Forget Empathy, Path to Mideast Peace Lies in Hardboiled Realism

Shared Interests Should Push Israel and Palestinians To Deal

Keep Hate Alive: Israelis and Palestinians should forget about trying to understand one another’s grievances. They can keep hating one another, and still come to a compromise peace that will benefit both sides.
getty images
Keep Hate Alive: Israelis and Palestinians should forget about trying to understand one another’s grievances. They can keep hating one another, and still come to a compromise peace that will benefit both sides.

By Natasha Gill

Published April 03, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

By calling on enemies to recognize each other’s suffering, and suggesting that such humanization might push leaders to peacemaking, the president appeared to be embracing some of these obsolete principles of reverse-peacemaking. But the prerequisites of a viable peace process don’t require parties to feel each other’s pain: They require all sides to develop their own informed opinions of what the much-vaunted “painful compromises” will look like.

Rather than mutual humanization, the president might have suggested that ordinary citizens, civil society leaders and policymakers alike practice negotiations-think — namely, shifting their stance from advocate-preachers to leaders/problem-solvers, and from insisting on demands that will never be met to addressing interests that can be secured.

Consider a few differences between meet-my-demands and negotiations-think. In meet-my-demands, you expect your enemies to abandon their core beliefs, shed their loyalties to their country and people and submit to your view of what is right. Such grandstanding may bolster your short-term popularity, but it leaves no grounds for an agreement that could actually address your people’s needs.

In negotiations-think you assess your real options: If you have the overwhelming force to subdue your enemy and the will to follow through, you may well plan for that approach. But if you have decided to opt for a non-violent solution, you begin to seriously consider your adversary’s interests, no matter how abhorrent you find them to be, so as to find where yours and his may meet.

In meet-my-demands, you are bent on revealing the evils of your enemy and convincing third parties of the justice of your cause. Despite a century of evidence to the contrary, you still believe that you can resolve the conflict by appealing to an external deus ex machina without dealing with your enemy directly.

In negotiations-think, you are like the angry but exhausted divorcing couple. You recognize a negotiation for what it is — an imperfect process that makes you feel that you have received far less than what you believe is your right, offered your enemy much more than you think he deserves, and even betrayed some of your principles; but you have nonetheless achieved something concrete for your own people because you have focused single-mindedly on liberating them from their enemy, and satisfying their vital future needs.

The time does not have to be ripe for negotiations in order for negotiations-think to be fruitful. Irrespective of how parties view traditional paradigms of peace, negotiations will ultimately be a part of any deal no matter what its shape. Negotiations-think can prepare the ground for a more authentic peace process by encouraging people to become conflict-literate: to learn about the actual impasses rather than distorted versions filtered through biased news reports, moribund talking points, inflamed campus debates or “balanced” but unworkable policy recommendations.

This form of conflict literacy can provide the public with enough information to be able to hear what is on offer in any potential peace negotiation and to judge for themselves whether a compromise is legitimate and represents their own interests, rather than react with indignation at the first sign that their ideal vision of a solution is being compromised.

Natasha Gill, a former professor of conflict studies at The New School, is founder and director of TRACK4, which runs negotiation simulations for diplomats, mediators, journalists, policy makers, students and community leaders.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.