I went to hear Moty Cristal speak in April. Mr. Cristal is an Israeli professor of negotiation dynamics and a negotiating strategies consultant. His company, Nest Consulting, provides complex negotiations and crisis management training, consulting and operational support to senior executives in the public and private sector in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He was instrumental in negotiating the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit last year. Many people have been critical of the deal, which exchanged more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for a single Israeli soldier. However, Mr. Cristal is an expert in low-trust negotiations. It is difficult to second guess decisions made in such situations.
Everyone says you should never negotiate with terrorists. But everyone does it when there is no other feasible or reasonable alternative. The argument against such negotiation is that it will only encourage more terrorism. But history does not support this theory. No more Israeli soldiers have been captured, nor has there been any attempt to do so since Shalit’s release. The more time that goes by, the harder it will be to blame any such incident on this negotiation. The fact is that when terrorists negotiate, they may still be terrorists, but they are not engaging in terrorism while they do so.
In a civil society, we never negotiate or mediate with parties whose members or representatives have killed members of the opposing party’s group. And usually there is a deadline for the parties to negotiate a settlement or else a resolution will be imposed on them by some outside entity, like a court. In the Middle East today, there is no such Sword of Damocles, so there is no motive for either side to negotiate or change positions. Nonetheless, negotiations do go on. Small issues constantly need to be resolved, regarding water, electricity, transportation and tourism. Name-calling (terrorists, occupiers) never achieves anything. Who knows. One day, maybe the small negotiations will turn toward larger issues?