Eliezer Finkelman

Honest Brokers Sincerely Try to Help

Mediators working on the hostage situation seek to get the best possible deal to bring the hostages home to their families as soon as possible.

Or, to put that thought in different words:

Mediators working on the hostage situation seek to get the best possible deal to get the best possible rewards for the hostage-takers in exchange for their prisoners.

The two statements are equivalent because:

For mediation to work, it needs to get the best deal possible under the circumstances for each side.  A good mediation gets the best possible deal – under the circumstances — for both sides, by definition.

Even though mediation does not take sides, in the hostage situation, it comes out more or less the same as advocacy for hostage taking.  It makes hostage taking as profitable as possible, and thus increases the incentive to take hostages in the future.  It helps increase the ransom for hostage-taking.  It helps normalize kidnapping.

For example, imagine the mediator saying, “The kidnappers will certainly reject your ransom offer.  If you want to get the hostages home, you will have to make a more generous offer.”

The mediator, at that moment, does not seem to take sides; the mediator just realistically assesses the situation, helping to get to “yes.”  Does not seem to take sides, but at that moment the mediator helps the kidnappers gets more of what they want.

Another example: Imagine the hosts threatening to expel the negotiating team of the kidnappers.  That would disrupt the negotiations, so the mediators, in order to keep the negotiations going, might need to argue for protecting the living arrangements of members of the kidnapping team.  Protecting the hostage-takers thus becomes part of the job of the value-free, well-intentioned, neutral mediators.

By the same value-free logic, the mediators should also have to defend the brutal negotiating tactics on the other side, the side victimized by hostage-taking.  Instead of paying a higher ransom, that side might threaten a greater penalty.  If the hostage-takers want a list of their cohort — convicted murderers — released from prison in exchange for releasing an innocent hostage, the other side might offer to kill one of those favorite convicts each week that an innocent hostage does not get released.

That smells horrible.  Perhaps mediation does not want to become so value-free.

But negotiating to get the best deal for the kidnappers does not smell much better.

About the Author
Louis Finkelman currently resides in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Until recently, he taught Literature and Writing at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, and served as half the rabbinic team at Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park, Michigan.
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