Lay theories of peace and their influence on policy preference during violent conflict

Oded Adomi Leshem*, Eran Halperin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


We often talk about peace as if the concept is self-explanatory. Yet people can have various theories about what peace "is." In this study, we examine the lay theories of peace of citizens embroiled in a prolonged ethnonational conflict. We show that lay theories of peace 1) depend on whether one belongs to the high-power or low-power party and 2) explain citizens' fundamental approaches to conflict resolution. Specifically, we explore the link between power asymmetry, lay theories of peace, and preference for conflict resolution strategies within large-scale samples of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and Jewish residents of Israel. Results reveal that members of the high-power group (in this case Jewish-Israelis) are more likely to associate peace with harmonious relationships (termed "positive peace") than with the attainment of justice (termed "structural peace"), while members of the low-power group (in this case Palestinians) exhibit an opposite pattern. Yet both groups firmly and equally interpret peace as the termination of war and bloodshed (termed "negative peace"). Importantly, across societies, associating peace with negative peace more than with positive or structural peace predicts citizens' desire for a solution that entails the partition of land (the Two-State Solution) whereas associating peace with structural or positive peace more than with negative peace predicts citizens' desire to solve the conflict by sharing the land (the One-State Solution). This study demonstrates the theoretical and policy-relevant utility of studying how those most affected by war understand the concept of peace.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)18378-18384
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number31
StatePublished - 4 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

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  • Asymmetrical conflict
  • Israel
  • Lay theories
  • Palestine
  • Peace


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