21 March 2007

19 March 2007 – Alternative rights

I’m resuming my blog this week after a short hiatus, during which I made a quick trip back to South Africa. Interesting political developments are unfolding—including Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille’s declaration that she will run for the leadership of the Democratic Alliance, the country’s biggest opposition party. Also, events in Zimbabwe seem to be heading toward a climax—but Mugabe’s survived worse, so we’ll see.

The negotiation book I’ve been reading, 3D Negotiation: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals, suggests that negotiators look for ways to “create value,” or to “enlarge the pie” so that negotiations can move beyond zero-sum games. One example it offers is the Camp David Accords that brought peace—thus far durable—to Israel and Egypt, which had been fighting for decades.

The authors, David A. Laz and James K. Sebenius, write: “Rather than a zero-sum battle over where to draw a line in the sand, they came up with a demilitarized one under the Egyptian flag; the kinds of value they created were not mainly economic, but involving security for the Israelis and sovereignty for the Egyptians.” (16-17)

Instead of trying to split the land—which invariably invites argument over who deserves what more and who attacked whom first, and provides opportunities for all kinds of ruptures—the two sides at Camp David eventually agreed to trade sovereignty for security, land for peace. The lesson is that differences between what the two sides want might be the terrain on which deals are made, not broken.

Would there be chances to achieve similar trade-offs between Israel and the Palestinians? The land-for-peace formula hasn’t seemed to work. Partly that is due to Palestinian inability and unwillingness to enforce agreements. The Israelis haven’t always played along, either. And the failure is partly due to the interim nature of the process that’s been followed thus far, which allows for interruptions.

But perhaps there’s a way of exchanging rights that would lead to a stable agreement. Maybe not just land for peace, but something else, perhaps based on the existing partnerships and trade-offs in economic and environmental affairs. Perhaps—I’m just thinking aloud here—Israeli settlers could be allowed to stay in areas like Hebron in equal proportion to the number of Palestinians allowed to “return” to Israel.

Or perhaps Palestinians could be guaranteed some kind of shared ownership of something in Israel in exchange for concession—some kind of deal that would allow both Palestinians and Israelis to claim all of the land in a symbolic way while limiting real claims in conformity with a two-state solution. This would enable both sides to claim a kind of victory while recognizing each other’s claims and sovereignty.

Another one of the theorists I’ve been reading lately is James M. Buchanan—specifically, his work The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan. In it, he argues that there is no real difference between property rights and what we call human rights. He also argues that we cannot all have equal rights, otherwise no exchanges would take place, but that the process of assigning and trading rights has to be neutral. (14)

He may be right, and casting Israeli rights and Palestinian rights differently might prompt the two sides towards negotiation. However, perhaps recognizing the equal rights of Israelis and Palestinians will create the mutual recognition—and mutual recognition of the costs of the conflict—that is also a necessary condition for negotiations. Perhaps framing both sides’ claims in equal terms is the answer?

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