Separation, Integration and Conciliation: Preliminary Thoughts
The title of the present issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal, "Separation or Conciliation", suggests that these two concepts are two ends of the same continuum. It implies that if you are separated from another person or group you are not likely to reconciled with them. This implication is made even stronger by the use of the word "or" in the title. It tells us that "separation" and "conciliation" are mutually exclusive. One can be "separate" or "conciled" with others but not "separate" and "conciled" with them. Yet, in relations between Israelis and Palestinians the choice is not between "separation" or "conciliation", but between "separation" and "integration". The real issue is: If we want conciliation - should we do it through separation from or integration with our adversaries? I shall try to advance the argument that the real task that faces us in this region is to build conciliation through separation and integration. It may sound vague, inconsistent and conflicting. I hope that by the end of this article it will be a clearer and an internally consistent proposition.

In developing this argument I shall draw upon my identity as a social psychologist. The editors have asked me to do so, and I agreed, believing that psychological thinking on the tension between "separation" and "integration" with the social environment is highly relevant to my overall argument. I do not propose to fully cover the manifestations of this dilemma in psychology. This task calls for a book length manuscript. I shall note a few major ways in which this dilemma is reflected in psychological and social psychological thinking.

Integration and Separation: Psychological Dimensions of the Dilemma

The tension between separation and integration begins early in life. Leading personality theorists tell us that, close to birth, we are the ultimate example of social integration. In the first months of life newborns do not distinguish between themselves and the mother. During this time, we are told, there is no sense of a separate "me", and the "I" is completely fused with the "you". The major developmental task, according to these theorists, is the work of separating from this bond and developing a sense of independent and secure self.

Importantly, an adequate process of psychological separation from the other person does not mean dissociation from them, or avoidance of them. An adequate process of separation leaves the individual separated from the significant other, yet attached to and integrated with them. The quality of these attachments is said to color the quality of social relations that we shall form in the rest of our lives. Being able to separate from significant others while staying integrated with them is the sine qua non for psychological well being. Human beings need to create a border between themselves and their social environment, but these borders must be flexible enough to allow the person to construct and maintain significant social relations. The same message is conveyed in discussions on processes of social identity.

Our sense of who we are, our feeling of identity, is social in the deepest sense of the word. A concrete example for this is when we ask a person "Who are you?" The answer to this question would be a stream of group affiliations. The person may respond with "Palestinian", "Muslim", "Jewish", "woman", "Israeli", or "a fan of Hapoel Tel Aviv." Regardless of the specific terms that are used, all of them are groups. This serves to remind us that the building blocks of our sense of "self" are the groups to which we belong.

But by belonging to a group, we also define the groups to which we do not belong. When I feel as an Israeli I have a clear idea of who is beyond the boundaries of "Israelis". We may like it or not, but from a psychological viewpoint identity is built on the distinction between "us" and "them". Without such a meaningful demarcation line between my group and the other groups there is no identity. Moreover this is not a neutral distinction. It is associated with behaving more favorably towards in-group members, and discriminating against out-group members. By being social we tend to be instinctively discriminatory. Not a very flattering view of human nature. But to be able to build barriers against our impulses we need to first know them well.

Belonging Requires Clear Boundaries

Groups that don't have clear boundaries are not a suitable basis for a psychologically significant sense of belonging. For example, belonging to the group of "earthlings", to which all living organisms belong, is not likely to be experienced as psychologically significant. Such belonging does not distinguish between "us" and "them". If, however, extraterrestrial beings would show up on planet earth, being an earthling might suddenly become psychologically relevant and be associated with all the emotional energy that the affiliation with "Israelis" or "Palestinians" is. It would be the basis of boundaries between in-group and out-group members. We need to belong, and the only belonging of psychological worth is that which excludes those who do not belong.

Belonging and Uniqueness

But our need to belong is not the only motivating psychological force in our social world. People have two basic needs: the need for belonging and the need for uniqueness and individuality. At the same time that we need to be integrated with others and belong to social groups, we also need to be separate, different and unique from others. Feeling exactly the same as others hurts, in the same way that being disconnected from others does. Here again we encounter the constant tension between separation and integration that dominates our social existence. Adopting a uni-polar solution to this tension is not likely to be a psychologically optimal option. If only the need for belonging dominates, the person may lose his or her individuality; if the need for individuality dominates, the person may be separate from others and feel lonely. As was the case with the psychological development of the infant, the solution to the dilemma between "separation" and "integration" cannot be mutually exclusive. An optimal social life will consist of being the same as others, and different from them at the same time.

What generalizations can we deduce from all this that will help us to consider the dilemma of separation and integration in relations between Israelis and Palestinians? First, we learn of the importance and significance of borders. Without borders individuals do not have a sense of personal identity and groups cannot have a sense of group identity. Borders are important because they define identity.

Second, an optimal solution to the tension between integration and separation satisfies both needs. Well being is predicated on a person's development into a separate individual who is integrated with significant others, and group affiliation must satisfy two human needs: the need for belonging through integration with other group members, and the need for separation by being different from them.

Separation, Integration and Conciliation between Israelis and Palestinians

Israeli society brims with discussions of the dilemma between integration and separation. The proponents for building a wall that will separate Israelis and Palestinians tell us that the only way to enable a life of relative tranquility for Israelis is through unilateral separation from the Palestinians. Within Israel there are two opposing camps to this unilateral separation. The first source of opposition comes from the political right that wants Israelis and Palestinians to live in an integrated Greater Israel. They forget to tell us that in this Greater Israel integration with the Palestinians will leave them without representation. Those in this camp who realize the impracticality of this plan call for integration and transfer: Jewish integration in the same state after the Palestinians have been expelled from this Greater Israel.

Another source of opposition to the idea of unilateral separation comes from the Israeli left. Here we find the advocates of separation and integration. The proponents of this view tell us that forced separation without a political agreement is a recipe for continued violence. Such separation may quell terrorism in the short run, but be the breeding ground for terror and violence in the longer run.

The proponents of this view, of which I am one, stress the message that conciliation between Israelis and Palestinians will occur only if these two peoples agree to separate, create borders between them, and at the same time weave threads of integration in the form of continued cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. This approach recognizes what was previously noted as the lessons of psychological thinking on this dilemma.

First, people need to base their identity on the groups to which they belong, and psychologically relevant groups have boundaries that define "us" and "them". But, the option of living in a state of conciliation with self and neighbors behind a brick wall is untenable. If separation is to lead to conciliation, it must be through an agreement to separate, which forms the basis of future cooperation, to keep the threads of integration viable.

Moreover, say the advocates of this view, Israelis and Palestinians are already integrated, whether they like it or not. They breathe the same air, use the same water resources and are affected by similar economic constraints and opportunities. Separation is important to both peoples, but it should occur on a background of acknowledging the integration that exists and the one that needs to be developed.

Similar Palestinian Trends

Looking at the other side of the "fence", into Palestine, I see similar trends. Because they live under occupation, Palestinians have not developed a movement for unilateral separation. Occupied groups cannot, realistically, contemplate unilateral actions. Yet I can see a political camp of Palestinians that opposes separation and has dreams of integration that are comparable to those of the Israeli right. They also opt for integration of Jews and Palestinians. Integration in a state in which Israeli-Jews are a minority without a viable opportunity for self-determination.

This time, however, in "Greater Palestine". Parallel to the views of the far Israeli right, an extreme version of this vision calls for the expulsion of Israeli citizens, myself included, if they or their parents came to this land after a certain year. There are those, however, in Palestine who see a future conciliation through separation and integration. This future is based on two states that are separate and have clear borders between them but at the same time cooperate and maintain the threads of integration as two neighboring peoples.

As I draw nearer to the conclusion of this article I venture a ray of optimism in these dark days in our region. I believe that the number of Israelis and Palestinians who see conciliation as a process of separation and integration is growing. More and more people in both nations understand that we must have two states with clear and agreed boundaries between them, who will nurture the threads of cooperation that will integrate them. Given our history and geo-political realities there is no other option.

Key Condition, Equality

Yet there is one prime condition for the viability of this model of conciliation through separation and integration. This condition is equality. Not equality in financial or technological resources. I am referring here to a feeling of equality that is closely related to the feeling of respect that one has for the other side. This equality is associated with a sense of empowerment and control. This type of equality has not prevailed in relations between Israelis and Palestinians. One side, the Israelis, controls and occupies the other. Under these conditions attempting separation and integration is not likely to lead to conciliation.

When I reflect on the fate of the Oslo process with these concepts in mind, it may be that one reason for what seems like its failure is that it attempted conciliation through cooperation and gradual separation without first securing basic equality. Would an earlier creation of a Palestine have been sufficient to insert more equality into the process and help avert the pitfalls that we all fell into? At present the answer to this "What if?" question cannot be anything more than speculation. But, the question and the rationale upon which it is based may help us stop and think once more before we make future mistakes.