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Earlier, I proposed a different way to view the political spectrum, placing political ideology on a left-to-right axis and willingness to criticize one’s own side on a vertical axis. I argued that, in order to improve the discourse, and eventually improve policy, the conversation needs to shift from the bottom of the diagram to the middle and top, wherein individuals with opposing views actually engage each others’ ideas.

The same improvements to political discourse, I believe, could yield vastly improved policies and results in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This conflict can be resolved only when individuals on each side actively engage people with whom they disagree, and criticize their own side at appropriate times.

Consider the diagram below:

Contrasting this diagram with the one from last week, you’ll notice it’s missing the center column, as there really are no moderates or centrists involved this debate. Based on place of birth, skin tone, and religion, everyone involved in this debate is automatically cast onto to side or the other. The bottom third of the diagram includes only the Hard-Liners, those refusing to compromise on any issue, and shows them to be incapable of engaging each other. The path towards communication between opposing sides lies through the higher levels of the diagram, wherein Thinking and Contrarian types attempt to engage each other.

There are two issues to address in improving this dialog: first, shift the discussion upwards. Individuals on both sides need to be willing to criticize their own side when appropriate. These discussions between dissenting members of the same “side”, need to be made public, and those making contrarian arguments need to be engaged rather than ostracized. Hard-liners need to recognize the importance of shifting away from an “Us vs them” mentality, and work towards real solutions that are acceptable to thinking members of both sides. Second, thinkers need to identify and engage in discussion with intelligent people on the other “side” of the issue, of different religion, ethnicity, and skin tone.

By marginalizing the hard-liners, by communicating actively and openly, and by reaching out to the other side, policy compromises can emerge that address the region’s difficulties. To do so requires a certain disconnect, an awareness and objectivity that may not be available to those entrenched in the current back-and-forth. I don’t expect this shift in discourse to happen soon, but there are, perhaps, positive signs for the long term.

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3 Comments

  1. By “there really are no moderates or centrists involved this debate,” you mean that people in, say, Thailand don’t have much invested in this? That seems reasonable. But they might be helpful as moderators, right?

    Also, it seems strange to me to define “Westerner” as the opposite of “Pan-Arabian.” Are all of the anti-Zionists Pan-Arabians? I feel like there are plenty of those who would take issue with Israel’s actions that aren’t Pan-Arabians. Also, there are plenty of Westerners that take issue with Israel. I’m not convinced there are no moderates on this issue.

  2. Joe,

    I wonder whether your definition of moderate would include the top two thirds of the diagram. Contrarian Westerners (and Thinking Westerners) take views that are critical of Zionism. Similarly, individuals born in Muslim nations (basically what I mean by Pan-Arabian) can hold views that are critical of Palestinian hard-liners.

    I agree that both these groups exist, but I’m hesitant to call them moderates. It would be great to see the Thai, or any unbiased third party step in as moderators, but I think it’s more likely to expect resolution to come from individuals on both sides moving up the diagram and engaging each other.

  3. Hi Guys,
    The entrenched “hard line” positions have been kept alive, on the Israeli side, by elections, those damned elections, in which increasingly right-wing governments get elected. The contours of a peaceable solution have been basically hashed out and all but known since 2000/2001 including dismantling of settlements, land-swaps for key positions on the Green Line, etc. The thornier issues – Jerusalem’s holy sites and the right of return for Palestinians – somewhat defy an easy logical solution because they touch upon issues of national and religious identity that would need to be presented to the respective publics delicately. Because neither side is run by diktat in which the public can be discounted, talks break down.


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  1. […] familiar?  In my earlier analysis of Palestinian-Israeli tension–not identical, but similar to the issue Ross is writing […]

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