Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Friday, February 4, 2011

Coping with the "Peace Process"

You are someone who is deeply interested in peace in the Middle East. Imagine that it has just been revealed that Israel turned down serious Palestinian offers during talks with a lame duck Israeli government, that the Labor Party after a decade of constant downsizing has now split in two, that Kadima is divided into two rival factions struggling for control of the party, and that the Palestinians are divided between one faction in Gaza that doesn't want peace under any conditions that Israel could offer and that the other faction in the West Bank probably cannot deliver on any peace agreement made. Just think how you would feel! Oh, all of that actually did happen, so you better pay attention to my step by step guide for maintaining your sanity.

Step One. Choose two other peace processes that are ongoing and that can be followed in the news. In the early 1990s I chose South Africa and Northern Ireland. I chose South Africa because I had written my doctoral dissertation on the country, but I could have chosen El Salvador.

Step Two. Find a good internet site where you can get daily or weekly updates on the state of the peace process and analysis. In the 1990s I had to rely on the press and had to make weekly trips downtown to buy The Irish Voice from New York to follow what was going on in Northern Ireland. In 2001 a prominent Belfast journalist told me about Newshound, an internet site that carried links to articles in the British, Irish and Ulster press on the peace process and events there in general. This made it much easier to follow along.

Step Three. Read as much general literature as you can about the other two peace processes and the conflicts that preceded them. Be sure to read from multiple perspectives.

Step Four. Read some of the theoretical literature on international mediation and conflict resolution. Just deal with a few simple concepts like ripeness, leverage, and bias.

Step Five. Apply these concepts to the peace processes that you are following. Who is mediating? Why are they mediating? Was the situation ripe for resolution when the peace process began? What leverage does the mediator have over the belligerent parties? Is the mediator biased? Does this affect his leverage? How?

Step Six. By now a couple or more years have passed and two of the peace processes have gotten bogged down. Analyse what went wrong.

Step Seven. Peace has actually occurred in one of the three processes. Celebrate!

Step Eight. Continue to monitor events in the country of the successful peace process to make sure that things stay on track.

Step Nine. Read all the editorials proclaiming that we should just do in the Mideast what they did in South Africa, Northern Ireland, etc. Start to seriously compare the conditions in the one success story to those where the peace process has bogged down or failed.

Step Ten. Think back to all the obstacles that the negotiators overcame to make peace in the one success story. Whenever things go badly in the other two situations, just tell yourself that things were just as bad in South Africa, El Salvador, etc. Think back to when the ANC did a forced march over the Ciskei border and a massacre resulted or about the continuing killings in Natal throughout the peace process.

Step Eleven. Find another peace process to replace your success story. I picked Bosnia and Kosovo. Being in the U.S. Army and being deployed there helped with some of the research.

Step Twelve. Repeat steps two through ten.

Step Thirteen. Decide if you want to become a professional peace processor or get a life!

This process can also be applied with slight modifications to other things like observing regional democracy revolutions. But I cannot guarantee the one in three success rate in regions undergoing democratization or political turmoil for the first time, second time, third time, etc. particularly in the Middle East.  If you have time you might want to go back through the microfiche or microfilm at your local public library and reexamine the revolutions in the Philippines, in Eastern Europe, and in Africa. If you have access to internet databases of newspapers like The New York Times or The Washington Post you can pick one of these historical revolutions to study along with those you are currently observing.


  1. This is a very interesting list, Tom. I think "repeating steps two through ten" is especially telling.

    What exactly is ripeness? How can you tell an entity is ready to cooperate or be peaceful?

  2. Marianne,

    There are three parts to ripeness:

    1) A hurting stalemate in the conflict between the two parties with possibly the threat of a shift in the balance of power;
    2) representatives that are connected to the parties in conflict;
    3) a formula that offers a way out of the conflict.

    Usually one can't tell ahead of time, but must take a chance if signals are received that the other side is interested in negotiations.

  3. Nice post, Tom, and one that I think really puts the reader on the spot in realizing how difficult it is to find a resolution to these problems. The list works really well that way because its so interactive.