Worldviews and Perspectives

Worldviews can be defined as the stories groups of people tell themselves about the world, giving meaning to their lives. Through these cognitive collective frameworks they experience and interpret reality and therefore also conflicts. Worldviews can differ from each other in dramatic ways: having different values, varying hierarchies between them and beliefs that certain values are non-negotiable; employing different terminologies; drawing on varied sources of authority; being oriented toward the future or the past; and anchored in unrelated, dissimilar systems of law.

Efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should acknowledge the deep plurality of worldviews undergirding the conflict rather than erroneously assume a singular worldview is shared – or will be shared – by all stakeholders. Conflict resolution and transformation should take place across worldviews, crafting agreements and understandings which would be acceptable within radically different worldviews. This requires acquiring literacy of the worldviews of all major conflict stakeholders.

For the sake of clarity, broad-stroke descriptions are provided below.


Mediators seeking to broker a peace agreement in the form of a negotiated territorial compromise truly encounter the clash between worldviews only if and when they take the time to hear all the parties. It is then that they fully acknowledge the conflict’s deeper cacophony and confront in full the collision of narratives lying at its core.

The question of control over the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is illustrative. Secular Zionists and Palestinian nationalists have been most receptive to a compromise. Both fundamentally pursue a nation-state for their respective peoples, Jewish and Palestinian. Their preference would be to do so on as much of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as they can. Their self-understanding does not categorically preclude territorial compromise. For such nationalists, conceding some of the land would not prevent national attainment. Rather, they assume that national self-determination, such that the nation would govern a state in line with its values, is paramount.

Receptivity to territorial compromise has not been an exclusively secular affair. Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews have similarly been open to it. Their receptivity is because they usually deem paramount the values of preventing loss of life and of fostering study of the Torah and life in its light. Moreover, they consider that full realization of Jewish life does not pertain to sovereignty until the messiah’s arrival. For the Ultra-Orthodox, being Jewish is fundamentally about abiding by the commandments and the rabbinic teachings in the personal and communal domains of life, not about governing territory.

In contrast, Israel’s religious Zionists who follow the teachings of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook habitually believe that they are divinely commanded to govern and settle the entire land between the river and the sea and that these acts would catalyze redemption. They deem a final status agreement of territorial partition to be an abomination because it would both transgress religious law and effectively commit the government of Israel to prevent redemption.

Simply put, accepting the categorical transfer of part of the land to another people would therefore lead religious Zionists to feel they have betrayed G-d and their covenant. This sense is encapsulated in a leaflet Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook published immediately after the 1967 War which stated that “handing over our lands to the Gentiles is a crime and a sin” and characterized such concessions, no matter their size, as “delaying the revival of the sanctity of the Land of G-d to the People of G-d”. More recently, the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of municipal councils of settlements, in which religious Zionist theology is dominant, therefore rejected the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan of President Trump.

U.S. Christian Zionists similarly support Israel’s rule over the entire Land of Israel, believing that it is a fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Some, notably dispensational premillennialists, send volunteers and financial support to settlements.

The sense of colliding worldviews is exacerbated when one encounters Palestinian adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood’s theology who commonly believe that the land between the river and the sea should ultimately fall under Muslim rule as part of a Caliphate. They tend to view the establishment of permanent non-Muslim rule on parts of this land as an impure obstacle to the realization of the divinely mandated vision of unifying all previously Muslim-ruled lands under a single Muslim ruler.

Within the worldview of Palestinian Religious Nationalism, the very existence of Israel has to be reversed. A permanent peace agreement with Israel is diametrically opposed to this worldview because a permanent peace agreement accepts the State of Israel as an everlasting reality. However, the common belief in these circles is that the entire land between the river and the sea should be “liberated” from non-Muslim rule in order to progress toward this eschatological vision.

A telling exception which grew out of this outlook, is the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic movement, which has come to support a two-state agreement. In tandem with the strong preference among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic movement, this worldview has come to deem territorial partition religiously correct by embracing a humanistic-liberal value hierarchy according to which the sanctity of life supersedes the sanctity of the land.

Attempts to advance partition since the 1990s mostly disregarded this radical collision of worldviews. Those holding on to beliefs pertaining to the integrity and wholeness of the land have mobilized against these diplomatic efforts. Some, including notably Hamas’ armed groups, do so with murderous attacks. Others, like the settler movement, do so primarily by populating plots of land which would preclude contiguous partition. This staunch absolutist opposition to partition reduces the zone of possible agreement of the national leaderships on both sides, with final status negotiations repeatedly failing to deliver a negotiated agreement.

The collision of worldviews is palpable also when addressing other conflict issues. For instance, Islamic law has specific provisions pertaining to refugee rights. Negotiations over the rights of Palestinian refugees or of Jewish refugees from Arab countries could be severely lacking -indeed perilous- without familiarity with the positions of Islamic jurisprudence on the matter.

Likewise, both Judaism and Islam deem the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif holier than the rest of the land surrounding it, demanding upmost respect for its purity. In certain contexts, even negotiating the future of the scared site could be forbidden according to some interpretations of these faiths, let alone negotiating it without careful study of prohibitions pertaining to the site.

It is therefore vital to devise ways to advance peacemaking across and between these disparate worldviews. Peacemaking requires mediators who are experienced in the art of diplomacy and highly literate with regard to the relevant worldviews.