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.
(Online publication May 12 2011)
Amir Lupovici is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. Previously, he was a Post-doctoral fellow at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto and at the Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research focuses on constructivism, deterrence and on the connections between identity and security. His previous articles appeared in International Studies Quarterly and the Review of International Studies.
* I am grateful to Emanuel Adler, Patricia Greve, Janice Gross Stein, Gallia Lindenstrauss, Janice Bially Mattern, Jennifer Mitzen, Mira Sucharov, Brent Sasley, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this article. I would also like to thank the Halbert Fellowship Programme at the Munk Centre for International Studies at The University of Toronto and the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for their generous support.