Ontological dissonance, clashing identities, and Israel's unilateral steps towards the Palestinians

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This article further conceptualises and empirically tests the concept of ontological security. This concept, which refers to an actor's need to have a secure identity, has been used in International Relations (IR) mainly to study situations in which states face a threat to one of their identities. However, my focus here is on situations in which states are facing threats to a number of identities they hold, situations that result in what I term ontological dissonance. In such cases, not only are various distinct identities threatened, but the solutions to ease these threats are contradictory, forcing the state to choose between different cherished values. I contend that in such situations avoidance can become an attractive option for states in dealing with the difficulties arising from this dilemma. This theoretical framework is used to explain Israel's unilateral steps toward the Palestinians in recent years. I argue that the terror attacks of the Second Intifada (2000-2005) represented more than a physical security threat to Israel. The attacks and Israel's initial response to them aggravated threats to a number of Israel's identities and, more importantly, emphasised existing and potential future clashes among these identities. As a result, Israeli policy makers advanced unilateral steps to reduce these threats and to ease the accompanying ontological dissonance. These unilateral measures can thus be understood as measures of avoidance, and as such they complicated further cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)809-833
Number of pages25
JournalReview of International Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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