The Negotiator: how to achieve peace “tomorrow” in Israel-Palestine


Editor's note: given this week's United Nations showdown over Palestinian statehood, GlobalPost is highlighting this piece that we published in late August. 

BOSTON — In a good year, peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict transpire at a glacial pace. But these days, they seem to have stalled altogether.

Frustrated by an enduring lack of opportunity, freedom or progress, the Palestinian Authority has opted to try a different approach. In September, Palestinian officials plan to take their case directly to the United Nations, in hopes that the General Assembly will recognize their territories as a legitimate nation.

The approach is controversial, especially in Washington D.C., which provides some $500 million in aid each year, underwriting much of the Palestinian Authority’s budget.

For an analysis of the wisdom of seeking statehood through the U.N., and for insights into how to achieve peace in the Middle East, GlobalPost turned to Stuart Diamond, one of the world’s leading private-sector negotiators.

Diamond teaches the most popular class in the prestigious Wharton MBA program. He’s the author of "Getting More," a New York Times-bestselling negotiations book. His techniques have helped solve the 2008 Hollywood writer’s strike, earn companies billions of dollars, and convince four-year-olds to brush their teeth and go to bed.

And he has ideas for Israeli-Palestinian peace that no politician has proposed.

GlobalPost: The slow pace of progress over Middle Eastern peace is bad news, particularly for the Palestinians. They are the weaker party in the negotiation and they need change more than Israel does. They are losing ground to settlers, their freedom of movement is restricted, and they largely live in poverty. How does the relative weakness of the Palestinians affect their efforts to solve the crisis? What kind of leverage can they wield?

Stuart Diamond: I think the Palestinians have dug their own grave here. They're not going to get anywhere unless they show some flexibility. The Palestinians don't have to be in a weak position. They can change their position simply by giving Israel some of what it wants, namely, to be recognized by Palestine and other Arab countries. Israel will trade a lot for that.

Negotiation involves give and take. Each side has to get something. The Palestinians would be getting a state, but they have to give something tangible to Israel.

More from GlobalPost: Israel braces for new terror ahead of statehood announcement

What should Israel do in response?

If I were Israel, I would cordon off one square mile inside of east Jerusalem — which is about the same amount of space that the Vatican has to run the entire Catholic church — and I would say, “this is the future home of the capital of the state of Palestine, as soon as Palestine recognizes Israel, and three Arab countries put their embassies here.”

Not that I'm a big fan of Israel. Israel has been too pugnacious, they haven't explained their position well enough, and they've rocked the boat and made noise, and they’ve killed innocent people. But that doesn't mean that Palestinians don't also have a role in this problem.

Recognizing the lack of progress, the Palestinians have effectively decided to change the framework of the negotiation by going straight to the United Nations to request recognition for their statehood. In other words, they’re trying to bolster their position by negotiating with an alternative partner. This is a common negotiating tactic, similar to the approach presidents take in delivering a speech to the public rather than negotiating directly with Congress. Will this work for the Palestinians?

The difference for the Palestinians is that they can't go around Israel. Israel occupies the land right now. What's the U.N. going to do, go to war against Israel? How do the Palestinians think that the U.N. is going to be able to do anything?

The two sides are going to have to negotiate with each other, and come up with something reasonable, where each side gets something meaningful.

More from GlobalPost: Taking Israel's national pulse

In your book, Getting More, you talk a lot about the need to keep emotion out of negotiations. But perhaps no situation in the world is more infused with sensitivities than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In involves territorial ambitions, cultural clashes and religious fervor, and is rooted in deep historical grievances — ranging from the humiliation of Arabs at the hands of European colonialists to the legacy of genocide against the Jews during World War II. Given the extreme emotions, and that any solution to the crisis is likely to leave both groups disgruntled, how do you handle a negotiation like this?

First of all, they're negotiating over the wrong things. They're trying to fight over the past, which can't be changed, when what they need to do is add value to the future. They need to get this out of the political sphere, and into the economic sphere.

Politicians get people emotional, which means they don't focus on their goals, and they're not achieving what people really need: healthcare, education, housing, and a better life. I once asked a Jordanian how he felt about the Middle East crisis, and he said “I'm in the 'I feed my family' party. I'm in the 'healthcare for my children' party.” That's the stuff that's important, not the controversy the politicians and media are focused on.

The people on the ground — the Palestinians and some Israelis — need a better economic situation. The way to achieve peace is to build factories that have Israelis and Palestinians working together. There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Arabs working together in Israel — so in fact, there's already peace in the Middle East. They're the people who should be negotiating with each other. They already know how to do it.

One of the reasons why economic development is not spreading to the whole region is because they're doing Mickey Mouse kinds of industries, like sun-dried tomato exports. They need to pick some export with high torque, like pharmaceuticals, like Dead Sea minerals, something that employs a lot of people with a lot of international visibility.

Jordan has more than 30 pharmaceutical firms that are pretty vigorous. Israel has Teva, which is a major world pharmaceutical player. Why can't they build a factory on the West Bank or near East Jerusalem that employs Arabs and Jews to make pills? It's not rocket science. That is an economic solution. They need to start small, they need to be incremental and scale themselves up.

One of the constant problems with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is that you have extremists on both sides — ultra-conservative Jews who won’t compromise and who see West Bank settlements as a God-given right, and people who resort to terrorism on the Palestinian side. Twice, after peace accords were signed, domestic opponents have assassinated the leaders who crafted them — in 1981 Egypt’s Anwar al-Sadat was killed by fundamentalist Egyptian soldiers, and in 1995 Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin was shot by a right-wing Israeli opposed to the Oslo Accords. How should both sides deal with this?

In my view, the government's role should be to put the moderates together on both sides. That gives the whole situation a lot more legitimacy. They will work things out, especially if you have Arabs and Jews together in the workplace and in living areas.

More from GlobalPost: Glenn Beck and Herman Cain share the stage in Israel

When people are working and living together, when they share interests and assets, if the extremists want to start disrupting things they will have to kill people on both sides — including their own people. That puts the moderates squarely against the extremists, and the extremists will fall under their own weight.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad is in a very tight spot at the moment. A former IMF official widely respected in the West, he came to power with the promise of getting the Palestinian economy in shape, and attracting additional donations. Yet the territory is facing one of its worst-ever financial crises. Meanwhile, the Palestinian effort to get the United Nations to recognize its statehood is alienating donors, making the situation inside the country more difficult.

The U.S., which insists that Palestinian statehood should emerge through a negotiated settlement, has threatened to cut off aid, which currently amounts to about 1 of every 8 dollars in the Palestinian economy. Already, the Palestinians are facing a severe economic crisis. What should the prime minister do?

He could turn to the U.S. and say, “We want economic help. We want to build factories. We want to work with the Israelis, and we’re willing to recognize Israel in return for that.”

Or, he could say, “Let's say we recognize Israel, and we get a square mile in eastern Jerusalem for a capital.” They don't need more than that to start with. It’s key to be incremental. After that he could say, “One Arab embassy recognizes Israel, we get a settlement. Another one, we get a second settlement.”

Then you put the onus on the rest of the Arab countries to put their money where their mouth is. If the king of Saudi Arabia has $130 billion to give to his own people [to prevent an Arab Spring-style uprising], he certainly has some money for the Palestinians. Let's have the rest of the rich Arab countries, like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, put their money where their mouth is. Let them say, “OK, we support the Israeli-Palestinian peace. We're going to put up some money to build some factories.”

The same thing is true of Arabs who work around the world in investment banks. They should get together and fund joint programs for alternative energy, desalination, crop irrigation. Israel has great technology in drip irrigation for crops. They have all this water that they can desalinate and spread on the desert. They can start doing things like that.

It's really easy to run off your mouth. It's a lot harder to do something that actually works. I don't see many people on the ground who are actually providing healthcare, education, housing, an economic solution. That's the stuff people really need.

In the event that the Palestinians win recognition from the U.N. General Assembly, the status of Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian National Authority, will skyrocket. Moreover, especially with the Arab Spring going on around them, the Palestinians might be emboldened to take to the streets to try to make their diplomatic victory come to life on the ground. What should Israel do?

The problem with the Arab Spring is that once you see the light at the end of the tunnel, you actually have to get to the end of the tunnel. In other words, doing all this revolution is very nice, but then you have to put it to work: to organize the government, to build infrastructure, to build institutions.

Look, the Palestinians don't have to take to the streets. Everybody has already got the idea that yes, we ought to have a state of Palestine, we ought to have freedom for the Palestinians, and we ought to all get along.

The purpose for the Arab spring is for Arabs in different countries in the Middle East to let everybody know that there’s a faction that wants more freedom. We've already known that in Palestine. We've been there for decades. So the Arab Spring occurred in Palestine decades ago.

They just haven't got past the noise, past the notion that they need something better. Now they actually have to do the work, which means that the parties have to hammer out something economically productive, and stop worrying about yesterday, and create value for tomorrow. Until that happens, they will never — underscore never — reach any kind of peace that results in a better standard of living for the Palestinians.

I think the Palestinians would probably agree with much of what you're saying, but they feel that their economic opportunities are dramatically limited by the Israelis.

The Israelis would trade money for recognition. The Palestinians have to understand that. Israel wants to be recognized, and they will pay a lot for that. I don't know why the Palestinians can't get it through their head that Israel will pay for that.

Do they have anything to gain by going to the United Nations?

No. It's a diversion. It's a waste of time. What they ought to do is sit down with the Israelis, get an economic plan together and implement it. And give Israel recognition, and Israel will pay up.

So Israel wants recognition, and Palestine wants economic development.

It's a perfect trade. If they make that trade, peace occurs in the Middle East tomorrow.

Visit Stuart Diamond's website to read about his book, Getting More, or follow him on Twitter @Stuart_Diamond.

Follow author David Case on Twitter: 

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.