Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mediating the Israel/Palestine Divorce

I am a regular viewer of Up With Chris Hayes, a show whose signal achievement in six short months has been the acceptance, and indeed, encouragement, of long-form discussion on public policy.  On the March 11th 2012 episode, Mr. Hayes had a full two-hour discussion of the Israeli/Palestinian "conflict" (for lack of a better term) with panelists who articulated various points of view.  As things tend to do when the topic is "Israel" and "Palestine," things got heated both on the show and on the running dialogue that occurs at the Twitter hashtag (#uppers) that I, and others, post to during the program.  

Afterwards, I gave some thought to what really needs to be done to solve this thorny problem.  Having already put out my own "30 second" proposal for peace, ( which the folks at the State Department haven't gotten around to considering, (ha ha), I dug a little deeper into my own experience and came to realize that this long-running drama bears a lot of similarity to something else I've experienced - divorce.  

In a bizarre way, the Israelis and Palestinians are the couple that has accumulated decades of resentment and hostility, albeit instead of issues like who didn't put the toilet seat down they are arguing over who has more blood on their hands, and can no longer see the forest for the trees.  Public pronouncements become long gripe sessions over who has done what wrong (and more often) and a veritable greek chorus of supporters on both sides wage a secondary media campaign to elevate their side while maligning the other.  Imagine going through an awful divorce and having all of your and your spouse's friends and family constantly chirping about that time you forgot little Johnny's birthday party or made a scene at Thanksgiving.  This type of tit for tat does little to address the core problem, but it succeeds in getting each side to dig their heels in that much deeper because their advocates are reinforcing their sense of victimization. 

In a divorce, you can only do this for so long before the realities of limited finances and established case law start bumping up against your desire for revenge or utter defeat of your soon-to-be ex.  In politics, or at least in Israeli/Palestinian politics, no such parameters exist because no third party has ever stepped in and said "stop the nonsense and get this issue resolved."  Part of what led me to write that initial blog post about a different kind of 2-state solution was my own experience in the region but also the experience of having gone through mediation during my divorce.  Good mediators are very effective at shutting down the finger pointing and carping over who has been wronged and getting to a settlement that, if successful, leaves each party a little unhappy.

Unhappy you say?  Typo?  Not hardly.  Good compromises, good solutions, good mediations require each side to give up some things they would prefer not to do because that sacrifice allows them to get to a solution.  Whether negotiators from Israel or Palestine will admit it or not, the general land parameters of a 2 state solution are out there (even if I happen to think the idea of Israel abutted on 2 sides by Palestine is unworkable, that's the route they seem to want to go in), but the hard decisions, on right of return, Jerusalem, and security elude an answer even, if reporting is to be believed, the Israelis have extended no fewer than 3 proposals, at Camp David (2000), Taba (2001) and the Olmert proposal (2008).  

So here is what I would suggest: call Bill Clinton, give him access to Camp David and tell the Israelis and Palestinians that they aren't allowed to leave until they sign an agreement and if they do, every country that supports BOTH sides will pull any and all funding or support they give to each.  On the other hand, if they do get to an agreement, those same countries will give immediate diplomatic recognition to BOTH countries fully and completely, (something that would require all Arab nations to sign on to this endeavor).  Make this your Madrid 1991 moment President Obama, think outside the box and get these two warring "spouses" to the mediation table where they can finally divorce and go on with their lives. 


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