Obama’s Israel moment, Roger Fischer’s Getting to Yes.

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?


6 responses to “Obama’s Israel moment, Roger Fischer’s Getting to Yes.

  1. Hey Jeff…this issue has been much on my mind. I found Netanyahu’s behavior in the Oval Office presumptuous, bullying, and short-sited. He has AIPAC and Congress and opportunistic Republicans willing to go along, but today PBO sternly, respectfully, and clearly reiterated AGAIN to AIPAC today what the media got wrong on Thursday: go back to ’67 borders with land swaps…the media didn’t focus on the “with land swaps part” and created confusion which Netanyahu happily pounced on, much to the delight of Fox news.
    Tippi Livni, Ehud Barack, and even Abe Foxman said Netanyahu was wrong.

    PBO’s speech to AIPAC was essentially, “look..no one is going to take away US funding and military support, but the world is changing fast, and among the bad actors in the Middle East, there are many more who suddenly see a future without dictatorships, don’t isolate yourselves and let’s figure this out now because the status quo is unsustainable…”

    Sullivan is passionate about this issue. If you would like his perspective, you can read his thoughts here: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/05/the-bibi-barack-chess-game.html

  2. p.s—Obama probably got it as right as he could, but while Bibi is in power, emboldened by Congress and Likud, he is unlikely to stop settlements.

    one more Sullivan link in reaction to his piece. A telling response from Israel…a far better response than from me, who has limited understanding of the conflict.
    Go Bulls.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Dano, for these comments. In fact, Barak announced the creation of another nearly 300 settlements today. I heard Obama’s speech at work today and agree with you that he emphasized security and land swaps. It had a bit of a shoring-up-the-base feel to me, and it is also true that it can be pretty tough to filter out the signal from the noise.


  3. As native of Tel Aviv and a naturalized American I am outraged by the reporting of the corporate press. Obama did not say for Israel to go back to the pre-existing 1967 borders. He said to go back the borders “with land swaps.” George W. Bush said the same thing, except he used the 1949 borders when he spoke in Jerusalem. Obama also used the language “secure and recongnized border’s,” LBJ’s language in1067.

  4. The corporate press and the GOP have completely distorted what Obama said. He did not say go back to the 1967 borders. He said to go back to the 1967 with “land swaps” and he said the borders must be “secure and recognized.” George W. Bush said the same thing in Jerusalem except he used the 1949 borders. Secured and recognized was LBJ’s language in 1967. I am a Sabra, born in Tel Aviv in 1945. I am a naturalized US citizen.

  5. What is all that controversy about? New Republican math. The magic numbers are 29 and 60 to 65 percent. Jews usually vote over 75 percent up to 80 percent Democratic. If Republicans can reduce that 60 to 65 percent the 29 electoral votes will have in Florida are likely to be Republican. Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada also would likely come into play, although after what Republican governors did to unions in Wisconsin and Ohio will likely notify this.

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