Narratives of the EU in Israel/Palestine: narrative “stickiness” and the formation of expectations

Alister Miskimmon, Ben O'Loughlin

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Analysis of narrative can help identify the expectations actors hold about each other in international relations. This article triangulates a mix of elite interviews, media content analysis and an original Q-sort public opinion methodology to map the presence of narratives about EU relations among young Israelis and Palestinians. Our aim is not to explain the effects of EU public diplomacy in these countries. Instead we aim to identify the narrative “terrain” or conditions that the EU communicates to and with and, drawing on feminist and everyday narrative studies, to examine the role of affect and identity to explain why some narratives are more “sticky” than others in those societies. We find, first, a broad recognition that the EU’s capacity to act in international relations is necessary but limited in the face of greater challenges in the international system, and indeed, within the EU itself. This suggests a shift from Hill’s (1993) conception of the ‘capabilities-expectations gap’ which dogged the emergence of the EU as a foreign policy actor in the 1990s and 2000s. Participants’ narratives reflect the growing pragmatism in the EU’s foreign policy outlined in the European Global Strategy. We find, second, little evidence that young people radically reshape the narratives they encounter in their public spheres, but nevertheless some important divisions emerge that pose problems for how EU policymakers can communicate consistently without dismaying some citizens in third countries. We argue that for EU communication to have credibility, it must work with the grain of national publics' longstanding and "sticky" narratives of the international system and the character of states within it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Security
Early online date30 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2019


  • Strategic narrative
  • Diplomacy
  • European neighbourhood policy
  • Israel
  • Palestine
  • European Union

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