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Negotiating in the bazaar
From now on if anyone asks Israel for peace plans, the answer should be: No plans, no suggestions.
On December 24, 1977, at the very beginning of the negotiations between Israel and Egypt in Ismailia, I had the opportunity of a short discussion with Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president. "Tell your prime minister," he said to me, "that this is a bazaar; the merchandise is expensive." I duly told my prime minister, but he failed to abide by the bazaar's rules. The failure was not unique to him. It has been the failure of all Israeli governments, and the media. On March 4, 1994, The Jerusalem Post ran an article of mine called "Novices in negotiations." The occasion was the conclusion of the Cairo Agreement. A short time later, Yasser Arafat proved yet again that his signature wasn't worth the ink in his pen, let alone the paper to which it was attached. In the Mideastern bazaar, diplomacy agreements are kept not because they are signed but because they are imposed. In addition, in the bazaar of the Arab-Israeli conflict the two sides are not talking about the same merchandise. The Israelis wish for peace based on Arab-Muslim acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. The Arabs' objective is to annihilate the Jewish state, replace it by an Arab one, and get rid of the Jews. To achieve their goal, the Arabs have both taken to the battlefield and adopted bazaar diplomacy. In the bazaar, the most important rule is that if the vendor knows about your desire to purchase a certain merchandise, he will put its price up. The merchandise in question is "peace," and the Arabs give the impression that they possess this merchandise - and inflate its price - when the truth is they have never had it. THIS IS THE wisdom of the bazaar: If you are clever enough you can sell nothing, at a price. The Arabs sell words, they sign agreements, they trade with vague promises and are sure to receive generous down payments from eager buyers. Yet in the bazaar only the stupid buyer pays for something he has yet to see. The bazaar has another rule, which holds for the negotiating table too: The side that presents its terms first is bound to lose, since the other side builds its next move using the open cards of its opponent as a starting point. In all its negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs Israel has always rushed to offer its plans - and was then surprised to discover that after an agreement had been "concluded" it became the basis for further demands. Most amazing has been the reaction in such cases. Israeli politicians, "experts" and media eagerly provide "explanations" of the Arabs' behavior. A popular one is that these or other Arab announcements are "for internal consumption," as if that doesn't count. Others invoke "the Arab sensitivity to symbols," "honor," and "emotional issues. Does Israel possess no "sensibilities" or honor? And what does all this have to do with political encounters? If anybody in Israel is listening, here is what needs to be done: Israel should stop talking about "peace." We have been using the word for 100 years, begging the Arabs to sell it to us and ready to pay any price. We have received nothing, because the Arabs have no peace to sell, but we have paid dearly. FROM NOW ON, Israel should make a decision to create a new state of affairs, one that will compel the Arab side to ask for peace - and pay for it in real terms. For, unlike the Arabs, Israel has this merchandise for sale. What will lead them to pay? If they conclude that Israel is so strong they cannot destroy it. From now on, if anyone asks Israel for "plans," the answer should be: No plans, no suggestions, no "constructive ideas" - in fact no negotiations at all. If the Arab side wants to negotiate, let it present its plans and ideas. And if and when it does, the first Israeli reaction should always be: "Unacceptable - come up with better ones." Here are the Ten Rules for Negotiations in the Middle Eastern bazaar:
  • Never suggest anything to the other side. Let the other side present its suggestions first.
  • Always reject; disagree. Use the phrase "doesn't meet our minimum demands," and walk away, even 100 times. The tough customers get the good prices.
  • Don't be hasty to come up with counter-offers. There will always be time for that. Let the other side make amendments under pressure of your total "disappointment." Patience is the name of the game: "Haste is from Satan!"
  • Have your own plan ready in full, as detailed as possible, with the "red lines" completely defined. Weigh the other side's suggestions against this plan.
  • Never change your detailed plan to meet the other side "half-way." Remember, there is no "half-way." The other side also has a master plan. Be ready to quit negotiations when you encounter stubbornness on the other side.
  • Never leave things unclear. Always avoid "creative phrasing" and "creative ideas" - which are exactly what your Arab opponent wants. Remember that the Arabs are masters of language, and playing with words is the Arab national sport. As in the bazaar, always talk dollars and cents.
  • Always bear in mind that the other side will try to outsmart you by portraying major issues as unimportant details. Treat every detail as vitally important.
  • Emotion belongs neither in the market nor at the negotiating table. Friendly words, outbursts of anger, holding hands, kissing, touching cheeks and embracing should not be taken to represent policy.
  • Beware of popular beliefs about the Arabs and the Middle East - e.g., "Arab honor." Never do or say anything because somebody told you it is "the custom." If the Arab side finds out you are playing the anthropologist, it will take advantage.
  • Always remember that the goal of all negotiations is to make a profit, and aim at making the biggest profit in real terms. Remember that every gain is an asset for the future, because there is always likely to be "another round." The Arabs have been practicing negotiating tactics for more than 2,000 years. By contrast, the Israelis, and Westerners in general, want "quick results." In this part of the world, there are no quick results. He who is hasty always loses. The writer, professor of Islamic History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was previously the prime minister's adviser on Arab affairs to Menachem Begin.
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