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<xTITLE>Power, Impartiality, and Timing: Third Party Mediation in the Middle East</xTITLE>

Power, Impartiality, and Timing: Third Party Mediation in the Middle East

by Armita Azad
September 2018 Armita Azad
There has been upsurge literature on third party intervention in recent years, and still a significant gap in the field of mediation. What is missing is a systematic case study analysis that will draw innovative propositions about the conditions that are advantageous for successful mediation. The concept of mediation has developed in recent years; however, some problems still remain. The theories of mediations seem to be generic and self evident as it is not sufficiently driven by systematic case study analysis. The Middle East provides an example and environment which these theories can be tested where the Arab Israeli conflict is the most protracted conflict in the Middle East and has produced numerous case studies of third party mediation, especially with regards to the diversity of mediators and their strategies. In addition to the changing circumstances and changing relationship between the parties should be analyzed as it could offer some broader conclusions about the desired conditions for effective mediation. The article aims to achieve this by proposing three hypotheses about the impact of power, impartiality and timing on the mediation process. At least with regard to the Arab–Israeli conflict the three hypotheses examined here are as follows.

Hypothesis (1) The more power (leverage) the mediator has over the disputants, the more likely it is to succeed. Hypothesis (2) The more impartial the mediator is, the more likely it is to succeed. Hypothesis (3) Mediation is more likely to succeed when the conflict has reached an escalatory stage. These hypotheses will be tested against the experience of three successful cases of third party intervention in the Arab–Israeli conflict, which over the past six decades has experienced a multitude of mediators of different types.

Since the first Arab Israeli War in 1948, most mediators have entered the conflict at various stages and have failed to resolve the dispute even though they have applied many strategies. According to Princen, mediators are “third parties who intercede for the proposer of influencing or facilitating a settlement of a dispute but do not impose a solution. They are actors with incentives to be involved but without direct interests in the disputes issues.” Mediation is non binding and is different in comparison to third party intervention such as arbitration and adjudication. It offers two approaches with the aim to enable the observer to understand the success and failures that occur in international mediation. The first criteria pertains to the natures of international mediation and allows the researcher space to maneuver and attain freedom in analyzing the patterns of mediation whilst not taking into account the motives of the disputants and the mediator. It is closely linked to rational choice theories which explain the occurrence of mediation rational choice theories which explain mediation and and its success by significant signposts such as timing and power. This approach, which is the first approach will consider a ceasefire or a peace treaty or other political settlements in addition to opening a dialogue and reduction in bitterness and indicators of successful mediation and is useful in the measurement of success however, at the same time it fails to equate to the effectiveness of mediation. Hence, this approach pertains to any discussion of the interpretations of the parties to the bargaining process and explains how mediation may be successful by focusing on the process of communication by changing the parties attitudes where results are seen as upshots of goals and values.

Accordingly it is suggested that the three cases examined in this study are associated with successful mediation efforts. Although some are less clear-cut than others they all are – and are the only – cases of binding agreements between Israel and the Arabs that were heralded as successes by observers as well as practitioners. Moreover, they were closely linked to some patterns of change in attitudes and perceptions on both sides. The limited scope of this study precludes a comprehensive treatment of all the likely conditions for success in mediation.The three hypotheses examined here, however, touch upon three elements of mediation that have proved central in nearly every mediation effort in the Middle East. While the notions of power, impartiality and timing provide a constant source of debate between scholars, they are recognized as having considerable relevance to the outcome of any mediation effort.Whatever the method used to evaluate these mediator qualities, it is evident that the mediator’s power (leverage) and its perceived impartiality are of utmost relevance to its chances of success. Power and impartiality can be attached to one mediation process and explained by the absence of another. If they are grouped together the idea of power, impartiality and timing can help explain mediation success and failure and enable a better understanding of the concept of mediation. The question is, what kind of mediator is likely to succeed in each phase of the conflict? Some scholars see the conditions that pertain to success in futility in terms of as the regional, political and cultural aspects, whilst others see mediation in terms of desired qualities of the mediator and conditions such as the nature of conflict and the interactiveness of the disputes issues. However, both approaches are problematic as the first approach has risen issues; it focuses on a single case study regarding theoretical and practical conditions for mediation success. The variables in this process are so many that it would be difficult to describe mediator behavior in relation to sequence, timing and the use or non use of the various functions available. The second approach on the other hand offers over simplistic alternatives that attains conditions and attributes that if is used in an appropriate manner will lead to a successful outcome. However, these abstracted notions propose ideal types of mediators that rarely exist in reality and these descriptive attempts do very little to enhance our understanding of the process of mediation and what will lead to successful mediation.


Power refers to the mediators ability to move a party in its intended direction. However, as it is voluntary, non binding and non violent by nature the mediation will ensure that the power lies with the disputants as they have the power to begin a mediation and similarly they have a right to terminate it. Prior to the mediation, the mediator must be accepted by the disputant parties. The dominant aspect is for the mediator to satisfy the expectations of both parties through the use of various mediation techniques and strategies. Mediators enjoy six different bases of power which includes, 1) the reward power, which enables the  mediator to offer the disputants side payments in exchange for changes in behavior; (2) coercive power, which relies on threats and sanctions in order to change disputants’ behavior; (3) expert power, which derives from the mediator’s knowledge and expertise on relevant issues; (4) legitimate power, based on legal authority or international law; (5) referent power, which stems from the relationship between the mediator and the disputants; and (6) informational power, which positions the mediator as a message carrier between the disputants. Evidently, powerful mediators maintain an advantage in disputes issues, nevertheless the mediators disputed issue is the decisive factor that makes them acceptable to the disputants. Less powerful mediators, can therefore offer more procedural rather than substantive help.

The power of mediation refers to two aspects, one is social power which relates to the resources and relationships that the mediator brings to the conflict. The other refers to tactical strength and refers to what the negotiator does at the negotiating table. These methods may be used by less powerful mediators which combine strategic and tactical strengths which is invaluable in producing an agreement.


Impartiality or bias of the mediator is a matter of the perceptions of the disputants. Some studies argue that mediation requires the mediator to be impartial, others require that impartiality is not necessary for successful mediation and in some cases may interfere.  According to Asaf, impartiality is an “impartial and neutral third party who has no authoritative decision making power to assist a dispute arising amongst parties in voluntarily reaching their own mutually acceptable settlement of issues in a dispute especially when a mediators influence attain certain resources that are valued by the disputants”.[1] This in turn can pertain to two styles of mediation, one low power, low stake mediator, and the other high power and high stake mediator. These two approaches advocate a right approach to impartiality but offers great terminology the reason behind the success of mediators with some power. Neutral mediators are more attractive due to their perceived impartiality and their ability to push the disputants towards an agreement by rewarding or depriving of certain resources. However, mediators that have power is to mediate pass on their assumptions and expectation that they will not favor a particular party during the process and to only negotiate the settlement. In some cases where the mediator is more powerful, impartiality is not necessary and is not expected by the disputants; what is significant is the mediators ability to deliver.[2]


Knowing when to use mediation may be more important than how often it is used. Mediation is more likely to succeed when both disputants have decided that the continuing costs of the status quo are no longer tolerable or, in other words, when the disputants have come to the conclusion that they will be better off with a settlement than without one. This will be the right opportunity for the mediator to succeed. The question is when do we know when the right moment is? It is found that the right moment to succeed is when the disputants perceive that there is a crises or emergency. As a result, successful mediation is based on the level of violence and the identity of the mediator. The point in which they will enter in the in the cycle of conflict suggest that as long as the level of violence is not high is when perceptions on both sides have not completely hardened and alternatives to mediation still seem admirable.[3]

 Theres cases will be examined against the three hypotheses presented above.  If we  can identify similar patterns of mediator behavior, which suggest, for example, that impartiality is an essential trait if third parties are to be successful? To what extent were functions of power conducive to the successful result of the four mediation efforts? Finally, to what degree were the successful outcomes in all four cases affected by the intermediaries’ point of entry into the conflict cycle?

The Arab Israeli Conflict: Three Cases of Successful Mediation.

Despite the numerous mediation efforts during nearly six decades of conflict, in only three cases were mediators successful in promoting substantive agreements between Israelis and Arabs. First, in the wake of the first Arab–Israeli war, UN mediator Dr Ralph Bunche successfully mediated four armistice agreements between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Second, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger skillfully orchestrated three disengagement agreements between Israel and Egypt and Syria.

Third, some five years later, US President Jimmy Carter successfully negotiated the first Arab–Israeli peace treaty, between Israel and Egypt.[1]

Case One:

Ralph Bunche Power, Impartiality and Conflict at the Escalatory Phase.

One of the earliest mediators in the Arab–Israeli conflict, Dr Bunche was the deputy of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, who was appointed almost simultaneously with the inception of the first Arab–Israeli war in May 1948. Starting in February 1949 on the island of Rhodes, Bunche effectively brought the first Arab–Israeli war to an end by overseeing complex negotiations between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. However, Bunche’s personal qualities as a mediator go only a certain way to explain his success at the negotiation table. His leverage over the disputants and his perceived impartiality, as well as his entry to the conflict at an escalatory phase, contributed to the successful conclusion of his mediation efforts.

Case Two:

Henry Kissinger: Power, Bias and Conflict at Escalatory Phase.

The Yom Kippur War of October 1973 proved to be a watershed not only in terms of the role of the US in the conflict, but also in the profile and functions of the American mediator.  There were three objectives that aimed to secure the US foreign policy where Kissinger chose conclude a series of small agreements that would help promote confidence between the disputants which could then be built upon at a later stage during the negotiations. The first objective was to mend relations with the Arab world, by lifting the oil embargo of the Arab oil producing countries and pushing the Soviets out of the Middle East. Power was the primary factor in Kissinger’s mediation style and was able to reward approval in the form of military and economic aid. Moreover, the Americans wanted to bring an end to the energy crises and to improve relations with the Arab world, and seemed that Kissinger was more eager to conclude an agreement than the disputants themselves. He entered the conflict when it reached a phase where the parties could no longer tolerate the continuing costs of war.  The experience of Kissinger’s diplomacy, therefore, confirms the hypotheses on power and timing, but refutes the proposition that an impartial mediator is necessarily more likely to succeed than a biased one.[2]

Case Three:

Camp Davis Accords: Power, Impartiality and Timing at the De-escalatory Phase.

This case refutes the hypothesis that successful mediation will necessarily take place at the conflict’s escalatory phase. The Yon Kippur war was the result of the disengagement agreements that arouse from the Israel Egypt peace treaty which was signed in 1979. Henry Kissinger was no longer in office in 1978, and despite the diplomatic triumphs after the way, Israeli and Egyptian leaders found it difficult to make a crucial step towards a final comprehensive peace settlement. This is due to the fact that tension arose between the Egyptian and Israeli teams that prevented them from progressing. At this point President Cater  proved two functions of mediators, one is to minimize misunderstandings and miscommunications between the disputants and secondly to act as a helpful source by gathering information on the other side. To some extent the Israel–Egypt peace treaty which was signed in 1979 was the inevitable result of the disengagement agreements that came in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. Although Henry Kissinger was no longer in office in 1978, the Camp David Accords that were concluded that year certainly built on his earlier achievements and the momentum for peace they had created. Despite the diplomatic triumphs in the aftermath of the war, Israeli and Egyptian leaders found it difficult to make the crucial step towards a final, comprehensive peace settlement.The conflict between Israel and Egypt was undoubtedly in its impending phase, as witnessed by President Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem and his address to the Israeli Knesset in November 1977.  In this case it is perceived that in order for mediation to be successful it has to be in the conflicts escalated phase; however, the difficulty of an escalated case is that the parties must be walked back through the stages of escalation. In this case the other sides position was difficult to be read as a result of conflicting cultures, which resulted to a failure of significant progress. The president needed to bring together the needs of a hierarchical and traditionalist Egypt and a democratic and westernized Israel. Sadat and Begin had culturally divergent personalities, and contrasting negotiation styles due to their cultures.  Sadat tended to talk about general principles and broad strategic concepts. Carter acknowledged that his role as mediator would be shaped by these cultural differences, and was indeed successful in reconciling Sadat’s philosophical and intuitive expositions and Begin’s point-by-point debating technique. President Carter’s intervention at this point (upon Sadat’s request) in order to save the talks from reaching a deadlock aimed to provide two basic mediator functions: to minimize misunderstandings and miscommunications between the disputants, and to act as a helpful source for pooling information on the other side. Being a powerful mediator, Carter was adroit in using a variety of techniques to accommodate the culturally different styles of negotiation the two leaders brought to Camp David. Carter is considered to be the ultimate impartial mediator as neither party failed to feel favored, given the fact that both Israel and Egypt were not enthusiastic following Carters election and that nigher party was completely satisfied with the terms of the peace treaty. This case then confirms the two hypotheses on power and impartiality, but debates the idea that mediation is more likely to succeed during the conflicts escalatory phase. [3]


Powerful , and impartial mediations who are involved during the peak of the conflict are more likely to be successful. In the Arab Israeli conflict, mediators that had power were more successful than pure mediators. Pure mediators may only enjoy success in the early stages of the negotiation process, and that only powerful mediations can successfully monitor and ensure the implementation of the agreement. While pure mediators may be successful in the procedural, more functional aspects of mediation, powerful mediators are still essential in every mediation effort in the Arab–Israeli conflict in order to help the parties jump over the last hurdle, and to ensure the implementation of the agreement.There may be a case for engaging with a more powerful actor as a monitor and enforcer to support the process once it has been initiated by a ‘pure’ mediator. The historical record also suggests that the mediator’s impartiality or bias has no definitive bearing on the likelihood of mediation success, although three out of the four successful mediators used a variety of power strategies to exert leverage during negotiations. At least with reference to the Arab–Israeli conflict then, the three cases hint that power matters more than impartiality. Finally, the timing of intervention has proved crucial to the disputants’ inclination to accept the mediation effort in the first place. Perhaps more than any other factor, good timing is likely to contribute to a high likelihood of success. To sum up, it is evident that any of the three parameters alone cannot guarantee a successful outcome; nor does the existence of all three necessarily guarantee success. Often the mediation process is shaped by psychological, personal and cultural attributes on behalf of the mediator as well as the disputants, the impact of which is difficult to measure. Nevertheless, understanding the importance of power and impartiality in the process of the mediation, and the impact of the timing of the intervention on the disputants’ motivation to acquiesce, can help us to contextualize past and present mediation efforts, and to extract valuable lessons about the conditions for successful mediation in the future.


[1] Princen, Thomas. “Intermediaries in International Conflict”. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, P3. 1992.

[2] Id.

[3] Siniver, Asaf., “Power, Impartiality and Timing: Three Hypotheses on Third Party Mediation in the Middle East.” University of Nottingham. Political Studies 2006 Vol 54, pp. 806-826.

[4] Id. at 812.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 813.

[7] Id. at 815.

[8] Id. at 816-817.

[9] Id. at 819-820.


Being awarded with an LLM in International Dispute Resolution and Arbitration from the University of Pepperdine has allowed me to learn more about disputes’ dynamics, national and international laws’ interplay, and the effective mechanisms to address a wide variety of disputes ranging from international commercial disputes to international investment disputes. I have also completed another Masters in International Commercial Law from the University of Westminster in London.  This gave me the opportunity to develop knowledge in the English and European legal system as I nurtured a deep level of knowledge about European Union Law, and wrote my Dissertation on the Liberalization of the Energy Market in the European Union. 

I was awarded with a certification for mediation last year from the Center for Dispute Settlement. Being in Europe where I was raised, provided me with the opportunity to be exposed to multicultural environments and settings. This opportunity has taught me to connect with people that are from a diverse range of cultural, socio-economic and political perspectives. Moreover, my teaching experience in the University of Westminster in London in the area of management and economics enabled me to enhance my learnings in the leadership and communication skills, which has taught me how I can relate to others in culturally sensitive ways. In terms of legal experience, I am director and legal advisor of Nexdon LLC. My duty is to draft contracts, and manage any conflicts that may occur, manage statistical and financial records, set and achieve sales and profit targets, recruit, train,  monitor staff, and negotiate with contractors and suppliers.

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