Virus and Mediation, A Pox on both your Houses

The Coronavirus  has brought our thriving dynamic world  here in Israel to a grinding halt.  Our children serving in the army have been told that all leave, including the cherished “Shabbatot-Weekend leave” has been canceled for at least a month.  All leisure activities and non-essential activities have been canceled and as I discovered when I ventured out to the pharmacy today – even the quintessential  Israeli queue has undergone a radical change.  Seven or eight people stood in line – ensuring two meters between each other and not a single person tried to cut into the space.  In pre-virus days – a gap of 20 centimeters was an open invitation to be filled.

We are continually updated about our new universal enemy who is truly egalitarian, refreshingly not racist, although definitely ageist and seemingly misanthropic.   The virus has stopped our civilization in its tracks, grounded  travelers,  confined  people to  their houses and most insidiously, sowed  fear around the globe.

In the last few days, we at  the Mosaica Conflict Resolution Center have been discussing whether mediation is an ‘essential’ activity which can be conducted in a room with a two-meter separation between each person.  Our conclusion was that people would not feel comfortable in this setting, the fear of the virus may prevent people turning up and that mediation may not qualify as an essential activity which should continue even in these strange times.  The court system seems to concur.  So right now, medications are virtual unless they are classified as essential and this is when tensions are high as people are increasingly spending more times in their homes.

This is simply wrong.  .  Mediation needs to be reclassified as an essential activity.  We are now in the midst of a global catastrophe with far reaching implications for  all aspects of our lives.  Yet, here in Israel we do not have a government and it is increasingly looking like the only result of the third elections will be a call for another election.   Our President has tried to talk to the leaders of the two largest parties and persuade them to find a way of working together.  He tried after the first election, he tried after the second elections and he is trying again  The leaders have agreed to negotiate.  So, today, following election number three everything looks eerily  similar to the aftermath of  elections number one  and number two.

This time it has to be different. This time we are facing a plague which is threatening lives and our way of life.  The only way to move forward it to remove the egos, forgo  positions and focus on the interests.  The assertions  of who will be the Prime Minister first  and for how long, and  whether an   indicted Prime Minister must  leave his office  are  both   “positions” postulated by the leaders of the major parties and these positions  belie underlying interests. The key to reaching agreement is to uncover and focus on interests.  Today the overall common interest is that there is a  need to work together to survive the next two months as we combat the deadly COVID-19.   This dominant interest, as well as many others, need to be the focus of the discussion.  In order to make the essential move from positions  to interests we need a skilled and experienced mediator. Mediation is essential and  must take place today, despite the restrictions. And it can be done with less than 10 in the room.

The words of a very wise woman, who studied mediation when she was over 80 years old,  have been reverberating in my ears over this past 24 hours.  When the disputing parties in her simulated mediation  refused to recognize their commonalities and come to an agreement, she blurted out the words “A Pox on both your Houses”.

Tragically the Pox is rebounding onto all of us.

About the Author
Nurit Bachrach made Aliya from Australia in 1985. She is a qualified lawyer who worked for 10 years as a public prosecutor in Israel, founded the Mosaica Center of Conflict Resolution by Agreement in 2003 and has been the executive director of Mosaica , Religion, Society and State since 2016. She lives with her family in Jerusalem.
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