The Israeli-Palestinian Couple: from Confrontation to Joint Construction
Over the next few pages, I would like to present my personal interpretation of the evolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, based on a model which I have developed for couple psychotherapy ("If You Love Me, Don't Love Me", Basic Books, New York, 1990).
According to this model, one of the couple members has extended the scope of a particular experience in his or her past in such a way that it becomes a general rule. For example, a woman who was loved very much by her father and then abandoned by him at a very young age may elaborate a construction of reality according to which, if you are loved, you will end up being abandoned. Thus, although she will ask her husband to love her, she will only be sensitive to those aspects of her partner's behavior which reinforce her deep beliefs: if he loves her, he will eventually leave her. Unintentionally, on a conscious level, she will ask for love while at the same time believing that it isn't possible to be loved without being abandoned. The other couple member may, on the basis of personal experiences in which, for example, he did not feel accepted, ask his partner to accept him without really believing that it can happen.
In both cases, the partners seem to focus on that which, in the other partner's behavior, reinforces their deep beliefs. As surprising as it may seem, the pain and suffering caused by the couple's conflicts play the role of protecting each partner. The couple members are able to continue wearing the armor they donned in order to protect themselves from the disillusion which they might face if they were to take it off. The couple functions in such a way that neither member is obliged to part with the past, and sees in the other those elements which keep the past alive. Given this situation, the therapist's task becomes one of helping the couple members to dare to imagine possibilities which go beyond the self-fulfilling prophecy in which they are caught. This change doesn't occur only at the level of an understanding of the process in which the couple members are trapped. It also takes place through the emotional experience of a new type of relationship which is created, in most cases, via the couple's psychotherapist.

Behind the Antagonism

What is the link between couple therapy and the Israeli-Arab conflict? Looking back on the Israeli-Arab conflicts before 1967 from the point of view of the politically conscious Arab partner, we can summarize his position as follows: we have always gotten along reasonably well with the Jews; Judaism is a religion, so how does Jewish nationalism fit into this? Might Israel be simply the product of imperialism and colonialism from which we have already suffered so much? From this perspective, the Arab nationalist begins to extend his vision of the colonialists who oppressed and humiliated him, to the Israelis themselves. Israel doesn't exist as such; it is only an agent of anti-Arab powers. Jewish nationalism is just an invention to undermine the Arab nationalist movement and its inherent revolutionary perspective. All information received by the Arab partner is filtered through these particular glasses, and reinforces his deep beliefs. As for the Israeli partner, particularly those originally from Europe, he went through World War II in an isolation interrupted only by very rare acts of help and support from a few exceptional persons. As a general rule, the Western Jew watched how some of the governments of countries in which he considered himself a citizen frequently aided the Nazis in the marginalization of the Jews, a process which preceded their extermination
During this period, the enemy not only denied his very existence, but murdered his family and friends. Later, as an Israeli citizen, he sees the Arabs and the Palestinians as denying the existence of the Jews as individuals. Certain statements from some Arab leaders could even be interpreted not only as a threat to Israel as a nation, but to the very lives of its inhabitants. In this context, the political events in the Middle East could have been translated by both the Israelis and the Arabs in such a way that, interpreted in light of their deep beliefs, their constructions of reality would be reinforced.
Just as a couple doesn't live in isolation, the Israeli-Arab couple lived in the context of the Cold War. Just as the families and friends of each of the couple members can contribute to the persistence of the couple's conflicts, so the major world powers maintained, for various reasons, the antagonism between Arabs and Israelis

Confronting Reality

After the war of 1967, these simplistic schemata could no longer be maintained so easily. The Palestinian discovered that Israeli nationalism was not an illusion but a definite reality, and that there wasn't just one type of Israeli, rather that Israelis were very diverse individuals with the same limitations and qualities as people anywhere else. In addition, the Palestinian realized that the Israeli was not a puppet of the West, but had an autonomous political stance which was sometimes at odds with that of his allies.
As for the Israeli, he discovered that the Palestinians were not simply people who denied the existence of Israel and hated the Jews, but were an occupied population progressively demanding the right to a national existence next to Israel rather than in place of Israel. With the appearance of the Intifada, the Israeli found himself in the worst possible position for an occupier: having to shoot children to the increasing disapproval of the world and a part of the Israeli population. Nevertheless, just as for couples, change doesn't come about simply as a result of a confrontation with a reality richer and more flexible than our deep beliefs. At this point, the willingness of each couple member to believe that a new reality is possible, more open than he or she believes the current one to be, clashes with a fear of the disillusion and suffering that would result from the potentially negative reaction of the other couple member; this only reinforces the old stance. Moreover, some Palestinians and Israelis could find, in the words of some extremists from the other side, elements which strengthen their deep beliefs and help them avoid any risk of change. The Palestinian, if he listened only to the words of the Israeli extreme right, would have his beliefs about Israeli expansionism reinforced. On the other hand, the Israeli could, if he so desired, listen only to the voices of groups which, like Hamas, seem unable to come to terms with the existence of Israel as a state.

A New Relationship

However, others may be able to discern, in the steps already achieved on both sides, the guarantee of a positive and irreversible process. Couples don't change so much because each member convinces himself or herself that the new construction of reality is better than the previous one, but because they experience situations in a new way and discover feelings that they no longer thought were possible. Thus, it is important in couple psychotherapy to create new situations which, far from being repetitive, aUow the couple members to experience a new relationship.
With the end of the Cold War and the reorganization of international relations, a unique opportunity is being offered to the Israeli-Arab couple, whose families and friends seem, for the moment, to be supporting the mutual happiness of both partners rather than the protests and attacks on each other. The Israeli-Palestinian couple, and the Israeli-Arab couple in general, is at a crossroads. The Palestinians have held out their hand to Israel, and almost all of the Arab governments have made plans for the future which include peace. It is important that the Israeli partner, which has also held out its hand, does so with the fewest restrictions possible, and accepts that a couple develops not in the domination of one partner by the other, but through mutual fulfillment. For this reason, the Israeli position regarding the status of the predominantly Arab part of Jerusalem is crucial from both a political and a symbolic point of view. If the members of a couple hope to receive, they must also agree to give.

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