Friday August 8 2014

Current slaughter in Gaza calls for urgent negotiated solutions

By Samuel Baligidde

Media reports of the fighting in the Gaza Strip are quite unsettling. The catastrophe should remind the world of the need for using diplomacy and soft power to end conflicts.

The Palestinian and Israeli leaders should negotiate to end the current impasse. Distributive or predatorial zero-sum strategies by either side will not solve the problem.

Starting out with a position that is higher than what the Palestinians can realistically estimate, they can achieve by launching rockets to wrestle concession from the Israelis has never satisfactorily worked.

By the same token, Israeli tactics of prolonging the solution to the contested status of Gaza; or giving a small concession to the Palestinians when it can no longer be avoided in order to placate them for a little while longer whenever the two antagonists go to the negotiation table after fighting unbalanced wars in which Israel wins the battles and Hamas the propaganda war, is a recipe for prolonging the suffering of the innocent people - women, children and other vulnerable people who are taking the full brunt of the fighting.

Yet a sustainable negotiated solution is possible because each side has time and again stated their ‘reservation point’ or bottom line beyond which they will not cooperate.

Fortunately, the reservation points can help negotiators contrive a possible scope of agreement! The reservation points of the Palestinians and the Israelis overlap into what professional negotiators would call the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA).

Calculating the ZOPA statistic is a daunting task given the possible gaps between information and disinformation, uncertainties about the true values of the antagonists and the need for reliable estimations but is a critical step in forging peace. There is a real possibility that the antagonists may come to a mutually acceptable arrangement whereby they may all peacefully coexist.

Without going into the academic gymnastics of debating the nuances of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ wars, let me reiterate what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The killing of innocent people on both sides must stop.

To call the deaths of children ‘collateral damage’ is reprehensible.” The notion that the strong must prevail or to put it in the language of classical realism that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must is unethical.

The international community led by Israel’s ‘Big Brother’ the USA, supported by EU leverage, should help them reach agreement.

In a speech at Cairo University in June 2009, President Obama and in a separate meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly stated that the USA would again be an active participant in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Working towards peace in the Middle-East had, since the time of Henry Kissinger when he was Secretary of State, been a priority of the USA but had languished under the George Bush (Jr) whose endeavours did not go beyond the outline of the so-called ‘Road Map’ done at the summit of Annapolis, Maryland in 2007. The Obama speech raised some optimism when it signaled US willingness to be actively engaged once again.

The current slaughter in Gaza demonstrates that previous attempts at peace have ended and new initiatives as well as strategies are necessary, starting with talks about talks; agreeing to a venue; determining the constitution of the delegations; selecting mutually acceptable mediators; setting the agenda; separating interests from positions; policy formulation, analysis and evaluation, among others.

The success of the negotiations will depend on how the preliminaries are managed. If I may paraphrase Uganda Martyrs University Vice Chancellor Charles Olweny when he wants to underscore the urgency of an intervention and is setting a timeline, ‘something needs to be done as soon as yesterday’!

Mr Baligidde teaches Principles and Techniques of Diplomatic Negotiations and Mediation’ at the East African School of Diplomacy, Governance and International Studies of Uganda Martyrs University-Nkozi.