In February, I wrote about the role competitive victimhood (the desire by conflicting groups to demonstrate greater suffering than their adversary) plays in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and why unilateral pressure will not bring the parties closer to a peace agreement. I also mentioned how social psychologists often refer to the Needs-Based Model as a means to overcome competitive victimhood and foster reconciliation between the adversarial groups. The model suggests that in order for adversarial groups to reconcile, the victimized group needs a sense of empowerment and the perpetrator group needs to be morally accepted and forgiven by the group it victimized. However, when applying the Needs-Based Model into the Israeli-Palestinian context, it is critical to understand that Israelis and Palestinians each carry both roles: the perpetrator and the victim.

In describing the Israel-Palestine conflict as an asymmetrical conflict, Israel is seen as the occupier and oppressor and the Palestinians are presented as the victimized and oppressed group. According to the Needs-Based Model, the Palestinians may feel downtrodden while living under Israeli military rule and thus require empowerment from their Israeli counterparts in order to be willing to reconcile with them. That is why the Palestinians will not accept anything short of a sovereign state as part of a peace agreement, contrary to what some hard right-wing Israeli officials like Naftali Bennett have suggested, This is because annexation and autonomy plans like Bennett’s proposal merely reconfigure the current Israeli system of control, leaving the Palestinians in separated cantons ultimately under Israeli sovereignty.

From the other side, Israel is seen as playing the role of the perpetrator and is a moral pariah for the Palestinians. Such a viewpoint justifies delegitimizing  Israel, through such outlets as inflammatory school textbooks that incite violence against Israelis and Jews and portraying Israel as an artificial entity rather than a nation on their maps. Other, more reactive and reckless policies also gain traction with this mindset. For instance, a poll found that 73 percent of Palestinians supported President Mahmoud Abbas’ call to suspend ties with Israel in response to the Jewish state’s decision to set up metal detectors around the  Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif complex in the summer of 2017 (though Abbas did not follow through on his appeal).

These sentiments may, of course, be explained by the prevalence of anti-Semitism within Palestinian Arab society, but they must also be considered within the context of competitive victimhood. When the Palestinians see themselves as victims from Israel’s aggression, they do not want to legitimize who they see as their assailants. That said, such moral exclusion and incitement only reinforce Israelis’ distrust and engenders a siege mentality, compounding Israelis’ sense of victimhood.

Indeed, Israelis and Palestinians carry the roles of both the perpetrator and the victim. Social Psychologist Nurit Shnabel and her colleagues refer to this as “duals” when explaining how individuals and groups of people can see themselves as both a victim and a perpetrator. Unionists and Republicans Nationalists upheld a similar dual identity in Northern Ireland. When considering the power imbalance within the Northern Irish conflict, the Unionists saw themselves as the perpetrator and needed to be morally accepted by the Republican Nationals in order to be willing to reconcile with them. Reciprocally, the Republican Nationalists saw themselves as the victims who were disempowered while living under British control and wanted to empower themselves via independence before reconciling with the Unionists. However, when discussing about terror attacks conducted by the Irish Republican Army , it was the Republican Nationalists (as perpetrators) who needed to be morally accepted and it was the Unionists who needed to feel empowered through the ability to defend themselves.

Similarly, when discussing Palestinian terror attacks, it is the Palestinians who carry the role of the perpetrator and need acceptance from Israelis, who are then considered to be the victims who empower themselves through security measures. Israeli Jews also see themselves as victims when discussing the Holocaust. The memory of the Holocaust embeds a siege mentality among Israeli Jews which is buttressed by Palestinian anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and genocidal rhetoric. Israeli Jews feel the need to protect themselves through their right to self-determination as an existential imperative. For that reason, one way the Palestinians can grant Israelis a sense of empowerment is through acknowledgement of the pain Jews suffered during the Holocaust. For example, a study conducted by Social Psychologists Boaz Hameiri and Arie Nadler found a causal link between the acknowledgment of one group’s suffering and willingness to compromise. When Israeli participants perceived Palestinians acknowledging the Holocaust as a tragic event for the Jews, Israelis were significantly more likely to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinians during events such as the Nakba and also significantly more willing to make certain compromises for the sake of a peace agreement and vice versa for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the prevalence of Holocaust recognition within Palestinian society is rather low.

A 2014 global poll run by the Anti-Defamation League found disturbingly high levels of Holocaust denial among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 51 percent of Palestinians said they have not heard about the Holocaust in Europe during World War II. Additionally, while only 10 percent of Palestinian respondents said outright they believed the Holocaust is a myth, only 9 percent said they believed the number of Jewish deaths was accurate and 72 percent believed that numbers of Jewish fatalities in the Nazi genocide were exaggerated.

These results may again be explained by the prevalence of anti-Semitism within Palestinian society, but it is also the result of competitive victimhood. According to an investigative study by Samira Alayan, there is no mention of the Holocaust within Palestinian Authority textbooks. When interviewing Palestinian officials, the most common explanation was that the Palestinian public would see inclusion of the Holocaust as legitimizing Israel. Palestinians may perceive acknowledgment of the Holocaust as justifying the Nakba and the Palestinians want to establish themselves as the true victims of the conflict and deny Israelis their victim status.

Nonetheless, if there is going to be reconciliation between the parties, the Palestinians will need to eventually reform their textbooks to teach a more universal and inclusive victim consciousness, which in this case would include Holocaust education.

A peace education program may indeed be instrumental in helping overcome competitive victimhood and increase the understanding of each side’s needs. For Israelis, acknowledging the hardships Palestinians experience from the bureaucracy of the occupation is an important prerequisite to understanding why Palestinians cannot accept a sub-state entity as part of a peace agreement. And for the Palestinians, they will need to accept Israel as a permanent and legitimate part of the region and respect the suffering of the Jews by including Holocaust education within their textbooks. Mutual understanding of both peoples’ struggles will provide the groundwork for accepting the respective society’s aspirations to self-determination.

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