Those who negotiated for example in Iraq, Sudan, Kuwait, Kosovo, Libya, South Africa and Ireland say that whoever talks the most during a negotiation loses. Listening is crucial to building trust, and that is what I did. However, listening, really paying attention to what the other person has to say, is hard. It is hard because listening means considering the other side’s point of view and that could mean compromises. In the forthcoming negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, instead of saying NO, instead of talking to convince one’s own side, instead of issuing a demand or a rejection perhaps a real dialogue can commence with the statement “I want to talk about an issue important to me, but first I want to hear what you have to say about it.”
The Israeli – Palestinian negotiations are all about the distribution of a known set of commodities or resources, predominantly land. Typical in such negotiations one side starts high and the other low, and the dance goes on until either an agreement is reached or one or both walk away. For a deal to work positions and interests need to be well defined and for compromises to be accepted by both sides. This is possible except for the issue of Jerusalem, of which there is only one, and both sides want it, with a potential zero-sum outcome. Divided with an equal share to each, both sides may still be unhappy and another argument could quickly ensue. Going into negotiations on Jerusalem both sides require a clear understanding of their own interests, not just a desire for a commodity, and the willingness to prioritize them in a dialogue. Inadequate planning is the biggest mistake made in negotiations. Israeli negotiators need to be clear how they are going to handle Jerusalem before they start, what does Israel want and what is Israel willing to compromise, or else they shouldn’t even start the talks for there will be no deal. When negotiation is not successful, an even greater dispute can follow.
The – I win you lose – syndrome generates animosity and can be avoided by focussing on interests not positions, by separating the people from the problem, by inventing options for mutual gain and by learning how to talk so people will listen; because there is no such thing as lasting peace. Peace is a process that needs to be constantly revisited, it is not a prize or an endgame. To achieve this negotiations must be leadership-driven and they must lead the communication process, not spokesmen or the media. In the negotiations all positions must be credible giving the perception of truthfulness and respect. The sides must engage in a dialogue and not just present their demands so they must engage in a multi-faceted exchange of ideas. To be successful there has to be a unity of effort with the negotiators integrated and coordinated – speaking with one voice. Any proposal on the table demands all sides to be responsive. The efforts must be transparent to the population, namely the right audience, message, time, and place. Despite different views there has to be understanding and a deep comprehension of others. To be successful the negotiators have to be pervasive as every action sends a message. The purpose of the negotiations is results-based and tied to a desired end state. There is no value in negotiating only because the Americans want negotiations because when negotiation is not successful even greater disputes can follow. The talks must be continuous with views based on analysis, planning, execution and assessment.
If Israel is serious about a two-state solution then the State of Palestine will be created and if the Palestinians are serious about Peace in exchange for this state then all Jews and Israelis can travel, work and even live in such a state. Peace is coexistence where Abu Mazen needs to listen, he needs to pay attention and he needs to stop being provocative with idle talk and incitement. Israel can walk away from the forthcoming talks with the State of Israel intact, with her security ensured and with 100% control of Jerusalem. If international pressure and/ or security requirements becomes so great Israel can effect a unilateral withdrawal without any negotiations. Abu Mazen, leader of the Palestinians, has all to gain yet he also has all to lose if he is not willing to compromise and if he is not willing to coexist with all Israelis.
Dr Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication