There is growing consensus among Israelis and Palestinians that the paradigm of pursuing a two-state solution through bilateral talks has reached a dead end. Yet the widely discussed alternatives to this supposedly expired model have not posed a credible challenge to it. Instead they have been confined largely to academic discussions among activists who enjoy little support in their societies; the proposals are more a reflection of widespread desperation than a serious movement to bring change. In the absence of a negotiated settlement to the conflict, one possibility, though currently remote, is that Israel and a future Palestinian state will establish a long-term truce that settles some disputes, such as over territory, while leaving other issues unresolved.
During three days in 2003, an Israeli–Palestinian group met in London to negotiate the draft of the “Geneva Initiative,” which offered a potential final status agreement between Israel and Palestine. In this article, I analyze the video recording of these unofficial negotiations and examine how the framing and conduct of the talks enabled significant progress toward reaching an agreement.
I describe six main framing techniques used by the mediators: calling the meetings an “exercise,” which reduced restraints on the participants and enhanced their flexibility, avoiding deep historical issues to focus solely on future-oriented pragmatic solutions, allowing the participants to discuss any topic they chose while deliberately avoiding crucial narrative issues, convincing the participants that this track two negotiation was crucial for the future of official Israeli–Palestinian relations, accentuating the parties’ understandings and agreements with each other, and building a sense of superordinate group identity among the participants, to encourage cooperation.
While the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has raged for decades, in all of its ramifications there has never been a totally structured or scientific approach to the conflict with all of its details. The Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) approaches the problem along these lines. There are a plethora of reasons why the traditional face to face negotiations have broken down over the years. This paper identifies a significant number of those impediments and indicates how the AHP can productively address them. A summary of the highlights of the AHP approach precedes how it has been applied to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. To date, the participants, significant members of both communities, have derived and agreed upon a solution that includes all the major issues, except for the refugee problem. That problem is currently being worked on, but will take an extended period because of the unique factors involved. What has been provided is an agreed upon solution to virtually all of the issues impeding past negotiations, including borders, settlements, the status of Jerusalem, the Holy Places, security and expectations of each side.
Using the 2005 unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a case study, this article exposes an apparent paradox: circumstances may exist in which an outcome that serves the interests of parties to a conflict cannot be achieved through bilateral negotiation but can be achieved by unilateral action. Although the withdrawal was seen at the time as serving the interests of both the Israeli government and the Palestinians, we argue that the same result could not have been achieved through bilateral negotiations. “Behind-the-table” internal conflicts on each side would have made it impossible for the leaders to agree on the scope of these negotiations.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s success in implementing his Gaza withdrawal was attributable in significant measure to his ability to maintain ambiguity about his long-run plans for the West Bank. Only by focusing attention on Gaza was he able to build the necessary coalition to implement the controversial move. The Palestinian leaders, on the other hand, could never have agreed to come to the table to negotiate about Gaza alone — they would have insisted that the scope of any negotiations address a broad range of final status issues.
In this article, we identify some of the lessons that the Gaza example teaches regarding the utility and limits of unilateralism as well as the benefits and potential costs of employing ambiguity as a strategy to help accomplish a controversial move. Finally, we also explore the aftermath of the withdrawal and its many missed opportunities for improving the outcome. We suggest that, even when acting unilaterally, leaders should carefully consider the probable impact of their actions on the internal conflicts of their adversaries.