Peter Millett
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
January 24, 2012 - 1:00am

As has been widely reported, His Majesty King Abdullah has succeeded in bringing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators together for the first time in 16 months. They have held three meetings in Amman, choreographed by Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Comments in the international press have seen a wide range of optimism, pessimism and cynicism. It is easy to be pessimistic and say that nothing will come of it. I prefer realism: no one should pretend that reaching a deal is easy. It has eluded negotiators for years. But as the King himself has said, it is better to talk than not to.

Conflict resolution is both a science and an art. There are certain obvious principles that should be followed. But they need to be adapted to circumstances. What is important is that the end goal is kept in sight.

The Palestinians have a right to a state. And Israel has a right to security. The two objectives are inter-linked: the best guarantee of Israel’s security is through peace with a Palestinian state.

What are the basic factors for resolving conflict? Here are my top five:

— Mutual respect and trust. Unless the negotiators trust each other, progress will not be made. I cannot count how many times the two sides proclaimed that “it takes two to tango”. That is no doubt true, but the only way you’ll find out is by getting onto the dance floor.

— Compromise. Any gain for one side is seen as a loss for the other. This is completely counterproductive. Any solution will require a balanced set of compromises. Give and take by both sides is essential.

— No threats or violent actions. As Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

— Avoid the blame game. Playing to the international gallery is attractive, but it holds back constructive compromise. It is good news that the two sides have agreed to radio silence with the media. They should stick to it.

— People-to-people contact. Top-level representatives can negotiate, but it has to be underpinned by trust between people. If people are not permitted or discouraged from meeting each other, then it will be very hard to convince them that the risk is worth it. That is the theory. And of course it has been tried before. The history of the Middle East peace process is full of special envoys, initiatives and agreements. Little has been achieved on the ground. The reasons are well-known. So why try again now?

The fact is that the current situation is stark and deeply worrying. If settlement building continues, a two-state solution will be impossible.

The international community regularly condemns settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. The British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week called settlement building “deliberate vandalism”. And settler violence against Palestinian villages and mosques is growing.

Peace is not an easy option — it requires greater bravery than war. Perhaps the most important quality needed at all levels is courage and determination.

I recall a quote: “Conflict is inevitable; combat is optional.”

We all know that compromise is hard. For political leaders it means courting unpopularity and sparking accusations of betrayal and treason. It is easy to camp out on nationalistic slogans and pander to extremists. It is much harder to live up to your own rhetoric and make the hard decisions to reach the objective that the silent majority probably favour.

Many of these principles were deployed with success in Northern Ireland in the last 10 years. Of course, the circumstances are different, but the fact is that leaders and communities whose positions were miles apart are now sharing power. To achieve that result both sides had to realise that violence does not work and that a solution would bring peace and economic benefits all around.

It can be done.


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