With such low expectations, the outcome of Tuesday’s direct meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators – another meeting scheduled for a week later – has been seen as a positive step. Neither managed to do anything in three and half hours worthy of blowing up the process.
The 2012 predictions for the conflict have been grim pretty much across the board. With some desperate to break the cycle of failure, people are suggesting new solutions, decrying the death of the two-state solution compromise and predicting dire consequences for the continuation of the status quo.
Repeating the same operation again and again while expecting different outcomes is not only the definition of insanity, but it excludes any creative thinking from legitimate discourse. While some would change the players at the table and others would abandon the table all together, I would suggest a change in the style of the negotiations.
In negotiation literature, there are generally five different dominant conflict modes that people take: competitive, collaborative, compromising, accommodating and avoiding. I would argue that in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, those tasked with forming a successful outcome have been restricted to being competitive, accommodating and compromising.
In the claims and counter claims, the negotiators are looking to make sure that their core and sacred issues are taken into account when looking at the different packages of conflict resolution. The negotiators compete to see who can win more for their side.
In listening to each other, the negotiators also accommodate the view of the other, becoming less assertive in their own position and increase their cooperation passively allowing the issues of the other to be raised.
After both these operations the sides try and see where they can compromise. These compromises are seen by each of their own sides as what has been lost rather than what has been gained.
These modes of assertive non-cooperative competitiveness and non-assertive cooperative accommodation allow each side to listen to each other’s positions, but never really internalise them. Security for Israel and sovereignty for the Palestinians are issues understood by both sides but are not seen as codependent. Each side looks to split the differences on issues that both people feel are sacred.
The change that needs to happen is a move from the competitive, accommodative, compromise to a collaborative mindset. Here the negotiators are both assertive and cooperative, rather then trading concerns they look together to try and create value together.
In order for this move to happen however, the issues of both peoples need to be internalised and a solution found that satisfies the concerns of both. While the power dynamics of this conflict are anything but equal, a solution will need to recognise the needs of both people if it is ever to be accepted by the populations. A deal will never work that is imposed onto an unwilling populace.
It is not the negotiators who lack the ability to be collaborative but the current toxic environments in both societies that honor those who oppose dialogue as heroes and patriots and condemns those who look to work with the other as a leftist fringe and normalisers. The inability to accept the viewpoint of the other is seen as a test of ones nationalist credentials today.
Collaboration to end the occupation and establish an independent viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel must be the aim of all those who want to see an end to this conflict. Collaboration means not looking for a transaction of rights, territory peace and security, but finding a solution that incorporates all of these facets. If this round of negotiations again looks to be a haggling match, trading Jerusalem for refugees, or security for settlements we will again end in failure.
The access and attitudes of the populations to the issues at the heart of the conflict need to change more than the solution does. 2012 begins with forces in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories aiming to push the populations further apart. Unless these are countered yet another year will be wasted in failure, frustration, disappointment and anger.