Part of the difficult task of trying to resolve conflicts is getting past the perceptual barriers that stand in the way of seeing conflicts for what they really are.
Longstanding traditions of diplomacy focus on state and interest-based negotiations, or an emphasis on concrete issues, like, for example, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, on resolving borders or settlements in the West Bank.
These approaches are understandable because they are based on familiar institutions and methods. However, they assume that since we don’t see other potential causes of conflict, that they must not be there.
As we’ve indicated, despite the best intentions of conflict resolution specialists, these efforts often fall short. This is because attending strictly to “issues” does not take into account the deeper human dynamics that give rise to those issues in the first place.
Unacknowledged are the psychological and cultural aspects of conflict, which are fundamental and which, if properly understood, may hold the keys to improved conflict resolution.
The role of excessive emotion in Middle Eastern cultures, for example, is a factor that is virtually unrecognized or brought to bear in studies involving conflicts in the region. And yet emotion is one of the most salient factors, playing a crucial role in helping to instigate and maintain political conflict between human groups.