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Negotiation is the Way
Last uploaded : Tuesday 20th Aug 2002 at 23:26
Contributed by : Oscar Arias


Negotiation is the Way
by Oscar Arias

As the whole world mourns the continued loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives, it is especially painful to reflect upon how close the parties had come to agreement at Camp David just over two years ago. The failure of that process serves as a reminder that when leaders enter into dialogue, they must be prepared to compromise. Along with patience, perseverance, humility and commitment, willingness to compromise is one of the indispensable qualities that leaders must demonstrate in situations of conflict resolution. Anyone who has been involved with peace processes knows that successful negotiation means that no one gets everything they want, and everyone gets something they can live with. The process of negotiation is in the art of give and take.

In order for this art to be practiced, the parties will need to be brought back to the negotiating table, and this will not be easy. As we have seen in recent weeks, the vicious cycle of violence continues unabated. Attacks from both sides have unnecessarily claimed the lives of civilians and reaffirmed the urgent need for conciliation. Yet, by declaring that all violence, now labeled terrorism, must end before any negotiating begins, both leaders are effectively giving veto power to any fanatic or madman on either side who wants to stop the peace process from moving forward.

Reacting to their provocation merely gives importance to their twisted thinking and deplorable methods. Negotiating for peace would not be giving in to such fanatics; in fact, it would thwart them by strengthening and consolidating good relations between Israel and the Arab world. Such a scenario would leave extremists isolated and lacking excuses for their violent behavior.

Requiring an end to violence as a pre-condition for returning to the negotiating table is putting the cart before the horse. The first step, rather, is to agree on a cease-fire. More in-depth talks on all of the other issues that divide Palestinians and Israelis would then follow. Security cannot be a condition for peace; peace is a condition for security.

The current fashion of labeling all violence terrorism is reminiscent of the way that all talk of social justice during the Cold War was labeled communism. This is not to suggest, by any means, that violence is the way to achieve social justice, nor that suicide bombings or any other type of attack on innocent civilians are ever justified. Just the opposite: both true communism and true terrorism are, in fact, evils to be confronted by all societies.

But the terms become diluted, and we lose sight of our real goals - which are peace and democracy - when we use such labels too loosely. Calling Yasser Arafat a terrorist is not going to bring Israel any closer to achieving peace and security, but talking with him might. In the same way, calling Israeli troops murderers while suicide bombings continue is not going to bring any sympathy to the Palestinian cause, but demonstrating a true desire for peace could. Both sides are caught in a destructive cycle of violence that is being fed by the extremist rhetoric of their leaders.

For a cease-fire to be achieved, it will have to be preceded by a truce of discourse. When accusations fly and multiply each day, words become weapons, and these will need to be moderated before the guns and bombs can be silenced.

Certain parties have floated proposals for a peace conference at the ministerial level. This would be a waste of time. One of the greatest lessons of our peace process in Central America was that there is no substitute for heads of state when it comes to negotiating on such explosive issues. Likewise, negotiating without Arafat is also a waste of time.

For all his obvious faults, he is the elected leader of the Palestinian people and currently their only credible representative. The official Israeli position has ranged from declaring him irrelevant to demanding that he take responsibility for all Palestinian militant activity. It cannot be both ways. If Arafat is to be held responsible, he must be given the opportunity to demonstrate leadership - both within the Palestinian territories and in any peace negotiations that take place.

According to one of his biographies, Franklin Roosevelt used to keep negotiating parties confined to a single room for as long as necessary until reaching agreement. After reading that, I became determined to apply that principle to our peace negotiations in Central America in 1987.

We five Central American presidents held the fate of some 30 million people in our hands; the responsibility was too great for us to walk away without an agreement. So far neither Yasser Arafat nor Ariel Sharon have recognized the gravity of their intransigence for the eight million lives that are directly affected by their authority. These gentlemen seem not to understand that human lives are at stake, and it is up to them to do everything in their power - and do it immediately - to stop this bloodshed.

Perhaps what is required is for the leaders of Europe, the United States, Russia and the United Nations to lock the two of them in a room together, with their respective negotiating teams, until they exhaust their rhetoric and their personal hatred and reach an agreement. This may be the only way to achieve true peace in what is considered by so many around the world to be the Holy Land.

# # #

Oscar Arias was president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 and with the prize money established the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in 1988. This article was adapted from an earlier version published in the Miami Herald.

Source: Oscar Arias, Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress

Visit the Arias Foundation website at http://www.arias.or.cr/Eindice.htm

Copyright permission has been obtained for publication via Common Ground News Service.

Common Ground News Service
e-mail: cgnews@sfcg.org Website: http://www.sfcg.org/cgnews/middle-east.cfm


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