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Mediation Perspectives: How to Prevent the Clash of Narratives from Undermining Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Erkat, Kerry, Livni
Erkat, Kerry, Livni. Photo: U.S. Department of State/flickr.

“I can assure you that in these negotiations it is not our intention to argue about the past but to create solutions and make decisions for the future.”

– Chief Israeli Negotiator Tzipi Livni

Any third party mediator dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict is burdened with a 130-year-old dilemma: insoluble disagreements between Palestinians and Israelis over the causes of the conflict continue to obstruct peace-making efforts today.

There is no easy way out of this dilemma, but a few observations may be useful in pointing the way forward for any future mediation.

Reconciling narratives is not possible

Because many third parties can see the validity of both sides’ perspectives on the causes of the conflict, they may be led to believe that the parties themselves can ‘bridge’ their conflicting narratives. Such bridging appears necessary since issues such as the Palestinian right of return and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state inevitably force history onto the negotiating table.

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Mediation Perspectives: Commentary on the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation

Carter, Tutu, Bahsir
Former US President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu meet Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir during their visit to Sudan, 2007. Photo: Andrew Heavens/flickr.

The July 2011 UN General Assembly resolution on strengthening mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes was an important demonstration of support for mediation by the international community. The Guidance for Effective Mediation, called for in the resolution and subsequently developed by the UN, is a useful reference document for mediation prac­titioners and the broader policy community. Translating Mediation Guidance into Practice, developed by the NGO members of the Mediation Support Network (MSN), expands on the guidance. It provides examples of effective and ineffective mediation practice in conflicts around the world.

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Mediation Perspectives: Peace Mediation Quo Vadis?

Darfuri Armed Movement Discussions
Photo: Darfuri Armed Movement Discussions/Wikimedia Commons.

Is the way that armed conflicts are being mediated today different as compared to five or ten years ago? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’, what are the challenges facing mediation efforts and how might mediators go about confronting them? These and other questions were explored during a panel discussion at the 2013 International Security Forum (ISF).

Peace Mediation is Changing

In the 1980s, track 1 mediators focused on the security aspects of armed conflicts, leaving the political, economic, social and justice questions to be dealt with later by other mechanisms. From the mid-1990s, however, track 1 mediators have been asked to approach mediation very differently: the root causes of armed conflict were to be addressed, and this was oriented by a total “vision of society” that was developed by the conflict parties. The result was long and highly complex peace processes, such as the Burundi Arusha (1998-2000) or the Sudan North-South processes (2002-2005). In both cases, mediation teams were larger, and consisted of mediation process experts, topical experts on security, justice, economy, and social issues, alongside coordination by a chief mediator (such as Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela (Burundi) or General Lazaro Sumbeiywo (Sudan)). Since the Sudan Process, there has not been an equivalent peace process, which begs the questions: are we in a phase of transition that possibly mixes the 1980s security mediation model with comprehensive mediation approach of the 1990s? If so, at what stage are we at in terms of development?


Engaging Boko Haram: Militarization, Mediation, or Both?

Image by notionscapital/Flickr.

Boko Haram has persistently defied all attempts by the Nigerian government to stop the violent spread of its activities from the northern part of the country, and sectarian violence and attacks have assumed new and dangerous dimensions in Africa’s most populous state. Nigerians are currently experiencing an era characterized by intensive military operations similar to those previously launched against Niger Delta militants, and an uncertain mood is prevailing which some have compared to the state of affairs during the Nigerian civil war.

Military regiments of the Joint Task Force (JTF) have been deployed across areas considered to be the country’s “geographies of terror,” from the cities of Maiduguri to Jos, and from Kano to Damaturu, the extent of which is reflected in unprecedented security expenditure figures rising to nearly a quarter of the national budget for 2012. In spite of these efforts, the first half of 2012 has seen a rise in the incidence of Boko Haram attacks. While armed action cannot be totally discounted, its utility as a single tactic has proved futile and has underscored the need for the Nigerian government to unify under a common goal and intensify its efforts at dialogue and mediation.

Privatizing Conflict Mediation? Not Really

Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari has been a mediator for them all: governments, the UN and NGOs. Image: Joi Ito/flickr

In a recent article, The Economist suggests that efforts to resolve international conflicts are increasingly being outsourced to NGOs such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre) or the United States Institute for Peace (USIP).

While we at the ISN are proud to have our partners mentioned among the leading conflict mediators — and grateful, as ever, to USIP and HD Centre for sharing their expertise with us in the form of case studies, practical guides and research reports — the Economist raises a serious question.  Have governments really lost their taste for mediating conflicts? Is the UN really as paralyzed by competing political agendas as the article suggests?

Even as private organizations play a bigger role in peace processes today than they did in the past, governments and the UN are hardly less active in this area. Consider the following: