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Contested Ground: Disentangling Material and Symbolic Attachment to Disputed Territory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2018


Territorial disputes are prone to conflict because of the value of territory to publics, whether due to its strategic and material worth, or to its intangible, symbolic value. Yet despite the implications of the distinction for both theory and policy, empirically disentangling the material from the symbolic has posed formidable methodological challenges. We propose a set of tools for assessing the nature of individual territorial attachment, drawing on a series of survey experiments in Israel. Using these tools, we find that a substantial segment of the Jewish population is attached to the disputed West Bank territory for intangible reasons, consisting not only of far-right voters but also of voters of moderate-right and centrist parties. This distribution considerably narrows the bargaining space of leaders regardless of coalitional configurations. Our empirical analysis thus illustrates how the distribution of territorial preferences in the domestic population can have powerful implications for conflict and its resolution.

Original Articles
© The European Political Science Association 2018 

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Devorah Manekin is an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, 9190501 ( Guy Grossman is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania. 208 S. 37th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (, and a member of the Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) network. Tamar Mitts is an Assistant Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. 420 West 118th Street New York, NY 10027 ( The authors thank Daniel Berliner, Alex Braithwaite, Allan Dafoe, Naoki Egami, James Fearon, Noam Gidron, Stacie Goddard, Shanker Satyanath, Jacob Shapiro, Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan, Jakana Thomas, and two anonynmous reviewers for valuable feedback on earlier drafts. Guy Grossman wishes to thank The Christopher H. Brown Center for International Politics at the University of Pennsylvania and the Israel Institute for their generous support of this study. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit


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