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My colleagues’ and my work as scholar–practitioners has focused on analysis and resolution of protracted, seemingly intractable conflicts between national, ethnic, or other kinds of identity groups, best exemplified by intercommunal conflicts, such as those in Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, and apartheid South Africa. My own most intensive and extensive experience, over the past quarter–century, has been with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and my analysis draws primarily on that experience.
Using the Israeli–Palestinian conflict as a case in point, this chapter examines the way in which issues of national identity can exacerbate an international or intercommunal conflict and the way in which such issues can be addressed in conflict–resolution efforts. The chapter starts out with a brief history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, setting the stage for the identity issues at the heart of the conflict. It then proceeds to describe the struggle over national identity between the two people, which has led them to perceive their conflict in zero–sum terms, with respect to not only territory and resources but also national identity and national existence. Next, it argues that long–term resolution of this and similar deep–rooted conflicts requires changes in the groups’ national identities, such that affirmation of one groups’ identity is no longer predicated on negation of the other’s identity. Such identity changes are possible as long as they leave the core of each group’s national identity intact. Furthermore, the chapter proceeds to argue, such changes need to be and can be "negotiated" between the two groups. One venue for negotiating identity, described in the next section, is provided by the problem–solving workshops between Israeli and Palestinian elites that my colleagues and I have convened for many years. Finally, the paper concludes with an illustration of the possibilities and limits of the negotiation of identity, based on a joint Israeli–Palestinian exploration of the problem of Palestinian refugees.