Gabriel Bacalor
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
August 8, 2011 - 12:00am

According to recent opinion polls conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), an overwhelming majority of the Palestinians (61 percent) want their government to follow the peace policies of Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas, while only 18% support the agenda of Hamas.

The survey also highlights a broad popular perception of threat in Palestinian society, with 81% of the West Bankers and 82% of Gazans believing that Israel’s long-term goal is to annex the West Bank and expel its inhabitants or deny them their political rights.

Although the results of the survey are not conclusive per se, they can be considered an unequivocal sign of disenchantment and fear, in a society begging for independence and freedom. However, the oppressive policy of the current Israeli administration, which includes the development of building sites in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, makes it doubtful that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government is properly assessing the key features of the Palestinian culture of negotiation, and consequently the likelihood of policy implementation.

Idiosyncrasies in Palestinian negotiation patterns can be seen as shaped by four main factors: strong national self-esteem wounds, distrust of alliances, a definitive instability in the representative power of the negotiators, and a tendency to negotiate based on principles rather than proposals. Let us briefly analyze these patterns in the order they have been raised.

Perhaps the most important historical element in shaping the Palestinian identity has been the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” that the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 represented for the Arab nation. The declaration of Israel’s independence in 78% of the territory liberated by the British Mandate in Palestine led to the displacement of 725,000 Palestinian Arabs and a resulting humanitarian crisis, manifest in the current issue of refugees. Next to the Nakba, the military occupation added to the deterioration of Palestinian self-esteem. The length of this occupation has shaped national identity, with daily traumatic expressions taking place at IDF checkpoints, where allegiances are tested and evaluated, approved or rejected.

THE FORCED diaspora of the Palestinian people, mainly to the Arab countries bordering Israel, has helped forge the Palestinian leadership’s mistrust of the value of partnerships and the sustainability of long-term agreements as well. The schizoid relationship of love and hate between the Palestinians and their Arab brothers, as evidenced in the duality of their unconditional support for the Palestinian cause and the hostile treatment the refugees receive in those countries, has strengthened the suspicion of the Palestinian people and fostered a bias in the culture of negotiation toward the consummation of interim agreements. Unlike definitive agreements, such mid-term pacts offer a chance to “learn by doing” and assess progress sequentially from successes and mistakes.

The third component of the Palestinian culture of negotiation is the instability of their political and military power. As Yasser Abed Rabbo claimed, the Palestinians were granted leaders rather than a leadership structure. In a context of instability and uncertainty, Palestinian negotiators are constrained by public opinion to make painful concessions. Today, it is essential to understand the phenomenon of Palestinian public opinion, not by the democratic standards of the Western world, but as a regulatory tool of the factions active within the military and political life of the Palestinian nation.

Finally, consistent with the observation of literary theorist Edward Said, the experience of the ongoing negotiation rounds made from 1991 has shown that the Palestinian negotiating style tends to be based on principles rather than specific proposals. This phenomenon can be explained by the centrality of the dominant figures in the Palestinian scene, who select their negotiators based on loyalty or cronyism, rather than their technical skills in negotiating specific aspects such as security, finance, infrastructure, health or education.

INTERCULTURAL NEGOTIATION Theory postulates that national experiences shape the diplomatic culture and the style of negotiation. The ignorance or underestimation of these aspects by the Netanyahu government, hinders the natural development of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. The construction of a new paradigm that takes cultural patterns into account would promote understanding between the parties and expand the scale of possible achievements at the negotiating table.

Palestinian leaders require partners who will guarantee them beneficial prospects and concessions reflecting their cultural understanding. Building a framework of trust and avoiding unnecessary provocations provides legitimacy to Abbas, to the detriment of terror factions that also hold political power today. Between faith and disillusionment, between history and myth, Jews and Arabs in a Middle East characterized by Albert Camus’s “absurd human nature” may be able to imagine Sisyphus happy, and finally have a chance for peace.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017