09 October 2007

09 October 2007 - Internal and external negotiations

Over the long weekend, I read a paper provided to me by Prof. Robert Mnookin, head of the Harvard Program on Negotiation. Written by Mnookin with Ehud Eiran and Sreemati Mitter, and published in the Winter 2005/2006 edition of the Nevada Law Journal, the paper, “Barriers to Progress at the Negotiation Table: Internal Conflicts Among Israelis and Palestinians,” makes some interesting points.

After reviewing the history of the conflict as understood by the two sides, the authors describe the internal conflicts that prevent each side from making a deal. They focus on the Palestinian debates over whether to give up the “right of return,” and the Israeli arguments over the fate of the settlements. The inability to reach accord within each society, they argue, prevents progress in the peace process.

This is true to some extent, although I think it needs a few caveats. The first is that internal conflict on one side is sufficient in itself to prevent the progress of negotiations. And given that the Israeli political system has been better—perhaps by a small margin at times—at resolving these conflicts, I think the Palestinian internal conflicts have played a far more important role in obstructing peace.

Another important caveat is that internal conflict can be useful in negotiations. In my internataional negotiations class, we have learned that the degree to which a negotiator’s hands are tied—the smallness of the “win-set” of possibilities that will satisfy her constituents—can actually help her wrest concessions at the bargaining table. Too small a win-set means no deal, but a small one can move things along.

A simple way to explain the failure of the peace process thus far is that the minimum the Palestinians are willing to accept exceeds the maximum that the Israelis are willing to offer. But some portion of the Palestinian leadership is, at least theoretically, willing to accept Israel’s current terms, and it is not clear how Israel could really offer or concede much more than it has in the past.

The challenge is twofold: first, to build Palestinian institutions that are capable of negotiating these internal conflicts, and capable of delivering on commitments made during negotiations; second, to create negotiating processes and encourage leaders that are capable of turning the zone of possible agreement (where the “win-sets” overlap) into a political reality, a magnet that pulls both sides towards a deal.

79 Comments:

At 11:16 AM, Blogger David said...

Shalom Joel,

I believe your model will tested in real life soon. The up coming Annapolis conference is likely to lead to success because of Bush's big stick. The reason you don't hear this prognosis is the self-righteousness of the pundits who hate Bush. But the difference between Bush and previous presidents is the degree to which Bush has militarily stood up to Islamic terror. With the recent Israeli neutralization of a Korean/Syrian construction site in North Syria demonstrating that the Soviet supplied anti-aircraft technology in Iranian and Syrian possession is useless, there can be no question that the fear level of the Iranian block is through the roof. Whatever brave faces any player presents to the world, WMD's are frightening and it is precisely the belief that Bush will engage militarily which will move the parties forward in a way that no previous president was able to do. The basic orientations of the various political players and on the ground constituencies remaining more or less constant, and with Israel now willing to deal more to an Abbas severely divided from Hamas, this time the hard bargaining will be consummated in agreement. Then with this agreement in hand, the USA and Europe will take on Iran and its allies, each of which has internal difficulties. It is instructive that the US Democratic party has not been able to formulate its 2008 election platform on an anti-terror war plank. Its front runner straddles between the political center and move-on.org with great dexterity. whereas those behind her take the more unambivalent anti-war position. With all of its blunders and mistakes it appears that the Bush Administration is going to have some foreign policy successes after all. The price, of course, if it does not have those successes, could get quite messy, and that is precisely my point.

 
At 2:23 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Thanks for the great comment, David!

 
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