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trump's middle east peace plan and peace science

The Art of the Peace Deal

Here’s what peace science has to say about President Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

Words: Kristin Henderson and Kelsey Coolidge
Pictures: Christian Wiediger

President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan will achieve anything but peace. Rather, the imposition of peace, without consent of Palestinians, may very well fuel more conflict. “The administration has made it clear that it plans to recognize Israeli sovereignty over all the land indicated for the Israelis in Trump’s map, whether the Palestinians accept it or not. That makes the Trump plan an imposed peace” concludes Tamara Cofman Wittes, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy. More alarming is the concern expressed by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, that this peace deal will institutionalize and legalize apartheid — a legal system for the separation of races.

These outcomes are unlikely to foster peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The process by which this peace deal emerged is emblematic of an administration that rejects facts and science, in this case, peace science. The research is clear — inclusive dialogue and strategic negotiation are paramount to successful peace negotiations and deals. Based on the language and substance of this peace deal, it appears that the US administration has engaged in neither of those proven strategies.

Evidence suggests that the exclusion of armed groups from peace negotiations can prolong the violence rather than secure peace. When armed groups are included in peace negotiations they will negotiate for their self-interest, moderate their stances, and demonstrate commitment to the agreements reached. Conversely, when armed groups are excluded, they use violence to satisfy their unresolved grievances. Ironically, the US is already practicing this in Afghanistan by engaging the Taliban in the peace process. Its approach here, however, refuses to engage directly with Hamas while explicitly placing demands on the group to demobilize.

What we have now is the result of ignoring research on how to build peace: a very one-sided peace deal that is already dead on arrival.

Additionally, an analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process led by Secretary of State John Kerry from 2013-2014 outlines keys steps that can be taken by a third party to ensure successful negotiations. Third parties should not fast-track negotiations and be mindful of timing. A successful negotiation is a process and third parties “can never be completely neutral or disinterested since they necessarily have their own agendas.” Therefore, it is recommended that third parties do not get involved too early so that conflict parties have an opportunity to determine all the outcomes of success and strategic alternatives then subsequently engage with one another to open multiple lines of communication without outside influence. Only after conflict parties have debated the options and established meaningful engagement should third parties become involved.

After laying the groundwork for negotiations, third party negotiators should understand peace agreements result from long-term processes. More complex peace agreements, those with a greater number of provisions, are more likely to fail. Peace agreements need to be viewed as a progression, one which encourages engagement and trust-building across multiple angles.

Negotiators should refrain from immediately attempting to address all the core issues in an all-or-nothing negotiation. In a negotiation, conflict parties need to build trust and commitment to the process. Structuring a peace negotiation as a long-term process provides conflict parties the chance to build trust though incremental steps which opens the door towards future cooperation and agreements on bigger issues.

What we have now is the result of ignoring research on how to build peace: a very one-sided peace deal that is already dead on arrival. The Palestinian Authority’s outright rejection of the deal implies that the US did very little to create a mutually enticing solution. By ignoring the desires of the Palestinians in constructing an all-or-nothing peace deal, the US is repeating the mistakes of history by heavily favoring Israel in a top-down approach.

The plan’s chief architect, Jared Kushner, is shifting the blame, wrongly asserting: “if they don’t [embrace the deal], they’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.” If it’s not already painfully obvious, speaking in such a patronizing and dismissive tone to one of the key parties of a peace process (and especially in such a public way) is no recipe for success. Because of this and a failure to lay the important groundwork for peace, the Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with Israel and the US. The so-called peace agreement was not only ineffective, but flat out counterproductive.

This blatant disregard for an entire party is more than just an oversight. It is an abject failure. If the US is committed to building sustainable peace across Israel and Palestine, then applying lessons from both peace science research and its own experience as a third-party negotiator between Israel and Palestine would be the logical approach.

Kristin Henderson is the Program Manager of War Prevention Initiative.

Kelsey Coolidge is the Associate Director of War Prevention Initiative.

Kristin Henderson and Kelsey Coolidge

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