Empathy, Perspective Missing from Israel-Palestine Talks


President Barack Obama’s plan for the Middle East caused an initial uproar, which resurfaced all sorts of emotions from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Recently, ahead of the UN vote on the Palestinian bid, many countries are encouraging the two sides to return to the table and negotiate peace. A solution seems far from sight, and sadly the UN bid cannot be avoided because of the emotional psychology related to the problem. What Israeli and Palestinian leaders fail to realize is that a plausible solution can only be reached once they look beyond “marking their territory” and realize what the other is actually negotiating for. Instead of pointing fingers and demanding recognition, it is important to create a lens that both sides can accept.

While it is very easy to say that Palestine needs its own state with defined borders and Israel needs to be recognized by Palestine as a sovereign nation, leaders of both countries are forgetting the power of empathy. It is easy to sympathize with the Palestinian plight for their own country, and it is equally understandable as to why Israel is afraid of defining borders and dismantling settlements. At this point, both nations need to take a walk in the other’s shoes. The solution lies in the emotional psychology of the situation.

The best way to approach this conundrum would be to find a solution that goes beyond the recognition of the issues. Israeli settlements are beyond the point of dismantling, or even freezing, because they have become thriving cities. Palestinians, on the other hand, have too strong a national identity to bar them from having their own state. If both sides of the conflict realized the sentiments attached to such key issues, they would be able to relate and find a more plausible solution.

Various college campuses and organizations have been using a variety of measures to bridge the psychology of the situation. At CUNY Queens College in New York, courses such as “Israeli and Arab Relations” and “Media, U.S., and Middle East” teach students to define their position and then, mid-way through the course, switch to the opposing viewpoint. These courses help find common ground on the two extreme ends of the situation. Similarly, groups like Generations For Peace and OneVoice Palestine host events that use sports to bridge differences and find common ground. If a similar course of action was applied in the real world, finding a solution that appeals to both sides would be a lot simpler.

It is difficult to predict the turn of events before the UN vote. However, if both sides can come to the table before the vote and accept the situation the way it is, it might help resolve the conflict quicker. Both sides have a story to tell. If they used that as a basis to find a solution, we can reach a better place.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons