Connect to share and comment

The Negotiator: how to achieve peace “tomorrow” in Israel-Palestine

Why Palestine’s UN statehood quest will fail.

116414079 5Enlarge
A Palestinian man walks towards the Damascus gate during the Jerusalem Festival of Lights on June 15, 2011 at Jerusalem's Old City, Israel. The festival opened on Wednesday night and will run for a week in the Old City of Jerusalem, hosting Israeli and international artists and creators who will display their installations throughout the week. (Uriel Sinai/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: given this week's United Nations showdown over Palestinian statehood, GlobalPost is highlighting this piece that we published in late August. 

BOSTON — In a good year, peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict transpire at a glacial pace. But these days, they seem to have stalled altogether.

Frustrated by an enduring lack of opportunity, freedom or progress, the Palestinian Authority has opted to try a different approach. In September, Palestinian officials plan to take their case directly to the United Nations, in hopes that the General Assembly will recognize their territories as a legitimate nation.

The approach is controversial, especially in Washington D.C., which provides some $500 million in aid each year, underwriting much of the Palestinian Authority’s budget.

For an analysis of the wisdom of seeking statehood through the U.N., and for insights into how to achieve peace in the Middle East, GlobalPost turned to Stuart Diamond, one of the world’s leading private-sector negotiators.

Diamond teaches the most popular class in the prestigious Wharton MBA program. He’s the author of "Getting More," a New York Times-bestselling negotiations book. His techniques have helped solve the 2008 Hollywood writer’s strike, earn companies billions of dollars, and convince four-year-olds to brush their teeth and go to bed.

And he has ideas for Israeli-Palestinian peace that no politician has proposed.

GlobalPost: The slow pace of progress over Middle Eastern peace is bad news, particularly for the Palestinians. They are the weaker party in the negotiation and they need change more than Israel does. They are losing ground to settlers, their freedom of movement is restricted, and they largely live in poverty. How does the relative weakness of the Palestinians affect their efforts to solve the crisis? What kind of leverage can they wield?

Stuart Diamond: I think the Palestinians have dug their own grave here. They're not going to get anywhere unless they show some flexibility. The Palestinians don't have to be in a weak position. They can change their position simply by giving Israel some of what it wants, namely, to be recognized by Palestine and other Arab countries. Israel will trade a lot for that.

Negotiation involves give and take. Each side has to get something. The Palestinians would be getting a state, but they have to give something tangible to Israel.

More from GlobalPost: Israel braces for new terror ahead of statehood announcement

What should Israel do in response?

If I were Israel, I would cordon off one square mile inside of east Jerusalem — which is about the same amount of space that the Vatican has to run the entire Catholic church — and I would say, “this is the future home of the capital of the state of Palestine, as soon as Palestine recognizes Israel, and three Arab countries put their embassies here.”

Not that I'm a big fan of Israel. Israel has been too pugnacious, they haven't explained their position well enough, and they've rocked the boat and made noise, and they’ve killed innocent people. But that doesn't mean that Palestinians don't also have a role in this problem.

Recognizing the lack of progress, the Palestinians have effectively decided to change the framework of the negotiation by going straight to the United Nations to request recognition for their statehood. In other words, they’re trying to bolster their position by negotiating with an alternative partner. This is a common negotiating tactic, similar to the approach presidents take in delivering a speech to the public rather than negotiating directly with Congress. Will this work for the Palestinians?

The difference for the Palestinians is that they can't go around Israel. Israel occupies the land right now. What's the U.N. going to do, go to war against Israel? How do the Palestinians think that the U.N. is going to be able to do anything?

The two sides are going to have to negotiate with each other, and come up with something reasonable, where each side gets something meaningful.

More from GlobalPost: Taking Israel's national pulse

In your book, Getting More, you talk a lot about the need to keep emotion out of negotiations. But perhaps no situation in the world is more infused with sensitivities than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In involves territorial ambitions, cultural clashes and religious fervor, and is rooted in deep historical