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Incrementaled to Death: Peacemaking in the Middle East

Not again! The Road Map for peace, put forth by the quartet (US, EU, UN, and Russia), certainly appears to be the same old approach to the same old problem. While the initial phase to cool down the hostilities is necessary, the inability to begin discussing (note: I did not say solving) the central issues in the conflict from the initial phase will likely doom this process to the rubble that now covers the previous Oslo Process.

The problem is related to the sequencing of issues. The parties at the table are being asked to take small steps to build trust as they move toward the end goal of a two state system with a satisfactory solution to the issues of Jerusalem, the Israeli Settlements, and the Palestinian Right of Return. These issues have been left to the end of every process to date and that has gotten the parties…well, a lot of bloodshed. The reality is that as small steps are taken and trust is tentatively built, spoilers – those who do not want a peace process to transpire – have ample opportunity to reverse any such progress. This makes the people on the ground suspicious of the process and witness little gain for themselves in their own lives.

At the Egyptian resort of Taba in September 2000 the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators needed, by most of their accounts, a few more weeks in order to reach an agreement on the final status problems. The majority of those in the conflict on both sides know what the parameters are to the solution – both Israelis and Palestinian have states, with a sharing of Jerusalem, a stop to illegal settlements (and returning some of the land to the Palestinians), and a symbolic right of return and some type of reparations for those Palestinians evicted from their homes in 1948.

Maybe, just maybe, it is time for a change in strategy. Start dealing with the core problems now and make genuine and visible progress. This is not only the best way to build real trust between the negotiators but it is also the best way to stave off the spoilers, and show the respective populaces that peace does have a dividend in both human and economic terms. And include a positive and powerful role (or series of roles) for the local communities in any solution. This will create ownership in the process on the ground where it has been sorely lacking. In negotiation expert William Ury’s terminology, empower the “Third Side.”

This strategy is clearly risky because it puts a focus on the core of the conflict from the beginning of the process. However, when pitted against the current backdrop how much more risk is there to take? When a conflict has reached this stage – constant death, collective fatalism, and a lack of innovative approaches — it may very well take a dramatic and jolting act to alter its course permanently (e.g. Recall Sadat’s stunning trip to Jerusalem). Both sides are at a loss for what to do. Neither has an answer but to try the same old trick to see if this will work. This new approach is worth a try and can be done. What stands in the way is the will of the parties to take this chance.


Joshua N. Weiss

Dr. Joshua N. Weiss is a negotiation expert and the co-founder of the Global Negotiation Initiative at Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in 2002. Dr. Weiss has spoken and published on Negotiation, Mediation, and systemic approaches to… MORE >

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