Am I Okay - Are You Okay?

I cannot recall any topic that has aroused such passions within PCSR as the Middle East, by which I mean the Israel-Palestine question and the whole September 11 aftermath. It is as though the issues involved capture the entire complexity of where the political meets the psychological and the ethical. At least two PCSR groups are actively engaged in the debate: the Politics group and the post-September 11 ("not the Mummy") group. A reason for writing about this is that I have found myself somewhat isolated and at times unpopular for taking what seems a pro-Israel stance. By pro-Israel, I do not mean uncritical of Israel, but rather, quite cynical of what seems the blanket support for anything calling itself Palestinian. Also, I cannot subscribe to any rationalisation (of which I have heard many) of suicide bombers. I would like to set out some reasons.

A difficulty I find within PCSR is that we tend to discuss politics as politics, rather than bringing our psychological and therapeutic understandings to bear on the politics. Let me give two parallels, for which I have never been met with a satisfactory counter-argument. First, suppose we are entertaining a client who has a just and legitimate grievance against the world, and comes into the therapy room with a timed bomb strapped to the waist. This client announces (s)he fully intends to blow the room up. What do we do? Sit there and ask how the client is feeling at that moment? Sit there and wait for it to happen?

I think not. So what are Israelis expected to do? Aha - you might say - but Israel has created this situation by continuing to occupy the West Bank. This leads me to number two: if the desire is to encourage Israel to withdraw from the occupied territiories, why do the more extreme elements within the Palestinian movement undertake suicide missions that inevitably draw Israeli tanks in to reoccupy the West Bank towns? The more suicide bombs there are seems to result in a greater reluctance of Israel to withdraw. If we were to put say, a Transactional Analysis hat on, we would surely spot this as a 'racket'. An extreme resolution of this racket might well be that Israel ends up expelling all Palestinians across the Jordan and a so-called Greater Israel (which I certainly do not subscribe to) becomes a reality. We then have a 'told you so' scenario of non-winners and losers - a script if ever there was one! I would not be the first to remark that what we are seeing are two old men (Ariel and Yasser) fulfilling their own sad and frightening scripts.

So, I would like to draw on some other psychological principles which might well provide a platform for debate.

1. Principle One - you cannot treat a client who does not accept that the therapist exists, and the converse - you cannot treat a client who you do not accept exists. Similarly, you cannot begin to negotiate with elements of a nation who do not accept that your nation exists.

2. Principle Two - once you accept the existence of 'the other', you will inevitably have to recognise that this other has aspirations for a better life of some kind. Easy to see in therapy - why not take it as a given when looking at nations?

3. Principle Three - 'the other' will be a complex entity, with sometimes disparate parts each having different drives, needs and aspirations. With clients, we would normally recognise this as ambiguity and contradictory feelings and mood states. With nations, we are talking about different factions with their own agendas. As with clients, these parts may be at different levels of maturity, some parts being highly chaotic, narcissistic, split-off or paranoid.

4. Principle Four - among these complex parts, it is not always clear where 'the will' or the 'centre of gravity of intention' lies. We see this in say, a compulsive or addicted client who consciously claims to want to change, but whose will is actually located somewhere else. This is the difference between what is said and what is done. With nation states, this is often about recognising where the real power lies, as opposed to what leaders might be saying and claiming. This 'centre of gravity' does move, but often with great effort and difficulty - this we surely know from client work.

These principles might be called 'principles of relationality'. Without them, as with clients, we really are rather stuck in terms of making progress in any form of negotiation. These principles are platforms upon which to build trust. As with stations - you can't run passenger trains without building the platforms.

In the Middle East conflict - and I am specifically looking at Israel-Palestine, the difficulty comes in knowing whether all four principles are embodied by both sides. In discussions with other PCSR members, I have frequently found that Principle Four is assumed to be the same as Principle Three, or at least not recognised as a distinct and important platform in its own right. This is the difference between, what in Israel, has been known as 'hawks' versus 'doves'. I don't want PCSR to be too 'dovey' or it will end up being naive. I think this is a whole separate issue from being pro 'this' or pro 'that' and thus 'dumbing down' the political debate.

I happen to hold a view that, at the current time, Israel has firmer 'platforms' in place than its Palestinian counterparts, and is thus in a better place to work from the four principles. We recognise this with clients too. Sometimes we call this 'ego strength'. This need not necessarily be always true. My worry is that, with a continuing war of attrition, both sides (ie. Israel too) will dismantle these platforms and the ultimate racket scenario mentioned earlier will come about. I hope not.