GABRIEL BACALOR 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
According to recent opinion polls conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy
and Survey Research (PSR), an overwhelming majority of the Palestinians (61
percent) want their government to follow the peace policies of Fatah and
President Mahmoud Abbas, while only 18% support the agenda of Hamas.
survey also highlights a broad popular perception of threat in Palestinian
society, with 81% of the West Bankers and 82% of Gazans believing that Israel’s
long-term goal is to annex the West Bank and expel its inhabitants or deny them
their political rights.
Although the results of the survey are not
conclusive per se, they can be considered an unequivocal sign of disenchantment
and fear, in a society begging for independence and freedom. However, the
oppressive policy of the current Israeli administration, which includes the
development of building sites in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, makes it
doubtful that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government is properly
assessing the key features of the Palestinian culture of negotiation, and
consequently the likelihood of policy implementation.
Palestinian negotiation patterns can be seen as shaped by four main factors:
strong national self-esteem wounds, distrust of alliances, a definitive
instability in the representative power of the negotiators, and a tendency to
negotiate based on principles rather than proposals. Let us briefly analyze
these patterns in the order they have been raised.
Perhaps the most
important historical element in shaping the Palestinian identity has been the
Nakba, or “catastrophe,” that the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948
represented for the Arab nation. The declaration of Israel’s independence in 78%
of the territory liberated by the British Mandate in Palestine led to the
displacement of 725,000 Palestinian Arabs and a resulting humanitarian crisis,
manifest in the current issue of refugees. Next to the Nakba, the military
occupation added to the deterioration of Palestinian self-esteem. The length of
this occupation has shaped national identity, with daily traumatic expressions
taking place at IDF checkpoints, where allegiances are tested and evaluated,
approved or rejected.
THE FORCED diaspora of the Palestinian people,
mainly to the Arab countries bordering Israel, has helped forge the Palestinian
leadership’s mistrust of the value of partnerships and the sustainability of
long-term agreements as well. The schizoid relationship of love and hate between
the Palestinians and their Arab brothers, as evidenced in the duality of their
unconditional support for the Palestinian cause and the hostile treatment the
refugees receive in those countries, has strengthened the suspicion of the
Palestinian people and fostered a bias in the culture of negotiation toward the
consummation of interim agreements. Unlike definitive agreements, such mid-term
pacts offer a chance to “learn by doing” and assess progress sequentially from
successes and mistakes.
The third component of the Palestinian culture of
negotiation is the instability of their political and military power. As Yasser
Abed Rabbo claimed, the Palestinians were granted leaders rather than a
leadership structure. In a context of instability and uncertainty, Palestinian
negotiators are constrained by public opinion to make painful concessions.
Today, it is essential to understand the phenomenon of Palestinian public
opinion, not by the democratic standards of the Western world, but as a
regulatory tool of the factions active within the military and political life of
the Palestinian nation.
Finally, consistent with the observation of
literary theorist Edward Said, the experience of the ongoing negotiation rounds
made from 1991 has shown that the Palestinian negotiating style tends to be
based on principles rather than specific proposals. This phenomenon can be
explained by the centrality of the dominant figures in the Palestinian scene,
who select their negotiators based on loyalty or cronyism, rather than their
technical skills in negotiating specific aspects such as security, finance,
infrastructure, health or education.
INTERCULTURAL NEGOTIATION Theory
postulates that national experiences shape the diplomatic culture and the style
of negotiation. The ignorance or underestimation of these aspects by the
Netanyahu government, hinders the natural development of the peace process
between Israelis and Palestinians. The construction of a new paradigm that takes
cultural patterns into account would promote understanding between the parties
and expand the scale of possible achievements at the negotiating
Palestinian leaders require partners who will guarantee them
beneficial prospects and concessions reflecting their cultural understanding.
Building a framework of trust and avoiding unnecessary provocations provides
legitimacy to Abbas, to the detriment of terror factions that also hold
political power today. Between faith and disillusionment, between history and
myth, Jews and Arabs in a Middle East characterized by Albert Camus’s “absurd
human nature” may be able to imagine Sisyphus happy, and finally have a chance