In a recent press briefing at the United Nations, U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told the press she met with Palestinian Authority UN Representative Riyad Mansour, and that she “stressed to him the importance of returning to the negotiations table.” Ambassador Haley told the Jerusalem Post, “I said that we are not going to support the Palestinian actions here at the UN until they came to the table.”
The Israeli newspaper goes on to report:
“Haley added she believes the discussions that have taken place at the UN on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so far ‘have been more of a hindrance towards the peace process than help, because it’s caused defensiveness to happen and that’s never healthy for anything.’”
It is curious that the U.S. Ambassador, having concluded that previous discussions at the UN on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been unsuccessful because they fostered defensiveness, has chosen the one approach that is guaranteed to foster with the Palestinians the very same reaction the Ambassador is so keen to avoid. How does the Ambassador think the Palestinians will take an ultimatum presented to them by the top representative of the world’s only super power and the person representing an American administration publically committed to playing a fair facilitator in a promised attempt to reach a “deal” between the two Middle Eastern rivals? Is it conceivable to the Ambassador that the Palestinians will take the ultimatum slapped on them as anything but an insulting attempt to strong-arm them to the negotiations table?
Not only is the ultimatum approach highly inadvisable in any facilitated negotiations situation, in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is doubly counterproductive, for the following reason: The Palestinians see themselves as the victims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That is a reasonable proposition considering the Palestinians are the side who lost land and have been under Israeli military occupation for nearly 50 years. As the victim’s side, according to Muslim/Arab dispute resolution philosophy and practice, the Palestinians expect to receive from the third-party intervenor (the United States in this case) some help in creating at least the appearance of a more leveled playing field as they are invited (not coerced) to the negotiations table.
For the process to start, it is essential to help the Palestinians feel that they are on the road to restore some of their lost honor. Absent that stage–regardless of how it’s looked at from a Western perspective–it’s unlikely the Palestinians will subscribe to any serious attempt to move the process forward. Of course, they can be coerced to cooperate initially, but the accumulating sense of humiliation, added to decades of layered perceived humiliations, is a virtual guarantee of failure to proceed constructively.
With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation is complicated by the fact that both sides long ago assumed the role of victim and have been unwilling and unable to even contemplate revising this position. It is up to Ambassador Haley to find ways to overcome this obstacle; there are ways, but an ultimatum to the Palestinians is not one of them.
Westerners and Muslims/Arabs don’t negotiate with the same toolbox. There is a tendency to ignore that in the West, and such an attitude is unlikely to promote either a successful approach to negotiations or a successful outcome of such a process. Western policy makers will do themselves, their constituencies and the whole world a great favor by making sure they know how the negotiations process gets played on the other side of the table before investing their credibility and our security in another settlement effort.