Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Tragic Alternative to Negotiating

As a professional negotiator,, I want all the disputes of the World decided by negotiation. It makes me very sad when that does not happen, but not surprised.

I know that Israel and various Arab factions have been carrying on a blood feud for some 58 years. I know when a peaceful solution gets close one of the factions on one side or the other or both screws things up to prevent it.

That is the problem when each of the two sides to a dispute is really itself several sides or factions. Here Palestine has three: Hezb’allah, HAMAS and Fatah. Israel has no fancy names, but right, left and center.

The Israeli center had been in control of its interaction with Palestine since P.M. Sharon began limiting settlements and pulled out of Gaza (a piece of land generally south of Israel and near Egypt). There was not a lot of talk with Palestine, but a fair amount of unilateral activity in keeping with having a Palestinian state that included Gaza. This centrism happened when the Israeli right—favoring war against Palestine—and the left—favoring peace talks—became so balanced in power that the center could take hold. Then Sharon had a devastating stroke and was replaced as P.M. by Mr. Olmert.

Palestine has no political center. But it has factions. Fatah, created by Arafat, was replaced as the most powerful political force—the force in parliament—in a recent election, by HAMAS ("Islamic Resistance Movement” in Arabic, but also an Arabic word for fervor, and a Hebrew word for violence), and a Sunni Islamic group hostile to Israel.

I believe the reason for the HAMAS replacement was that Fatah had run a government increasingly corrupt and effete. In any case, a showdown was about to occur between the HAMAS parliament and the Fatah president of Palestine on a referendum the latter called. And HAMAS was having great trouble running the economy of Palestine, especially with the outside world disfavoring sending cash to a HAMAS Palestine. I think that is why HAMAS arranged to kidnap an Israeli soldier, covering its problems at home.

That kidnapping was far more provocative than shooting him. It was supposed to be. It got the new Olmert government revved up. Olmert was Sharon’s detail guy, but was not ready to make long-term policy, and he over-reacted. I do not think HAMAS, as a controller of a state, would have beheaded the soldier. In fact, it still has not. It would have held him, maybe put him on TV, and continued to bait Israel.

But Israel took the bait almost immediately. It retaliated violently against HAMAS’s Gaza. But there is another group of Palestinians called Hezb’Allah, the Party of God, and a Shiite Islamic Group of Palestinians mostly living in Lebanon. Keep in mind that the Shia (including Hezb’Allah) hate the Sunni (such as HAMAS) and have for centuries. So, not to be outdone, Hezb’Allah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Of course, Israel took out against them, and their Lebanese hosts.

That puts the hawkish Israeli right in ascendance, defending the Land of Israel, and means revving down this fight will take an enormous amount of Western jawboning and a good deal of tincture of time. Many will die on all sides in the Middle East. And gas in the US will hit four bucks.

I believe in negotiation but I also believe sometimes the parties have to mud wrestle a great deal before they are exhausted enough to talk. Sadly, this is such a time.