We Need a Larger Theory of Negotiation: The Importance of Pre-Negotiating Phases

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We Need a Larger Theory of Negotiation:

The Importance of Pre-Negotiating Phases

Harold H. Saunders

The Larger Negotiating Process

Crucial as it is, around-the-table negotiation is only a later part of a larger process needed to resolve conflicts by peaceful means. In many cases, persuading parties to a conflict to commit to a negotiated settlement is even more complicated, time-consuming, and difficult than reaching agreement once negotiations have begun. Those who try to resolve conflict peacefully need to think in terms of a process that deals with the obstacles to negotiation as well as the hurdles in negotiation. Unless we enlarge our scope to understand why parties to a conflict will not talk, we are not constructing a theory of negotiation most likely to give negotiation a chance.

This article is written from the perspective of someone who spent much of two decades dealing with the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where most of the parties refuse to talk or even to recognize each other. In my opinion, negotiating theory that concentrates only on what happens around the negotiating table does not provide the President and Secretary of State with as useful a theory of negotiation as they need to conduct the nation's foreign policy. My views developed mainly from experience in foreign affairs— particularly the efforts to join a negotiation among the parties to the conflict after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Kissinger shuttles, Camp David, the negotiation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and the probes and negotiations on the release of the American hostages in Tehran.

I believe these observations are just as applicable to other fields of negotiation. I would suggest that the marriage counsellor's main task is to probe how a couple can be persuaded to talk seriously, for when the couple reaches the negotiating table with lawyers, the marriage is probably over. The litigator may often serve a client best when he or she avoids the confrontation of a trial and finds a way to establish communication and negotiation out of court. The employer may serve his or her institution best by finding mechanisms for resolving employee concerns before a costly strike and prolonged negotiation or arbitration. In short, we would all profit from paying as much attention to persuading parties to talk before a confrontation as we do to advising them on how to handle themselves once they are negotiating their way out of a confrontation. Breaking the pre-negotiating impasse in any field may depend as much on the insight of the psychiatrist, the social psychologist, or the cultural anthropologist as on the practitioner in around-the-table negotiation. It is a question ripe for those who are willing to try distilling general observations about it from an interdisciplinary base.

In urging that we think in terms of a larger negotiating process, I recognize that I may be walking into that academic buzzsaw called a “definitional problem.” When are we talking about negotiation, and when are we about the general conduct of human relations or international relations? William Zartman and Maureen Berman say, 'Long before the first formal session opens, the negotiation process begins with the decision made by each party to explore the possibility of negotiating.” My next question is: What do we do before that decision is made? Zartman and Berman usefully, three-stage model that begins with what they call the “diagnostic phase” in which efforts are made to bring about negotiations.1 I suggest that we must reach back even further and more extensively into the period before that decision to negotiate is made, and analyze what can be done to help parties reach that decision.

Concentrating on the field of foreign affairs, I have two major reasons to persist in suggesting a larger negotiating process as the framework for teaching and research in this field. They are:
1. Many of the world's most intractable conflicts at home and abroad force us to spend much of our effort in the pre-negotiation period before a decision to negotiate has been made. We need to know a lot more about how to produce that decision. We need to analyze more thoroughly why parties stop short of that decision. What would persuade some parties not talking at all, like Israelis and Palestinians, to negotiate seriously? What would persuade others who often engage only in a show of negotiation to commit themselves to a negotiated agreement? One could find this question at the heart of decisions on how to conduct the critical relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is in these stages before formal negotiation that the decision is most likely to be made to pursue or avoid conflict. It is at this point that nations decide whether they must go to war to change the balance for an ultimate negotiation.
2. Analyzing the pre-negotiation phase of a conflict more fully may enable us to establish useful reciprocal links between negotiation theory, the psychology of interpersonal or cross-cultural relations, and the conduct of diplomacy and foreign policy. Students of negotiation itself have written about using the insights of psychology, anthropology, sociology, group dynamics, problem solving and other disciplines in the negotiating room. That is important, but it may be even more important to world peace to redouble efforts to apply those insights to the moments in which decisions on confrontation versus negotiation are made. In the field of foreign affairs, an enlarged theory of the negotiating process can provide a framework for analyzing the status of potentially confrontational relationships like the U.S.- Soviet relationship. It could help in developing a strategy for conducting the relationship while protecting individual interests, building on common interests, and avoiding conflict. And, in addition, focusing on different parts of the negotiating process will help us to use the tools best-suited for the job at any particular point in that process.
My examples are drawn from experience in what we have called the Middle East “peace process.” My purpose is not, at this stage, to provide detailed analysis of the pre-negotiation phase, but rather to see whether we can frame a perspective that is useful. Such a framework could provide pegs on which to hang specific analyses of various elements of the negotiating process so as to help differentiate what are appropriate actions in each of then. For those in the field of foreign affairs, this approach may suggest ways of thinking about strategies for crisis prevention and management, peace- making, and negotiation that may themselves become the essence of policy.

The Middle East 'Peace Process'

I want to set the stage by talking about the Middle East 'peace process” because it is the route by which I have arrived at this larger view of the negotiating process. After leaving government, I was asked to speak about negotiation alongside someone who was explaining the techniques of around-the-table negotiation. It occurred to me that I had worked on the Arab-Israeli conflict for seven years before I saw any direct contact between parties, and for five more before I saw an agreement mediated. By that time the conflict was already entering its third decade. For me the problem was how to persuade the parties to negotiate, not how they would negotiate. That problem lay in a larger field of negotiation theory than any I had read. It required us to ask: Why don't people negotiate?

I recognize that the phrase, “peace process,” has little standing in academic literature, but something like it was needed. In the 1970s, those of us working with the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict coined the phrase to fill a gap in the vocabulary of diplomacy and negotiating theory. There were no words that we knew to describe what we were engaged in.

Much of the theory of negotiation seemed inadequate to deal with the fact that parties to this intractable conflict would not recognize each other, would not talk with each other, would not commit themselves to a negotiated settlement, and would not negotiate. In the wake of the 1973 war, we were mediating interim agreements between the parties that committed them to negotiate a larger settlement. During the Kissinger shuttles, the United States gained Saudi agreement to lift the oil embargo; resumed diplomatic relations with three Arab governments that had been broken in 1967; established joint economic commissions with four governments; and facilitated the reorientation of Egypt's primary external political, economic, and military relationships from the Soviet Union to the West. The “process' was a complicated mix of diplomacy, negotiation, and economic, political, and military decisions with each step reinforcing others and, in turn, making new relationships possible. In short, the negotiating process was an inseparable part of a larger diplomatic designed in part to help build a political environment that would make the next round of negotiation more possible.
We needed a shorthand way of describing the total effort in which we were engaged to manage crisis to produce negotiation and to use negotiation to improve the climate for further negotiation. While the term “shuttle negotiations” generally made the headlines, to those of us involved from the President and Secretary of State down, this process was a coherent effort to move toward peace negotiations and settlements through a series of interrelated steps, programs and agreements. It was an effort at the same time to build broad political support for those who were negotiating. Thus, the phrase “peace process” was intended to provide a framework which could be useful in discussing an approach to international conflict that may include but goes well beyond negotiation.

Even if one returns from such wide horizons more concretely to the field of theories about negotiation itself, there is one important reason for thinking in terms of a process larger than what happens around the negotiating table: If we do not understand where we are in the negotiating process, we may use the wrong instruments in trying to move the process forward.

By the end of the 1970s. for instance, many Americans came to think of the Arab-Israeli negotiations in terms of the familiar pictures of Egyptians and Israelis sitting across the table from each other - with lawyers exchanging texts, military men exchange maps and timetables, political leaders meeting to sign agreements. Most Americans forgot the nearly thirty years of terrorist and retaliatory attacks and the five armed conflicts that preceded those around-the-table negotiations. We were driving in fourth gear, but we forgot those years when one side would not even talk of peace with the other, when face-to-face negotiations were impossible.

After 1979, when we moved beyond the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty to face the Israeli-Palestinian problem we had to shift back to first gear. Once, again, we were in the early stages of the peace process - where people neither recognize nor talk to each other, and where neither side is committed to a fairly negotiated settlement with the other. The techniques of around-the- table negotiation may help, but they may not be adequate by themselves. Other techniques of political process such as the use of force, appeal to political constituencies, or shifts in the balance between potential negotiating parties may come into play more decisively.

Anyone coping with the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian problem is aware that negotiation is only one element needed to resolve conflict. In fact, getting to negotiation may be much more complex than working toward agreement once actual negotiation begins. Moreover, if we try now to use only the techniques of the negotiating table in this phase, we may well overlook the instruments of influence that could make a difference.

Some theorists define negotiation broadly enough to say that every human exchange is a negotiation of sorts and that the elements of negotiation are involved even when people are not sitting around the table with each other. I accept the point but do not believe it is a solution to the problem being discussed. I am afraid that it will narrow our perspective and leave out too many of the instruments important in bringing parties to negotiation.

Look at some of the steps that led to negotiation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty or which now block Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. They make clear that instruments removing obstacles to negotiation have sometimes been those not normally considered techniques common in around-the-table negotiation:

  • Egyptian President Nasser used to ask: “How can I negotiate when I'm flat on my back with a sword at my throat?” President Sadat knew that he had to erase the humiliation of the Arab defeat in the 1967 war before he could negotiate. He went to war in 1973, regained some territory cast of the Suez Canal, and agreed to a ceasefire while Israeli forces were pouring across the Canal and encircling the Egyptian Third Army. Without reference to the military, situation on the ground, he declared victory and his readiness to negotiate from a new position of dignity. He used the war to remove a psychological obstacle to negotiating peace.

  • Saudi Arabia used the “oil weapon” to reinforce Sadat's other purpose in going to war: to put the weight of the United States back on the side of a fairly negotiated peace, partially offsetting Israel's continuing military superiority. The Arab oil-producers made the point that they could no longer live comfortably with the United States' seemingly unqualified support for Israel’s retention of territories occupied in the 1967 war. The long lines at the gas pumps in the U.S. - by Saudi design or not - forced the American people to realize there was an Arab side to the Middle East story, and that events in the Middle East affect American lives and pocketbooks.

  • On his historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, President Sadat took with him a negotiating position unacceptable to Israelis: withdrawal to the 1967 borders, an independent Palestinian state, and restoration of Arab sovereignty in East Jerusalem. Why did Israel respond so warmly and eventually agree to give back the Sinai and its precious oil fields? Because Sadat's very presence brought a message that was more important: Egypt recognizes Israel, Egypt will commit itself to “no more war,” Egypt will make peace with Israel, Egypt will accept Israel as a Jewish state in the Middle East, Egypt will enter into normal relations with Israel. No other negotiating formula or technique could have removed the main obstacle to negotiation so decisively or have set the stage for Sadat to achieve important objectives once negotiations began.

  • Today, neither Palestinians nor Israelis are committed to peace with each other. In the early 1970s, Prime Minister Golda Meir said that Egypt's closing of the Suez Canal reminded her of a sign on a door in the small Russian town where she lived as a child which read “No Jews.” The shutdown of the Canal was the sign of Arab refusal to accept and recognize Israel. Early in 1983, Abu Iyad, one of the Palestine Liberation Organization's top officials, said: “… the Reagan plan is improved by adding one word – self determination – things would change completely.”2 From the Palestinian viewpoint, the sign hanging on the door today reads “No Palestinians.” The President of the United States has called for resolving the Palestinian problem “in association with Jordan” – not by treating the Palestinians as a people entitled to separate political expression of their own identity. The Government of Israel will not sit with the PLO and has stated its policy of encouraging Palestinians to live as an ethnic minority in other states.

Removing the obstacles to negotiation is the critical first task in the process of moving toward negotiated agreements. These examples are but a few suggesting that removing obstacles to negotiation may require approaches and instruments different from those required at the negotiating table. At issue is whether or not there is a framework within which to identify precisely and to examine why parties to a conflict will not negotiate, and what changes in the situation. might enable them to do so. The remainder of this article addresses these issues as two questions: (1) Can the parties organize them- selves to make the decisions necessary for negotiation? (2) What in their analysis of the situation stands against a decision to negotiate? In responding to these questions, I will suggest that we think more intensively about those parts of the negotiating process which take place before around-the-table negotiation begins.

Are They Organized to Negotiate?

Before probing the substantive reasons why either side may be reluctant to negotiate, we must understand how decisions are made on both sides. One of the principal obstacles to negotiation sometimes is inability on one or both sides to organize for negotiation. Related is the absence on one side or the other of representatives with a clear mandate to speak for their side.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have problems of this kind. The problem on the Palestinian side has long been how fully Chairman Yasir Arafat is supported by his own organization in developing a common negotiating position with King Hussein of Jordan. Palestinian leaders in the territories occupied by Israel, who could be invited to join negotiations to set up a Palestinian self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza, see no way to put together a mandate for themselves to speak for the entire Palestinian movement in such negotiations.

Israel, on the other hand, has a well-tested system for choosing leaders and giving them a mandate, but Israel is deeply divided over how to settle with the Palestinians. Both political parties in Israel represent divergent schools of thought in the Zionist movement; any government knows it could face strong and possibly violent opposition to some kinds of settlement. The prospect of internal division could paralyze Israeli decision making on this issue.

Whatever the substance of efforts to break the impasse, progress toward negotiation in this case requires working with the politics of decision making on each side. Where states or liberation organizations are involved, tactics not excluding war and other forms of violence have to be taken into account.

Identifying the Substantive Obstacles: A Five-Part Process

Does the experience of the Middle East “peace process” offer a useful framework for analyzing substantive obstacles to negotiation? What are its elements? Let me lay out for discussion what I would describe as the five parts of the negotiating process as we have experienced it. The three parts before actual negotiation begins are my main interest here.

I must underscore that, while I might speak interchangeably in terms of “parts” or “stages” of the negotiating process, I do not think in terms of a succession of discrete stages where one is complete before the next begins. There is a chronological element, but my experience in decision making, diplomacy, and negotiation suggests that important issues are rarely completely resolved. A President of the United States will normally make policy decisions that do not close the door on later mid-course corrections as he works his way through political minefields. In international relations one agreement is often the prelude to others rather than the end of a problem. Therefore, to speak of “parts” or “stages” is to speak of groups of judgments that need to be made in logical progression. That progression cannot be rigid. It must allow for constant review. Each judgment will be tentative because later judgments based on new experience may cause a party to go back and rethink. Despite this fluidity, it is worth reflecting on the questions, decisions and activities which are most likely to appear in each of these five areas in the course of the negotiating process:

1. Defining the Problem

In policymaking, how one defines a problem begins to determine what he or she will do about it. The definition of the problem begins to determine policy. In negotiation theory, the recognition of a common problem that two sides share an interest in solving is almost a prerequisite to negotiation. In fact, negotiation is sometimes defined as a shared effort to solve a problems Determining how each side defines the problem and whether or not their definitions overlap may be a first step in isolating some of the reasons why parties negotiate or fail to negotiate.

The definition of interests and objectives is a profoundly political act and not just an abstract academic exercise. Prolonged national debates take place over these issues. Bringing a nation to consensus or majority opinion on the shape of the problem and national objectives is a necessary prelude to serious negotiation. One can legitimately argue that this subject belongs in a study of national decision making and not in a discussion about negotiation. Perhaps so, but for the diplomat negotiating resolution of a conflict, the two are not separable. Trying to negotiate before the parties share some common definition of the problem leads to failure.

Let me again use the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an example of how a problem has been differently defined over three and a half decades and how the shifting perspective on the problem has dictated different policies toward it:

  • Before 1948, the problem was clearly defined in Washington in terms of a contest between the rising number of Jewish immigrants coming to Palestine and the Palestinian Arabs already living there, with each party claiming the same land west of the Jordan River. It was a problem of two peoples – two nationalist movements – pursuing the right of self-determination in land that each claimed. The problem, rooted deep in religion and history, also had overtones as fresh as the experience of decolonization and growing nationalism that intensified in the postwar period.

  • After the state of Israel was established as an independent state, however, all of those involved came to think of the conflict as the Arab-Israeli conflict - a conflict among states. The Palestinian people, who had been the other half of the equation in the 1940s, were left as refugees or as second-class citizens. The Arab states assumed the role of the Palestinian Arabs in Palestine. The Israelis viewed the Palestinians as refugees or as an ethnic minority within established states.

  • Only in the late 1960s and 1970s did the Palestinians reassert their claim to separate national identity, and it was not until 1974 that the Arab states proclaimed that the Palestine Liberation Organization would speak for the Palestinian people. At Camp David in 1978, the governments of Egypt, Israel, and the United States declared, in effect, that there could be no solution to the Arab-Israeli state-to-state conflict without a resolution of the problem of the Palestinian people as well.

Despite the agreement at Camp David, a common definition of the problem still does not exist on all sides. The philosophy of the coalition that governed Israel under Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir defines the primary problems as consolidating and securing greater Israel in all the land west of the Jordan River. For mainstream Palestinians today, the problem seems to have become how to gain recognition of their right as a people to exercise self-determination in some part of that land from Israel would withdraw in a peace settlement. For the United States, the problem remains how two peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – can live together in peace and dignity within the framework of peace between Israel and the established Arab states. There are Israelis and Palestinians who would define the problem in more or less the same way as the United States, but they have not in recent years been able to commit their respective bodies politic to act from that position.

Today, even in Israel and in the United States, there is not full agreement on the nature of the problem. One of the most politically contentious issues since the early 1970s has been whether the Palestinian problem is absorbed in the state-to-state conflict or whether the Palestinian -problem remains, significant part, a conflict between two peoples with claims to the same land. In some quarters it is still seen as a state-to-state conflict between Israel and neighboring states with the Palestinians not recognized as a separate people but simply as “Arabs” who can be absorbed as ethnic minorities in existing Arab states. Others believe that there will be no resolution of the state-to-state Arab-Israeli conflict until the Palestinian people are recognized as a people with a separate identity in their own right and have the opportunity for full political expression in the land of their fathers.

Efforts to deal constructively with the problem must begin with efforts to establish a shared or complementary definition of the problem to assure that parties to a negotiation would at least address the same issues. If this seems abstract, remember the numerous acts of terrorism in the past decade designed to demonstrate that the Palestinians are a people capable of political action in their own name. Remember persistent PLO refusal to say simply and authoritatively that they would make peace with Israel. Remember political efforts at the United Nations and other international organizations to establish observer status for the PLO, or to produce diplomatic recognition for the PLO by most of the world’s governments. Remember Israel's efforts to prevent these moves and its refusal to sit with the PLO. And remember that, in the summer of 1982, Israel went to war in Lebanon to destroy the organized Palestinian movement which Israel's government regarded as a potential threat - not to the physical integrity of the state of Israel but to Israel’s exclusive claim to all the land west of the Jordan river.

Unless these different pictures of the problem come closer and begin to overlap, negotiations are unlikely to begin. If negotiations do begin, those holding widely different definitions of the problem will use delaying tactics in the negotiation as another instrument for blocking movement. Political leaders will be distracted from taking the steps they need to take to change public perceptions of the problem. Defining the problem – even as a base for U.S. policymaking – is not an abstract exercise. It is the highly political task on which negotiating depends. Breaking the impasse to negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians may require leaders on both sides – and in Washington – to define the problem courageously as one that the two peoples share. Leaders' definition of a problem is the vehicle for marshalling political support behind the course of action which flows from that definition. In this case that course of action would be negotiation. How policymakers define a problem and talk about it will color what they decide to do about it.

Heads of government formulate policy judgments with an eye to winning public support for them.

2. Producing A Commitment to a Negotiated Settlement

Before leaders will negotiate, they have to judge whether a negotiated solution would be better than continuing the present situation, whether a fair settlement could be fashioned, whether the other side could accept, and whether the balance of forces would permit agreement on such a settlement. This phase – producing a commitment to a negotiated settlement – is the most complex of all because it involves a series of interrelated judgments. For the sake of discussion, let us look at four of these:

First is a judgment that the present situation no longer serves a party's interests. To put it the other way around, in analyzing why a party refuses to negotiate, we must determine why that party believes that perpetuating the present situation serves its interests. We must understand why one side may judge that the possible outcomes from negotiation are less attractive than the alternatives to negotiation. From that analysis we may understand what might change such an assessment.

In the Israeli-Palestinian case, neither party has believed that the passage of time without negotiation would irretrievably hurt its cause. Israel under the Begin-Shamir leadership judged that negotiating would create a situation from which the only outcome could be some Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967. Israel's stated policy was to use time to establish its irreversible presence in territories that would otherwise be lost in negotiation. The Palestinians and other Arabs in the past seem to have judged that time was on their side – that over time they would accumulate the military power to force Israel to some kind of accommodation. Many Arabs, such as King Hussein, seem to recognize that Israel's actions in the territories may leave little to negotiate in the foreseeable future. However, they may know it took centuries to drive the crusaders out and, over the longer term, Israel too can be pressed to withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967.

Breaking the impasse would require persuading leaders on both sides who want to negotiate to address directly the consequences of passing time. Israeli leaders might, for instance, discuss openly the consequences of creating a forty percent Arab minority in the Jewish state by perpetuating control over all the land west of the Jordan River. Palestinian leaders might consider publicly the consequences of passing up an opportunity to begin putting together a government of their own in the West Bank and Gaza. In the United States leaders might acknowledge that Israel is debating the future character of the Zionist state and say straightforwardly that the unchanging commitment of the United States for almost forty years has been to a settlement in which the land west of the Jordan River is fairly shared. An American president might also reflect on the consequences for the United States and its friends of either a negotiated settlement or of one imposed over time by force from one side or the other.

Second is a judgment that the substance of a fair settlement is available. Leaders on each side must be able to see the shape of an agreeable settlement that might come out of negotiation. This judgment, of course, depends on whether the alternatives to a negotiated settlement may be better than foreseeable settlement. This is the definition of the settlement against which the alternative of maintaining the present situation is measured.

To illustrate what I mean by being able to see the shape of a settlement that could be politically defensible, let me recall an incident from one of Kissinger shuttles. More than a week into the thirty-five day shuttle that produced the Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreement of May 1974, reporters the back of Kissinger's airplane asked him what he was then discussing. He responded that he was talking about the principles of settlement. The reporters asked how he could possibly be discussing something so general as principles after some ten days of intense shuttling. The point was Kissinger knew it was essential to draw the parties toward a common view a settlement before committing anything to paper. How big a pullback of troops? What kinds of buffer zones? Would there be an international force? If drafting began before there was a common picture of the answers to these questions, arguments over words would begin to hide arguments over substantive issues. He preferred to talk about the main elements of an agreement, to reach a verbal understanding of the outlines of an agreement before putting anything on paper.

To use another example, what made possible President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and the eventual agreement at Camp David was an understanding of the principle that if Egypt offered full peace to Israel, Egypt could get back all of its territory that Israel had occupied in the 1967 war. It is this standing of the outlines – the main elements in a deal – that I am talking about when I discuss the shape of a settlement.

In the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian situation, each side has been internally divided over the shape of possible solutions. In some ways, the kind of settlement each envisions relates to the basic view of the problem, but it includes in addition some thought about the key elements in a settlement and the relative importance of each.

Israel is divided between those who give priority to control over all the land west of the Jordan River, and those whose primary concerns are security and the somewhat related question of protecting the integrity of the Jewish state from dilution by incorporating a large non-Jewish population. For those who want to control all the land, compromise focuses on finding ways to provide some autonomy for the non-Jewish population. Those concerned with security focus on military and political means of protecting Israel from invasion and terror. The Palestinians are divided between those who still refuse accept the partition of Palestine and hold out for one secular state and those who recognize that Israel is here to stay and seek a Palestinian state in the land from which Israel withdraws.

A central element in the judgment that a fair settlement is possible is the realization that each side's ideal solution is not attainable. If Israelis concluded that their security needs and access to the historic sites of Biblical Israel could be achieved without total control over the territory, the door to negotiation might open a bit wider. If Palestinians concluded that their right of self-determination could be achieved – while still negotiating common security arrangements with Israel and rights for both Israelis and Palestinians to live, work, and do business in each other's territory – they might be more prepared to negotiate.

For the United States, a past and potential future mediator, the task is not just to urge each side to come to the negotiating table. The task includes addressing the key interests of both sides intensively to help them to understand both the consequences of extreme solutions and the possibility of meeting basic objectives – such as security and self-determination – through a variety of possible arrangements. The present impasse remains unbroken because neither side has come to grips within its own body politic with the fit among basic objectives and possible settlements.

Third, leaders on each side will make their own estimates of whether the other side would accept a negotiated solution and is willing to reach a compromise. One side may be ready to negotiate but refuse to do so because it does not want the humiliation of offering to negotiate with an adversary who does not take the process seriously. Related to this judgment are thoughts on whether the two sides could overcome suspicion and mistrust enough to work together. The psychological obstacles to negotiation may be greater than the substantive.

Even if there is a common view of the shape of a settlement, two sides may be divided by such suspicion and mistrust that they will conclude that the other side is not committed to successful negotiation. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis believe the other would settle for any but extreme solutions. In the case of Egypt and Israel – though emissaries of Sadat and Begin had secretly given each other reason to believe that total Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai could lead to full peace between the two nations - it was not until Sadat's visit to Jerusalem that peace seemed possible. Much of the negotiating position that Sadat outlined to the Israeli parliament was not acceptable to the Israeli government. However, Sadat's very presence, as well as his words, brought an even more important message: Egypt accepts Israel as a state in the Middle East and is prepared to live in peace and normal relations with no more war between them. The fact that he came to Jerusalem underscored that his message was different.

As Sadat said in his speech to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem after outlining the differences in substantive positions: “Yet there remains another wall. This wall constitutes a psychological barrier between us, a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection; a barrier of fear, of deception, a barrier of hallucination without any action, deed or decision .... A barrier of distorted and eroded interpretation of every event and statement. It is this psychological barrier which I described in official statements as constituting 70% of the whole problem.”3

In the context of overcoming the psychological barriers to negotiation we occasionally find a particular situation where one side may feel committed as a matter of principle not to negotiate with an adversary. Khomeini refused to negotiate directly with the “Great Satan” during the hostage crisis. President-elect Reagan said at that time, “We don't negotiate with terrorists.” The PLO refuses to negotiate with Israel until it recognizes the Palestinians' rights as a people. Israel refuses to talk with the PLO. It is always difficult to know when principle is being invoked to cover other purposes. And when it is invoked, it is important to ask where the real obstacle lies.

A fourth factor contributing to commitment to a negotiated settlement a judgment that the balance of forces will permit a fair settlement. The Arabs have normally seen Israeli military power as precluding a fair negotiation. Syria's President Assad is quite open in saving that the Arabs cannot negotiate a settlement of their conflict with Israel until they are Israel's military equal. President Sadat recognized that it would be a long time before the Arabs would achieve military paritv with Israel, so he went to war for the limited purpose of drawing the United States and the Soviet Union into more active diplomatic efforts to negotiate a settlement. He sought to put big power political weight on the scale alongside the limited Arab military power that had demonstrated its capacity at least to inflict on Israel a serious psychological shock and significant war losses. The question is how the balance of forces can be structured to produce a realistic hope of a fair negotiation.

A specific obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian negotiation has been Arab concern that Israel, with its superior military power, would not feel compelled to negotiate all outstanding issues fairly. Palestinians particularly cite Israel's policy of expropriating land in the West Bank and Gaza for settlement and security purposes as evidence that Israel is resolving the key issue of control over land unilaterally outside negotiation. Israelis, on the other hand, have accused the Arabs of not being willing to negotiate at all, and of wanting the United States to do their work for them by pressuring Israel.

Powers outside the region, especially the United States, have played a critical role in the balance of forces that affect negotiation. Increasingly in the 1980s, Arab parties have not seen the United States as able or willing to assure a fair negotiation of all outstanding issues against Israeli opposition. Israelis in the Begin and Shamir governments knew that the United States in a negotiation would press for some withdrawal and have not wanted to put themselves in the way of sharp difference with Washington. Re-establishing the credibility of a mediator or third “full partner” to assure a fair negotiation could be a factor in the balance of forces that might encourage parties to test perceptions of whether the substance of a possible compromise exists.

All of these points – judging whether the situation continues to serve one's interests, seeing the shape of a politically defensible settlement, believing that the other side could accept, or judging that the balance of forces will permit a fair settlement – are elements in deciding on a commitment to a negotiated settlement. We need to understand a lot more fully how to analyze the substantive and psychological obstacles to that commitment and how they can be removed. This is the work of the second part of the negotiating process.

3. Arranging Negotiations

Whereat the commitment to negotiate is a political decision that can be made known in a variety of general ways, the effort to arrange a specific negotiation tends to focus on the general approach and on more detailed terms of reference. In a sense, this may be a mini-negotiation about how to negotiate. This has two aspects:

One is to define the objective of the negotiation in a way that provides agreement on the principles that will guide drafting of a settlement. Underlying this will also be some understanding of the strategy for putting a settlement together. For instance, will it provide a comprehensive settlement of all outstanding issues? Or will it attempt to resolve them incrementally through a series of agreements?

The other aspect is to deal with those physical arrangements that may have political implications. This can involve issues such as what roles the supporters may play or whether the Palestine Liberation Organization will have a place at the table. Or it can concern who will sit next to whom at the table. Large or small, these practical questions are politically symbolic and can become significant obstacles to negotiation.

This part of the negotiating process, along with the actual negotiation, received far more attention elsewhere and requires less attention here. Suffice it to say that the central aim in this part of the process is to reach agreement on the objectives and procedures for negotiation. This can involve doctrinal debates involving a dictionary of diplomatic code words as well as arguments over the “shape of the table.” One can experience this phase for months and even years.

These three stages complete the pre-negotiation phases on which this paper concentrates. Two further phases need only be mentioned briefly to round out a complete picture of the negotiating process. Because they have received so much attention already, I will do no more than put them in place here. However, they must be established in any analytical framework both because they are the objective of what goes before and because they may well become elements in the pre-negotiating phases of a later negotiation. Negotiations must be conducted with their role in the larger process in mind.

4. The Actual Negotiation

The most visible stage of the “peace process” is the negotiation itself. Here I only wish to underscore that negotiation lies only at a later part of a prolonged political process. The pre-negotiation phases may take much more time and effort than the negotiation itself, and pre-negotiation must be conducted with a view to the situation that will be created.

5. Implementation

It is also important to note for the sake of completeness that implementation of any agreement is an important part of the negotiating process. This is true for the obvious reason that negotiation has not succeeded unless it has produced an agreement that the negotiating parties have a stake in implementing. It is also true in diplomacy, as in some other relationships, that careful implementation of one agreement may be the jumping-off place for the next negotiation. The key element in the step-by-step diplomacy of the Kissinger shuttles was the view that one agreement – negotiated and scrupulously implemented – would begin to change the political atmosphere and make possible tomorrow what seemed impossible yesterday. No one would have thought in 1973 that an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty would be signed a scant six years later.

In laying out the elements in this five-part negotiating process, I have used the Middle East for my analysis. But one might, I think, analyze the development of U.S.-Soviet relations and negotiations in the 1970s within a similar framework. If we were to attempt that analysis, we would find that the two superpowers in that period were engaged on several negotiating tracks at the same time, and that progress on one could make progress on another more likely. More important, we might analyze U.S.-Soviet relations in the early 1980s to determine how to return them to some norm.

Concluding Words

I have written this paper with several purposes in mind:

First, to encourage specialists from several disciplines to contribute to understanding better what keeps people and nations from negotiating. Our political leaders in a nuclear world are in desperate need of this help. The future of arms control as well as avoiding nuclear conflict may lie more in their hands than in the hands of arms control specialists.

Second, the paper suggests a way of stepping back from a regional impasse like that in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict and re-focusing efforts to remove some of the obstacles to negotiation. The problem today is how to precipitate a commitment to negotiate, not how to negotiate.

Third, it assumes that insights developed from study of this problem may enhance understanding of how to manage or conduct important relationships – whether across international borders, across the management-employee gulf, or across the breakfast table. Conducting relationships may seem a far cry from negotiating theory; however, the purpose of managing relationships instead of letting them drift is to prevent blockages from hardening or, at least, to keep the parties always within negotiating range so that if trouble comes, peaceful remedies are at hand.

Above all, it records two convictions strongly held: (1) Peacemakers at home and abroad will find the pre-negotiation fields the most fruitful in which to work; and (2) the world's future depends on their success.


This article was developed from a much briefer one prepared for the Center for the Study of Foreign Affairs in the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., in June, 1983. That paper appears in the proceedings of the conference published by the Center as International Negotiation: Art and Science, ed. Diane B. Bendahmane and John W. McDonald, Jr., 1984. It also reflects suggestions made during a February, 1984 discussion at Harvard University in an evening session of the Program on Negotiation. The analytical approach was first applied to the Arab-Israeli impasse in Perspective on the Middle East 1983: Proceedings of a Conference, published jointly by the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. and then, tentatively in the present organization, in an oral presentation at a conference. also in February, 1984, at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

1. See I. William Zartman and Maureen R. Berman, The Practical Negotiator (New York and London: Yale Universitv Press. 1982), pp 9.42.

2. Christian Science Monitor 23 February 1983. P.1.

3. Address of Anwar Sadat to Israeli Knesset, 20 November, l977, New York Times, 21 November 1977, p.18

Harold H. Saunders, Director of International Affairs for the Kettering Foundation in Washington, D.C., served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asia Affairs from 1978 to 1981.

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