Addressing Israelis’ and Palestinians’ Basic Needs for Agency and Positive Moral Identity Facilitates Mutual Prosociality

  • Ilanit SimanTov-NachlieliEmail author
  • Nurit Shnabel
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS)


According to Bar-Tal’s theorizing (Bar-Tal, Am Behav Sci 50:1430–1453, 2007; Bar-Tal, Intractable conflicts: Psychological foundations and dynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) societies involved in intractable conflicts develop a collective fear orientation which becomes embedded in these societies’ ethos. Due to this basic orientation, acute security threats are chronically salient and security turns into a central societal value. Based on Bar-Tal’s theorizing, we argue that even though, in general, groups are strongly motivated to maintain their positive moral identity (Leach et al., J Pers Soc Psychol 93:234–249, 2007) in contexts of intractable conflicts, this need becomes subjected to the conflicting groups’ need to feel agentic, secure, and protected. Put differently, groups’ need for strength, agency, and security is experienced as highly pressing and hence receives primacy over the need for positive moral identity.

Focusing on the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we review empirical evidence that supports our argument, revealing that Jews’ need for strength overrode their need for positive moral identity in determining prosocial behavioral tendencies toward Palestinians (SimanTov-Nachlieli and Shnabel, Pers Soc Psychol Bull 40:301–314, 2014). Optimistically, however, an “agency affirmation” intervention that reminded Jews and Palestinians of their in-group’s strength, competence, and resiliency addressed their need to feel strong and protected and made them more attentive to moral considerations. This attentiveness, in turn, increased their prosocial behavioral tendencies toward each other. These findings suggest that the satisfaction of Israelis’ and Palestinians’ pressing need for agency can “defreeze” their rigid clinging to aggressive defensiveness and self-righteousness (Bar-Tal and Halperin, Socio-psychological barriers to conflict resolution. In: D. Bar-Tal (Ed.), Intergroup conflicts and their resolution: A social psychological perspective (pp. 217–240). New York, NY: Psychology Press, 2011). Such “defreezing” can contribute to ending the cycle of destructive violence while promoting, instead, constructive behaviors and reconciliation.


Moral Identity Suicide Bomber Israeli Defense Force Prosocial Tendency Intractable Conflict 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Psychological SciencesTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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