A new study by Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Eran Halperin of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya shows that fear is one of the obstacles preventing the spread of alternative beliefs on resolving conflicts by peaceful means. Such obstacles develop through a selective and distorted processing of information aimed at preserving conflict-beliefs. Take, for example, the belief that "time is on our side." By contrast, the two researchers found that only a small minority of Israelis evaluate the conflict through the ethical lenses of justice and morality.
The researchers therefore assumed that the only way to open Israelis to compromise was to present them with the heavy price they are now paying – and will pay in the future – as a result of their refusal to compromise. This conclusion parallels the findings of Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Daniel Kahneman and the late Prof. Amos Tversky, who assert that people are primarily influenced by fear of losing their assets, rather than the hope for a future profit.
In their research, Bar-Tal and Halperin found that people who were exposed to a scenario emphasizing the price Israel might have to pay for allowing the conflict to continue were more willing to accept new information and compromise, in comparison to those exposed to a scenario based on the fruits of peace. While positive prognoses on the future of Israel and the Middle East did not result in a change of attitude, information on the losses Israel can expect unless a peace agreement is signed soon intensified the wish of those surveyed to consider alternative solutions to the conflict.
Detailed explanations on the economic ramifications of a failure to resolve the conflict, or demonstrations on a possible Arab shift toward supporting a binational state led many people to realize that "time is not on our side" and that the cost of a future peace may exceed that of peace today.
[The research findings are very important. The conclusion drawn — that it’s better to play on people’s fears — may work in the short run. But the long term consequence is to reinforce those fears, which is bound to lead to suspicion and make it harder to maintain a peace settlement.]