Dialogue is a Precondition to Negotiations

One party asks for more than he is willing to settle for. The other party offers less than he is ultimately willing to concede. Both parties haggle until they reach a compromise. Such is the universal law of negotiating.

As I write, Mahmoud Abbas and Benyamin Netanyahu are meeting in Washington. Each brings his own list of demands of the other. Each carries his own unstated notion of what he might eventually offer.

But this form of negotiation is inadequate and doomed to failure. It is the wrong model of discourse. It addresses what’s “on the table”, but ignores the wounds that have been, and are being inflicted everyday in the background to these negotiations. These wounds must be acknowledged if the talks are to succeed.

The very process of bargaining; the cynical mentality of offering the minimum, when, in fact the maximum has already been crudely appropriated, is an insult and an affront to the people of Palestine. Bargaining can and must begin – but not until Israel recognizes her role in the expulsion and the oppression of the Palestinian people. Without such an acknowledgement, negotiations are futile. With acknowledgement, everything becomes possible.

What if Mr. Netanyahu were challenged to imagine life in the occupied territories and to recount the Palestinian experience of the past hundred years? Perhaps, such an exercise of knowledge and imagination would constitute a “pre-condition” for talks. An Israeli acknowledgement of the impact of the Zionist movement on the people of Palestine might allow Mahmoud Abbas and even Hamas leader Ismail Haniya to enter negotiations with a hope of representing their people. The absence of such an acknowledgement renders the Palestinans invisible and the negotiations meaningless.

No doubt there are reciprocal exercises and acknowledgements to be made on the Palestinian side. Please, Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Abbas, suspend the negotiations and embark on an honest and courageous dialogue. Listen to each other and encourage your countrymen to do the same. We are weary of the false hopes and the bitter disappointments that have characterized the previous peace talks. Stop negotiating, start to hear what each other is saying, and allow some silent moments for thought and reflection.


This is a personal statement and does not reflect an MDG position. It is nevertheless influenced by the practice of dialogue by the Montreal Dialogue Group.