My diplomacy seminar always offers such great reading opportunities. Last week, it was Getting to Yes, a work of Harvard University's "Conflict Resolution Project" that acts as a sort of a "how-to" manual for successful negotiations. (i.e. fairly conducted and producing a mutually-accepted outcome) The secret, according to the authors, is for the two sides to avoid positional bargaining, negotiating on the basis of substantive "interests" rather than rhetorical stances and fostering an atmosphere of mutual understanding to work out a solution acceptable to both .
As I read, I could not help being reminded of perhaps the world's longest-running ongoing conflicts (and one that is particularly close to home for me), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Much of the passion that sustains and aggravates the "conflict" stems not from concrete concerns of land rights or religious divergence but from the total misalignment of Israeli and Palestinian narratives.
For Israelis and (most) members of the Jewish diaspora (a group that I situate on "Planet Israel"), the conflict is exactly what the word implies, a dispute sparked by real estate and aggravated by religious differences. Both sides have equally valid and longstanding claims to the land (based on religious and historical ties) and therefore, a "peace process" that aims at negotiating territorial "sovereignty" with "mutual" concessions (over both laic and religious property (i.e. "borders" and "Jerusalem")), is the way to go.
Of course, some Likudniks might interject that "security concerns" or Palestinian deceitfulness necessitate a more defensible Jewish claim. But since the 1990's Oslo negotiations, the principle of "two states for two peoples" has gradually acquired consensus support, to the point where even Benjamin Netanyahu, formerly the peace process's most ardent opponent, has given lip service..
On the other hand, according to most Palestinians (and Palestinian sympathizers), the root grievance goes back to the founding of the state of Israel, with the so-called "Nakba" of 1948. Under the duress of war, more than 700,000 Arabs fled from the territory of present-day Israel proper, only to be prevented from returning by a newfound "Jewish" state, desiring a majority-Jewish demographic.
The ensuing narrative stresses a continual process of "ethnic cleansing," colonization and a "struggle" against Israeli oppression (both through Israel's Occupation of the Palestinian territories and prevention of the refugees' return).
On planet Israel, the Palestinian demand for a right of return and refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state are perceived as scraps thrown to hardcore irredentists and fundamentalists, who must eventually come around (like the Likud) to pursuing peace on the basis of sovereignty.
Such comparisons send shock waves through Planet Palestine, which perceives the rhetoric of reconciliation and sovereignty as conceitedly ignorant of the need for justice if not a conscious attempt at pedagogical "oppression," a la Freire. Palestinians, it is often said, have no grievance against Jews or even Israel so much as against a "dispossessing" Zionist state-building project.
It is frustrating to see a sixty-five year cycle of antagonism spawn ever more hatred and daily violence when truly constructive steps could be undertaken if only each side were to change its perceptive framework.
Reading Ury and Fisher's book gives me a refreshing reminder, "follow these steps!"
Unfortunately the repeated refusal of the opposing parties to even passively listen to the other's narrative, as evidenced, for instance, by Jewish student organization's attempts to uphold guidelines excluding "anti-" or "non-" zionist, makes the implementation of the Fisher and Ury's strategy remote to even be reassuring.