Apply Sparingly

Alastair Crooke

Bitterlemons, May 12, 2005

The international third party role (3PR) has been evolving into a remedy believed to hold quite wide-ranging restorative powers. It has become a remedy for ailments to a political process for which its efficacy is not evident. A key ailment, in the Israeli-Palestinian context, is the international community’s persistence with a political framework (Oslo) whose flaws have become only too evident since 1993. The loss of credibility and legitimacy of the incremental process for both parties is a fundamental failing; but one that the international community refuses to address or even to recognize.

The asymmetrical nature of the power of the two parties to the negotiations underlies the problematic approach of both toward each other. Inevitably, the involvement of a 3PR has been seen by some as a useful counter-weight in the search to correct the perceived asymmetry of power. It also has been resisted by others for that same reason. Equally the 3PR has been viewed as the tool to drive forward the incremental process against a backdrop of popular disenchantment with an incremental process that is seen failed by both communities. Both of these requirements overburden the 3PR. The latter does have an important function; but third party interventions however are not the remedy to all the flaws of the process. The answer is to address some of those failings directly.

The role of intelligence services in this process derived from the CIA’s security committees that were designed to oversee security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. As originally conceived, the objective was not to mediate, but simply to “hold the ring”. The subsequent evolution of a mediation role to try to keep down the level of violence however does not sit easily with the prime interest of intelligence services. Their interest lies in maintaining and preserving key relationships with individuals and services that they view as strategic. This objective can easily conflict with a wider mediation role that is centered on listening broadly and being seen to attend to all the various constituencies. There is an inherent tension between the narrow security optic from which the intelligence services approach a 3PR, and that of building a critical mass of support for a process and a security framework that may require the 3PR to extend across various constituencies and factions.

There is unquestionably a role for facilitation/mediation in any conflict. Ticking off breaches of a ceasefire, however, is a separate role and one that should not be conflated with the facilitation task. In practical terms, the role of monitoring a ceasefire has not been of key importance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is fairly obvious to all whether the situation is deteriorating or improving.

More important is the role of facilitation and verification: to be seen on the ground, to witness events, to listen to problems and grievances, to trouble-shoot specific misunderstandings and problems, to explain what is happening widely to opinion-formers and, crucially, to work to lift the “feel-good factor”. The dynamic of moving from conflict to political progress depends fundamentally on that sense of improving conditions and improving horizons. People will only wait so long in the absence of tangible signs of improvements in daily life.

Practical experience has underlined the time-consuming work of going between the various constituencies to sort out the mechanics of de-escalation of violence, building public support and acting to “translate” the perceptions of one side to the other. It is not clear that intelligence services are best equipped to do this type of work or, at least, to do it unaided by other mediators.

One Comment

  1. marthafines wrote:

    Merry Christmas to all… and to all a good night.

Leave a Reply