Hamas-Israelis: Is Mediation Possible?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 23 Oct 2023
19 Oct 2023 – As the Israeli-Hamas conflict intensifies amid growing frustration and anger in much of the Middle East, the situation looks as if it were on a downward spiral. We see in this armed conflict between Israel and Hamas that in polarized situations of armed conflict and humanitarian crisis, there is a need for a go-between, a third-party mediator who can help to overcome barriers and to start negotiations. Mediation is an effort to change perceptions both of the nature of the conflict and of the enemy to the extent that both protagonists gain some hope of a reasonable resolution and so are more prepared to negotiate seriously. There is a need to lessen misconceptions and exaggerated fears and to find small realistic steps that can be taken on the long road to transcend a raging quarrel.
There are basically three sources of possible mediators. One is the United Nations which has provided in some cases leadership opportunities. However, a U.N. mediator can rarely use threats. He has no funds to promise aid to back up his efforts and cannot call upon the type of resources that a national government has. It was only in 2007 that the U.N. set up a Mediation Support Office. Until then, U.N. staff had to be pulled from other U.N. work. Seldom have U.N. mediators had offices on the ground constantly monitoring developments
A second source of mediators are national governments. The “shuttle diplomacy” of Henry Kissinger in the Middle East is a classic example as is Richard Holbrook in the former-Yugoslavia conflicts. National mediators can call upon a wide range of governmental resources. However, national governments have “national interests” and are not necessarily neutral or seen as neutral. The Russian Federation, China and Egypt are possible governmental mediators in the Israel-Hamas conflict but all three have their own power interests.
The third source of mediators is the non-governmental sector. The International Committee of the Red Cross has a recognized mandate to work in conflict situations to protect civilians and the conditions of prisoners of war. There are also humanitarian aid organizations already present in the Gaza Strip, but they have fewer contacts on the Israeli side. It takes time to establish relationships with key decision makers who are in a position to change policies.
The first and probably most important step in mediation is analysis. The mediator needs to diagnose the situation to get a picture of what is possible, and an understanding of the social systems and political, economic, and cultural structures within which he must work. It is imperative for the mediator to study the parties, their interests and the issues to assess whether there is a real possibility to advance toward negotiations. In many armed conflicts there is often a struggle for power among different factions and personalities. This may limit the space for agreement. While there is now a “unity government” in Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are still separate bodies working in an atmosphere of suspicion. One does not know how relations between them will develop.
A mediator must try to keep lines of communication open between the primary parties and to reduce human suffering. The protracted nature of many peace processes – with negotiations breaking down, followed by new attempts to settle conflicts, underlines the many difficulties of mediation. For the moment, there seems to be little possibility for mediation in the Israel-Hamas conflict. However, we must keep our eyes open as the non-governmental avenue may be the most likely for progress.
René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.
Tags: Conflict Mediation, Gaza, Hamas, Massacre, Mediation, NGO, Palestine/Israel
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Oct 2023.
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