possibilities that these kinds of projects can can lead to and. I think will be remiss not to also discuss some of the obstacles today for this kind of work we mentioned already at the outset of our conversation you know the the that the failure to comprehend this conflict as an identity-based conflict. And to continue to demonstrate this kind of framework of seeing the conflict purely as a territorial one. Another obstacle that's often cited is simply the lack of funding for these kinds of initiatives. One thing that comes to mind just given a recent news story you may heard about. A Palestinian activist in the Gaza Strip who was arrested by Hamas for participating in a Skype conversation Israeli Jews. And this was seen as a violation of what Palestinians call anti-normalization, which I'm sure you're well aware of. How difficult is it today for those kinds of encounters to take place - even online as we�re seeing. The attempt to arrange a Skype conversation can land the Palestinian in jail.
ROTHMAN: Right. It's important to remember that that this egregious act was by the Hamas leadership. And so they take the anti-normalization as a point of departure. With more mainstream Palestinian PA leadership and participants, it's much more flexible. So encounters continue to happen. I was as I say helping to run one in Jerusalem before I left. And I want to give another positive example and then I will come to the challenge that we experienced even there. We were bringing neighborhoods together from West and East Jerusalem and we were facing the anti-normalization problem on the East Jerusalem. Israelis that were involved were very eager to figure out how they can intersect. At one point we developed a project in which youth from both sides created a joint mural�the city between them. It was a symbolically meaningful�and it was a lovely experience and it was it was a risk for the Palestinians. They were coming to connect with Israelis and to make a creative art piece together. It was a beautiful accomplishment. But it was one of the very few that were actually able to pull off of the many many projects we had. We had them working in parallel. We shared information across each other and so forth. So the bad news is that is on the Palestinian side anti-normalization is a serious problem for encounter with Israelis. And on the Israeli side it�s a major problem because many of them really want to connect and understand with their Palestinian neighbors. There is a positive thing I want to say about it. And the positive thing is identity-based conflicts are conflicts that happen from the inside out. That is they go from the individual, to the group, to the system. And one of the ideas of working at the system level, that is between Jews and Arabs, is that we can sort of park our concerns and intersect with each other. But our biggest concerns are often about how we intersect with each other. And those we can deal with the other side�We have to deal with those within our own community. And so anti-normalization has led to each side saying, when we get back to encountering the other - particularly Israeli side - what is it that we want to be able to articulate about who we are as Israeli Jews. What are differences are about how we think we should encounter you. In short, each side doing their own work within their own group before they come in to encounter with the other group. Because otherwise the encounter with the other group is filled with the internal dynamics of disagreement that often get projected on the outside/
WAXMAN: Right, one of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of course is that not only is this an identity-based conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But the Israelis themselves have long been engaged in an identity-based conflict among themselves and to some extent we can think of the competition between the Islamists represented by Hamas for example and more secular Palestinian nationalists like Fatah as also an identity-based conflict in part. So you have multiple conflicts intersecting both inside the group and between its external other, if you like.
ROTHMAN: That's right and and what will happen is if we don't work out these issues within our own community, they will tend to go towards negation of the other�They are risk to us, they are a threat to us. Recognizing then � and this gets back to an earlier question - recognizing them will negate the legitimacy of our claim. That's what the that's what the rejectionist group will say. And if you haven't had a dialogue within each side. Within the Israeli group - right left and center saying no, there is a way that our identity and our dignity and our safety can be assured with the other side. In fact, we believe only with the side, not against the other side. And pull the more rejectionist into that belief system, then the agenda can be created such as recognition essential to it. That's really the big play that I do believe comes from within community work where paradoxically anti-normalization promotes�
WAXMAN: This this approach suggests at least to my mind a much more long-running and maybe more distant prospect of peace. Because if if it's true that groups engaged in conflict must first resolve their own internal identity-based conflicts, and then engage in dialogue with the other group in order to tackle these identity issues. Does that not mean then that in the case of Israel and the Palestinians that there really isn't any short-term prospect for peace between the two views. Because I mean it might be decades before either side.
ROTHMAN: Dov. I hear you. And I�and I think that is a danger of what I'm talking about. It is a danger because it sounds like it is so long-term that will never get there. On the one hand, yes it's a long-term prospect. And in that kind of creative conflict engagement that we need to do is about changing hearts and minds and that's not tomorrow. However the way that it is immediate is it's about changing agendas. Changing priorities. And saying we can't pay attention to the issue of land for peace right now until we pay attention to the issue of dignity and honor and well-being and recognition of each side's distinctive identity as they define it. And finding ways that we cooperate to solve problems instead of compete. That change of agenda doesn't have to be a long-term process. It should start from the inside out. That we have to know that the agenda has to be about meeting communal communal identity needs. Each side respectively. Both sides together. And in that bottom-up work is what helps to change that agenda and really get to the place. One of my favorite quotes is from President Eisenhower: �When people want peace so badly, governments had better get out of the way and let people have it.� In other words, when they set the agenda the negotiators have to address it. When people say enough of this. We can't be fighting over whose going to be testing covid-19. We have to do it together right? And that symbolically is the same thing as sharing the space this territory. We�re not going to beat each other. You know we�ve tried domination. Each side are going to give in a little bit. We can�t really do that either�I can't give up a little bit of my dignity in order to have something else. I need those things fulfilled. Once they�re fulfilled I can make adjustments. I can make territorial adjustments. I can make adjustments about how power is used and shared. First of all we need to have those basic human needs � those identity, dignity recognition needs surfaced and prioritized. And that can be done now. That must be done now.
WAXMAN: This is extremely important message for listeners to hear and I want to thank you Dr. Rothman for making this point and doing so so so eloquently. Because we�re a time what seems to me where on the one hand there are those who believe that you know Israel has effectively won. Therefore it can dictate an outcome to the Palestinians. At least that seems to be the position now within held by some Israeli political parties and perhaps some within the Trump Administration. There there seems to be this approach governing the Trump Administration�s approach to resolving the conflict, which is solely a immaterial approach that that sees�that the name of the Trump Administration�s peace plan, From Prosperity to Peace, clearly suggests that they see this is as a material conflict. And I think it's very important at this time particularly for people to understand that in fact this isn't really an identity-based conflict. And without paying attention to the collective psychological needs, the collective identities, the narratives � and without doing that kind of grassroots bottom-up work. Any attempt to resolve the conflict is doomed to fail and will only engender I think more bitterness and probably more violence. So I think it�s really a timely message and I want to thank you Dr. Rothman for joining us on this Israel in Depth podcast. And I want to thank all the listeners out there for joining us as well. And hopefully you�ve learned as much from this podcast as I have.