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How Israelis and Palestinians Negotiate, a Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Oslo Peace Process.

How Israelis and Palestinians Negotiate, a Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Oslo Peace Process, by Tamara Cofman Wittes, editor, United States Institute of Peace, 2005, 160 pages with footnotes & index. $14.95, paperback.

Was the clash of Israeli and Palestinian cultures an important factor in the failure of the Oslo peace process? This collection of essays by William Quandt, Omar Dajani and Aharon Klieman, with an introduction and postcript by Tamara Cofman Wittes, explores this question as part of a series by the U.S. Institute of Peace on the negotiating behavior of nations. The authors assign varying weight to cultural differences, but, given the difficulty of defining culture and its varied facets in Israel and Palestine, none of them think it was the primary cause of the breakdown. The authors' insights are fascinating and a very useful addition to the growing literature about the failed Oslo experiment. More discussion on the role of the United States as the third party would have made this book all the more useful.

In the first essay, William Quandt of the University of Virginia, who was the NSC Middle East director in the Carter administration, describes the roller-coaster Oslo process up to its collapse in January 2001. He rejects the view that Israelis and Palestinians were doomed to fail because of unbridgeable cultural legacies. He acknowledges the burden these placed on the talks, but finds that the negotiators usually understood each other and were ready to overcome history and culture and explore compromises. It was the leaders on both sides who were inept. They failed to build domestic support and change public attitudes, and thus feared confronting tough issues like Jerusalem, refugees and settlements until it was too late.

This same caution undermined a key theory that the process would lead to peace through incremental "confidence-building measures" that would prove good intentions and inspire trust. Neither side was willing to go first. And Israel, with its vast military and power advantage, assumed the main burden for concessions lay on the Palestinians, who would have to oblige. Thus, all three Israeli prime ministers during the Oslo years continued expanding settlements in the West Bank, doubling the settler population there, in the belief that the Palestinians would have no choice but to accept these "facts on the ground."

Quandt points out that the deep ideological divisions in both societies were another reason for the inability of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to shape public opinion in favor of compromise. Neither Ararat nor his Israeli counterparts were willing to confront their own extremists. In the end, the lack of strong domestic support on both sides for major compromise, even more than the intrinsic difficulty of the issues or the weight of history and culture, doomed the process. Quandt provides a concise narrative of the events from 1988 and 2000 that framed the Oslo era. He concludes with the paradox that, notwithstanding the dismal failure and descent into terrible violence, the Oslo talks reached near agreement on many key issues. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace and understand the concessions they must both make, but they lack the political leadership to make this happen.

Omar Dajani, a former legal adviser to Palestinian negotiators and a professor of law at the University of the Pacific, rejects the cliche, favored by many Israelis and Americans, that Arafat and the Palestinians wrecked the Oslo process, proving again that because of their culture, "they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Like Quandt, Dajani believes that the Oslo process brought a convergence of views on the ingredients for peace. It failed not because Arafat, as American negotiator Dennis Ross has claimed, was incapable of making peace, but because of mistakes by Palestinians, Israelis and Americans alike.

Dajani finds that the Palestinian experiences of dispossession, statelessness, exile and occupation placed them in a "double bind" that raised their expectations yet deprived them of a unified, experienced government with the real power and capability to govern and negotiate. He describes the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948--the nakba--that led to the fragmentation of Palestinian society as the formative event shaping their identity and sense of weakness and victimization. Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, its repression of local politics and its continual building of settlements reinforced this sense of loss and grievance. The ascendance of the PLO in exile further stunted Palestinian political development in the territories. When Ararat and his PLO-in-exile colleagues returned in 1994, they were confronted with the tasks of creating unity, building institutions of popular government, and negotiating. They were ill-suited and unprepared for these roles and never gained the legitimacy they needed from the Palestinian public.

The Israelis, far from encouraging or empowering their new negotiating partner, continued the old habits of occupiers, exploited the unequal structure of the Oslo Accords and their power advantage to avoid yielding real autonomy to Palestinians, and dragged out the process. This grudging behavior, combined with aggressive settlement expansion, perpetuated nakba grievances and undermined Palestinian confidence in Israeli intentions.

All these failings came to a head when the Palestinians finally confronted final-status issues at the disastrous Camp David Summit. Ararat, conscious of declining popular support and skepticism about the Oslo process, struck hard-line poses, for example, on the refugee issue, to show his toughness. His leadership, characteristically quirky and manipulative, hindered unity, planning and coordination within his team and their ability to negotiate, offer initiatives, and respond to Israeli and U.S. proposals.

Dajani also believes a major reason for the Palestinians' negotiating behavior was their profound belief that by agreeing to accept a state in 22 percent of their former homeland, they had made a historic compromise, and that it was unjust for Israel and the United States to demand further large concessions. They bridled at American urgings to split differences in "bazaar style" negotiations. And they were galled at the idea that the Israelis were being "generous" with "concessions" concerning rights the Palestinians were convinced were theirs. This heightened their tendency to assert principles of international law and legitimacy and to avoid give and take. They also viewed the Israelis as condescending and became convinced that Camp David was an Israeli-American effort to impose the outcome.

Nevertheless, Dajani believes the Palestinians' frequent passivity was their greatest failing, although he notes their greater willingness to engage in the months before the final Taba talks. When negotiations resume, he argues, Palestinians must rise above their sense of weakness and victimization and "complement their ethic of survival with an ethic of responsibility." Still, he warns that "Palestinians will not behave as an equal partner if the attitudes of their Israeli counterparts or the terms of their proposals place Palestinians in a position of subordination" (pp.74, 75).

The third analysis in the book, by Aharon Klieman of Tel Aviv University, breaks new ground in discussing the dysfunctional aspects of Israeli negotiating. Klieman rejects the idea that the lack of mutual awareness of each other's history and culture was the main obstacle to peace or explains the collapse of the process. Indeed, during the Oslo years, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators grew to know each other well, although this process of familiarization between the two societies was fragile and incomplete. The reasons for failure, in his view, lay more in the inherent difficulty of the issues, deep ideological divisions within Israel, the dominance of Israel's hard-line military and security establishment in policy, and the clash of personalities between Arafat and Barak. (In a talk at the U.S. Institute of Peace on June 7, 2005, former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger disagreed with the view of U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross that Arafat was incapable of making peace. He speculated that if Rabin, whom Arafat admired and trusted, had lived, the process might have succeeded.)

Klieman points out the pervasive influence in Israeli policy of its national-security subculture, which is a product of Jewish history, the Holocaust and the experience of five wars with Arab states and two intifadas. Israeli military, security and intelligence officials have always tended to dominate Israeli negotiating strategies, eclipsing diplomats and civilians. National-security officials bring a unique mindset, emphasizing security, the use of force to defeat and deter, a suspicion of others' willingness to accept Israel, and a preference for short-term tactics over long-range strategy. They tend to view negotiations as a kind of war of attrition in which strength, bluff, intimidation and divide-and-conquer tactics will lead to victory for Israel and the defeat of its negotiating partner. There is also a bias against Arabs as duplicitous, respecting only power and likely to interpret concessions as weakness, whetting their appetite for more.

Klieman believes these biases became exaggerated when applied to Palestinians, whom Israeli negotiating strategists have tended to treat with condescension or contempt. They have viewed them as the weaker, dependent side that must yield ground and have often tried to exploit Palestinian discord. Klieman quotes journalist Aluf Benn of Haaretz saying that Israel's policy toward the Palestinians is "what doesn't work with force will work with more force" (p. 88). But Klieman also acknowledges notable exceptions to this mindset among former Israeli military leaders who became doves, and that there was often mutual respect, even camaraderie, among regular Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, if not their bosses, in the Oslo years.

Klieman reserves special criticism for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in a sophisticated analysis of his maladroit handling of the Oslo negotiations. Although a high degree of cultural convergence had developed between the regular Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, both Barak and Arafat were "misfits" and helped to wreck the process. Klieman describes Barak as torn between coercion and persuasion, arrogant, closed-minded and secretive. He undermined teamwork in the Israeli delegation and poisoned the atmosphere by his humiliating treatment of Arafat. Worse yet, Barak lost credibility by drawing rigid red lines and then retreating.

Klieman laments the destructive impact of the failure of Oslo and the intifada on the prospects for peace, by reversing the growth of mutual tolerance and empathy in the 1990s, discrediting negotiations and restoring under Sharon a crude Israeli policy of force and unilateralism. (In her postscript, editor Wittes calls this "cultural unlearning.") Klieman believes that Oslo set important precedents and showed the possibility of peace, but that both sides must invest heavily in greater mutual understanding to end the intolerable status quo and eventually achieve peace.

Neither Klieman, Quandt nor Dajani offers much analysis of U.S. negotiating behavior and how it influenced the Oslo process. Nor do they prescribe a new role for America in seeking to revive a peace process. This is unfortunate, since their analysis points strongly to the need for a different U.S. policy today, given the failure of the Oslo process, its devastating aftermath and the deepening gulf between the two societies.

The traumatic histories of both peoples, dysfunctional politics, domestic ideological divisions and the disparity of power, all of which are vividly described in How Palestinians and Israelis Negotiate, strongly suggest that they are unlikely to make peace themselves any time soon without major external intervention. If so--and their current behavior seems to confirm this--there is a need for a bold new U.S. peace initiative in place of our traditional cautious policy of facilitating a "process" of interim agreements and confidence building. Most of the substance of a potential American plan has already been developed by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators during the Oslo years and in "Track II" processes like the Geneva Accords. The role of the United States should be to present a framework with these elements, persuade both sides that peace is possible and reassure them of our commitment. Polls suggest that majorities of Israelis and Palestinians understand that their basic interests--peace, security and a Jewish state for Israel, and sovereignty and freedom for Palestinians--are indivisible. Such an American initiative could restore hope by showing that peace is possible, galvanize political change on both sides and, if pursued with wisdom and determination, eventually succeed.

Philip Wilcox Jr.

President, Foundation for Middle East Peace
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Author:Wilcox, Philip, Jr.
Publication:Middle East Policy
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2005
Words:2015
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