Inter-Cultural Dynamics in Peacemaking: The Arab-Israeli Case in Point, Practice: Skills for Conflict Transformation

David Kreider, Inter-Cultural Dynamics in Peacemaking: The Arab-Israeli Case in Point, Practice: Skills for Conflict Transformation, (2007)
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In this essay, David Kreider (not to be confused with international arbitrator David L. Kreider, whom we previously and erroneously attributed to this post) offers an analysis of the role of mediators and different mediation styles and applies his findings to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Drawing upon the work of many scholars who have written about mediation, conflict, and Israel-Palestine, Mr. Kreider compares and contrasts a Western, individualist approach to conflict with a non-Western, collectivist approach. Using scholar Walter Wright’s definitions of “individualist” and “collectivist,” Mr. Kreider writes, “Individualists tend to place a higher value on the preferences, needs, rights, freedoms, opportunities, and goals of the individual, and in the process, relationships are often relegated to a secondary consideration. Collectivists, on the other hand, place a premium on the interests, norms, and values of the group and on maintaining relationships of respect, cooperation, and harmony within the community often at the expense of individual liberties, needs, and interests.” A key difference described by Mr. Kreider between the two approaches is that individualists tend to view conflict as necessary for change, while collectivists most often view conflict as a failure to respect the traditions and values of a group. Another key difference described by Mr. Kreider is that during conflict, individualists tend to favor direct communication and confrontation, while collectivists tend to be less direct about the problems causing the conflict and more focused on maintaining relationships, harmony, and interdependence.

Mr. Kreider draws from the work of scholars John Winslade and Gerald Monk to argue that for mediators, it is important to think about conflict not as a clash between different individual needs and interests, but as the result of “culturally diverse perceptions of truth, meanings, beliefs, knowledge, power, and privilege.” Thinking of conflict in this way is useful for mediators, Mr. Kreider says, because it allows for a more thorough and clear way of deconstructing discourse. Mr. Kreider posits that the most effective strategy for mediation is for mediators to take an “emic” approach to finding a satisfying resolution for all sides. An emic approach “attempts to incorporate patterns of relating that are indigenous to a culture’s traditions and styles.” Mr. Kreider argues that a productive intercultural dialogue tries to merge paradigms—in this case, individualist and collectivist mindsets—and works with the already established ideas and customs of each party, rather than employing unfamiliar or nonindigenous strategies to resolve a conflict. Emic integration, Mr. Kreider contends, is a key to skillful and sustainable peacebuilding.

Mr. Kreider uses examples of experiences between Israelis and Palestinians to illustrate some of his points regarding conflict mediation. Analyzing different interactions between the two groups, Mr. Kreider finds that recognizing the identity and dignity of others is a “universal marker for our sense of social meaning whether primarily individual or collective in its origin.” In this way, he concludes that it is in humankind’s interest—from both an individualist and collectivist perspective—to learn to bridge cultural gaps in order to better understand and ultimately resolve conflicts of all kinds. This way of cultural understanding, he argues, is a nonnegotiable “price to pay for peace.”