Mediation at its core is about negotiating an agreement with the help of the mediator. While the mediator is (or should be) an expert at negotiating, it is helpful for each of the parties to a mediation to understand basic negotiating skills.
I generally do not talk about international conflict and mediation. It is a far different style of mediation than is done with either commercial or family and divorce cases; the main difference being the mediator generally does have an interest in the outcome and will use that interest to hammer on the parties to get an outcome favorable to the mediator, not necessarily the parties. For instance, during the Camp David Accords of 1978-79 that led to the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty, President Carter used the hammer of US aid (cut to the Israelis and given to the Egyptians) to force the parties into an agreement. Arguments can be made whether the treaty has been good or bad for both sides. The analogy in a civil mediation would be telling the parties that if they did not come to an agreement, my charges would be 10 times higher than if they did.
However, international conflict can be useful for insights into negotiating. In Riyadh this week, the Arab League summit is being held. The Saudi king has re-proposed his solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, which was originally proposed by the Saudis in 2002. It was rejected by Israel for two main reasons: (1) it would require Israel to withdraw to borders (the 1967 “green” line) that are not very defensible (Israel would be 8 miles wide at its center) and (2) it would allow for the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees from both the 1948 and 1967 wars to their original homes.
There are two main ways of negotiating, positional and interest-based. Positional bargaining is what you do when you buy a car or sell/buy an item in a market. You haggle over pricing with no reasoning behind it. Interest based bargaining incorporates what each parties actually wants…it’s underlying reasoning behind what the position is. For instance, in the aforementioned Camp David accord, Israel’s primary interest in conquering the Sinai was to have it act as a buffer against a military attack. The deal that was structured took that interest into account by making the territory largely demilitarized after its return to Egypt.
So, getting back to the Saudi proposal, I’m wondering what the purpose of re-introducing it is. It is certainly not to get a peace deal (most likely, it’s for public Arab consumption as well as to placate the Bush Administration). Israel faces two existential threats…one military and the other demographic. Israel has proven many times they can take care of themselves militarily (especially in an existential war), so their biggest worry is that the Jewish majority would become a minority by allowing the return of millions of Palestinians. In a democracy, this would functionally erase Israel from existance at the ballot box. Hence this is an item Israel would never agree to and thus makes the proposal a total non-starter.
Further, I was even more puzzled by this quote from the Arab League’s Secretary-General: “They tell us to amend it, but we tell them to accept it first, then we can sit down at the negotiating table.” Typically, you negotiate the details first, then there is acceptance of the agreement/proposal. He’s got it backwards…accept it then we’ll talk. What is there to talk about if you’ve already accepted the proposal?
So, the lessons here for other types of negotiations and mediation (at least if you want to be effective)? Understand what your adversary in a negotiation wants and why. Leave all options open, but get your red lines out in the open early and tell the other side why they are red lines. Making take-it-or-leave-it offers (or outrageous offers) has its dangers. The other side may just leave the table and you’re left negotiating with yourself (which is kind of like playing hold ’em poker against yourself). Even worse, the other side may get so insulted that you can’t get the negotiations started again.
Things to think about when you negotiate.