This week, President Obama hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his
Yet polls show majorities of Israelis and Palestinians to support a peace settlement, and a consensus exists over the general framework of such a solution. In fact, the deepest source of contention is not whether peace is desirable or what its parameters should be. Rather, it is an all-out war of historical narratives playing out on an international stage, and the American public has front row seats.
At a fundamental level, each side of this narrative battle seeks to establish a monopoly on victimhood, delegitimizing the other's suffering while sanctifying its own. Each perceives itself as a heroic David battling an intractable Goliath, viewing the conflict through the lens of past victimization. When suicide bombers and rockets strike their cities, Israelis recall centuries of persecution culminating in genocide and wars in which they seemed hopelessly pitted against multiple armies. And when tanks and missiles tear through their streets, Palestinians remember their exiles in 1948 and 1967 and decades of occupation.
As universally human and understandable as this tendency is, it creates an obstacle to reconciliation that must be overcome if a peace settlement is to move forward. A just and lasting peace cannot come about by merely delineating borders and agreeing to end violence; it must include mutual recognition and dialogue.
Because the narratives war involves the international community, such dialogue must also take place internationally, especially in the
A major source of contention is the use of language, whether in labeling geographical locations, deciding what to call perpetrators of violence, or invalidating the opposing narrative. The
In today's Information Age, the proliferation of media has greatly increased the scope of the narratives war. College campuses have also become battlegrounds. Troublingly, the physical and rhetorical conflicts have even merged, and journalists have become targets for those who wish to silence them.
Those who care about