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Abstract

My work over more than three decades has focused on the development and application of interactive problem solving: an unofficial, scholar-practitioner approach to the resolution of protracted, deep-rooted, and often violent conflicts between identity groups, which is derived from the pioneering work of John Burton and anchored in social-psychological principles. My primary focus over the years has been on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but my students and associates have also applied the approach in a number of other arenas of ethnonational conflict, including Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Colombia, and South Africa. A starting point of this work has been the assumption that the nonviolent termination of such conflicts must go beyond conflict settlement centered on interest-based bargaining, and aim for conflict resolution centered on joint development of solutions that address the needs and allay the fears of both parties. We have viewed interactive problem solving as a form of conflict resolution that is conducive to ultimate reconciliation. Increasingly, however, we have come to see reconciliation as a distinct process of peacemaking, which must accompany conflict resolution in deep-rooted conflicts between identity groups. Whereas conflict resolution refers to the process of shaping a mutually satisfactory and hence durable agreement between the two societies, reconciliation refers to the process whereby they learn to live together in the post-conflict environment. Following this logic, the paper conceptualizes conflict settlement, conflict resolution, and reconciliation as three qualitatively distinct processes, operating at the level of interests, relationships, and identity respectively. These three processes may be related sequentially, but they may also operate independently and simultaneously. The paper addresses the special challenge of reconciliation, which requires some changes in each party’s identity, without threatening the core of its identity; and concludes with a brief discussion of the conditions conducive to reconciliation.

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