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This month’s papers are full of news about the newly announced Israel-UAE peace agreement, with pundits across the political spectrum, even avowed Never Trumpers, hailing it euphorically, as “historic”, “landmark”, and an “earthquake across the Middle East”.  Is this really a second Camp David, and the beginning of the long hoped-for rapprochement between Israelis and Arabs?

As a negotiation coach and trainer, I am often asked to comment on real-world negotiations.  So with the disclaimer that I am far from an expert on this region and am sure there is a wealth of information that I do not know, I will venture an opinion.  It seems to me that, whatever effects this deal might have in the medium- to long-term, it also evidences three classic negotiation mistakes, all of them rather typical of Trumpian deals:

  1. Leaving Third Parties to pay the bill.  The Germans have a saying about “asking for the bill, but not consulting the innkeeper”.  Bill Ury is fond of asserting that “there is no such thing as a bilateral agreement”.  There certainly are numerous third parties here who will be affected by this, who have so far as I know had no voice and who each have ample power to scuttle the deal.  Starting with the Palestinians themselves (“no one authorized anyone at this table to make concessions on our behalf”) to the Israeli settlers to the remaining Gulf States to a possible US President Biden to the strident voice of newly found Palestinian godfather Erdogan in Turkey, the outcry is already substantial.  How do we get any kind of consensus here?

  1. The Limited Power of Threats.  From the outright failure of Jared Kushner’s idea of “Cash for Peace” (buying the Palestinians off with promises of investment,) we are now moving to what sympathetic observers are calling “Peace for Peace”.  I would rather call it “Suspended Threat for Peace”.  As was done repeatedly with Trumpian tariffs, first President Netanyahu moved without international approval to establish settlements on the occupied West Bank territories, and now the promise is to “temporarily suspend” those settlements in exchange for a peace deal.  This may work for back alley holdups, where we hand over our wallet in exchange for the privilege of not being shot, but it is hardly a foundation for building a long-term settlement between neighbors and partners.

  1. The Devil is in the Details.  What exactly does “temporarily suspend” mean?  How are all these interested parties to be brought on board or at least convinced to tolerate these arrangements?  What is the timetable and sequencing?  Judging by the paucity of the announced US/North Korean negotiation results and Trump’s distaste for pesky detail, I would be surprised if any of this has been worked out.  No deal is a good one unless we are all clear on what each of us is to do by when, with implementation monitoring in place.

Splashing at the beach can be refreshing, especially on a hot summer day.  But what matters is the open sea ahead, the expected head winds and of course the variety of sharks and other dangerous creatures swimming underneath.

Comments welcome!


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