Israel/Palestine: a drama in countless acts

4 January, 2009

It is a rare day when you will see me quote a prayer on this blog or indeed write about the middle east conflict but I think the prayer of serenity is relevant at the moment:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

As the latest episode of the intertwining suicide dance of the Israeli and Palestinian people plays out it is a peculiarity how the world focuses its attention on this small arid strip of land at the far end of the mediteranean. Russia/Chechnya, China/Tibet or Sudan/Dafur none exite the kind of interest that Israel/Palestine has done over the decades, making Northern Ireland look like a tea party in the process. But if the conflict is going to end, and at the moment that is a very big if, we are going to have to understand the causes of conflict to a greater degree than we do presently.

Ed Yong over at the Not Exactly Rocket Science blog explains a paper by Ginges, Atran, Medin & Shikaki. 2007. Sacred bounds on rational resolution of violent political conflict. which argues moral absolutists (a kind description of religious zealots?) see bribery as a means to conflict resolution not as a get out from a sticky situation but an affront to their moral values. Consequently we shouldn’t waste our foreign aid cash on a hopeless cause and direct it to the more deserving. Instead of carrot there is a greater need for the stick and to speak in the kind of language that moral absolutists understand. As Ed yong puts it 

Symbolic incentives had the opposite effect. Moral-absolutists were more willing to compromise over their own sacred values if they saw that the other side was prepared to do the same. For example, the Palestinian refugees were more prepared to recognise Israel‘s right to exist if Israel would in return recognise the historic legitimacy of the refugees’ right to return. They were less angry about the thought of compromise and less supportive of violent responses or suicide attacks

Good advice for the mad house?


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