Although he was reiterating pre-existing United States policy, President Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet last week with a call for Israel to acknowledge a Palestinian state and go back to the pre-1967 borders.
Unsurprisingly, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the notion, leaving a number of commentators to say that his response left Israeli-U.S. relations in crisis and the peace process in tatters.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, perhaps grateful from a diversion from what Slate called his recent quest to look authentic while explaining his support for comprehensive health care in Massachusetts and rejection of that same policy for the nation, said the Obama threw Israel under the bus-a phrase that seems to have much currency as “jumping the shark” did in past years.
Whatever the reality of these statements, few would argue with the notion that the path to true peace in the region seems murky indeed at this moment.
As some noted, even if the borders are resolved, the issue of Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return remain, with seemingly little, if any, room for resolution.
I of course have not been involved in the Middle East negotiations, but I did serve in 1997 as a middle school representative on the negotiating team for our local teachers’ union.
We had had extremely tense relations with the school committee marked by very low levels of trust on both sides.
As a team member, I participated in a two-day training designed to help us move toward a more positive interaction. The leaders of the training had trained with Harvard professor Roger Fischer, and drew liberally on the ideas he endorsed in Getting to Yes.
In the book, Fischer advanced the idea of interest-based, rather than positional, bargaining. Under this approach, rather than take a position and hold rigidly to it with the knowledge that eventually one will drop the figure of a raise, for instance, both sides tried to understand the interests of the other side, to share common information on which to base their assessments, and then to create options that would meet both groups’ interests.
Another aspect of the method was to seek to create a trail of small agreements that would increase both sides’ investment in, and commitment to, the process. The idea there was to get people engaged enough that they considered working together through the harder issues more desirable than breaking off conversation altogether.
In our context, the method worked very well indeed.
Whereas before we had had work actions and a contract settled through arbitration, we got the deal done two months early. We got a 12.25 percent raise over three years, additional money for seniority and protection around hours worked that had not been there before.
Fischer’s book does mention the interest-based bargaining method in the context of the Middle East in a section where he writes about erstwhile rivals and enemies Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin reaching a peace treaty that thus far has held for more than 30 years.
Of course, as former team member Russell Brandwein, an avowed anarcho-syndicalist noted about Sadat, “Look what happened to him.”
For those who do not remember, Sadat’s murder contributed to a chain of events that saw recently deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak rise to power.
What do you think will happen? Did Obama do the right or wrong thing? What role has the Arab Spring played?