Conflict Management Policy Analysis
By Jay Rothman
This Article Summary written by: Cosima Krueger, Conflict Research Consortium
Rothman, Jay. (1992). "Conflict Management Policy Analysis," in From Confrontation to Cooperation, by J. Rothman, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, pp.146-163.
Introduction - The author says that it is often difficult to transfer knowledge and insights gained from conflict resolution training and intervention methodologies to public policy because those who possess such knowledge and insights are not always those in power. He says that although multilateral, interactive negotiation planning and conflict management policy-making are rare at high levels, it is still useful for policymakers on all sides of a conflict to use these approaches unilaterally. He adds that the most constructive solutions to intense conflict situations are those resulting from intrinsically motivated efforts by both sides to seek mutually satisfactory solutions. In this chapter, the author reviews the conflict between Israel and Egypt over the Taba area. He then shows how the ARI Conflict Management Framework can be used to analyze the way in which this conflict was handled, as well as alternative, more constructive, ways it could have been handled given different framing of the dispute.
History of the Taba Dispute - This dispute between Israel and Egypt was over the locations of border markers on 900 square meters of sand between the two countries. This dispute came in the wake of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in which Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai and a bilateral commission was established to demarcate the new Israeli-Egyptian border. The Taba area, which is on the Red Sea along the Gulf of Aqaba, was one of several areas in which border marker locations were disputed. Negotiations between Egypt and Israel about the exact location of these markers failed. The original dispute was then bogged down in a further dispute as to whether arbitration or conciliation procedures should be followed, as provided in the Camp David peace treaty of 1979. Talks were suspended in 1982, and it wasn't until 1986 that the two countries finally agreed upon arbitration. In 1988, the arbitration commission finally decided in favor of Egypt, after many delays and mutual threats between the two countries. Israel then withdrew from Taba.
Adversarial Approach - According to the author, Egypt and Israel's adversarial approach to this dispute affected all phases of the negotiation over Taba and left both countries feeling dissatisfied with the settlement process as well as the settlement itself.
Adversarial Problem Definition - Egypt and Israel framed this dispute in terms of contradictory facts regarding the location of border markers. The conflict was framed as zero-sum and thus the arbitrated settlement was a win lose outcome in which Egypt won and Israel lost.
Adversarial Analysis of Causes - The conflict over Taba was framed as a competition between adversaries over a scarce resource. Each side attributed the dispute to the other's negative dispositional traits, while claiming that its own behavior was motivated by situation constraints. Egypt couldn't give up Taba without losing face both in the Arab world and within Egypt itself. Egypt saw the Taba dispute as unwarranted Zionist expansionism. Israel's invasion of Lebanon confirmed the Egyptian's distrust of Israel. The Taba dispute was seen by Israel as evidence that Egypt was greedy and not really interested in peace, since Israel had already given most of Sinai back to Egypt. Israel's view of Egypt was confirmed by Egypt's siding with other Arab states which were in conflict with Israel.
Adversarial Generation of Alternatives ("Distributive Bargaining")- The eventual arbitrated settlement was a function of adversarial framing of the dispute by Israel and Egypt. This kind of win-lose settlement is typical of results obtained by traditional diplomacy in such disputes. The initial negotiations were characterized by power-based, give-and-take bargaining ending in no compromise and leading to the necessity of arbitration. The arbitration commission had little choice but to work within this adversarial framework using precedents in international law to decide boundaries and then hand over a win-lose verdict. Adversarial Implementation & Implications - Although the Taba dispute was settled nonviolently, both Israel and Egypt were unhappy with the verdict. Israel threatened to seek to have the arbitration agreement canceled, but eventually honored the decision under pressure from the U.S. to do so. Egypt was dissatisfied because it felt that an undesirable precedent had been set for handling future disputes. The result was a residue of bitterness on both sides, causing cold Israeli-Egyptian relations in which one dispute was settled while the underlying conflict was left unresolved. Unfortunately, this arbitrated settlement process did not lead to increased motivation or skill on either side for pushing ahead with cooperative conflict management initiatives.
Reflexive Approach - The adversarial approach taken by both parties to this dispute did not yield a truly satisfactory solution for either country because it did not address either country' s underlying needs, fears, hopes, or constraints. The author speculates about how a more satisfactory outcome might have been achieved if the two countries had been able to broaden their range of options by taking what he calls a " reflexive" approach to framing the problem.
Reflexive Problem Definition - According to the author, a reflexive approach to the Taba dispute would have revealed that the dispute was, in fact, being used by both sides to prevent a summit between Mubarak and Peres, the respective leaders of Egypt and Israel. According to his analysis, there were two reasons for this avoidance of a summit. First, the Egyptians felt that normalization of relations with Israel would have damaged Egypt's acceptance in the Arab world, thus threatening their national identity. Second, the Israelis felt that normalization of relations with Egypt would have made them look weak. According to the author, a reflexive approach to the dispute would have lead to an exploration of the fundamental values and important experiences of both sides. It would have helped both sides to look at ancient and modern historical precedents for mistrust. It would also have lead the two parties away from seeing the dispute as a legal battle over boundaries and toward an understanding by both sides of underlying psychological issues and motives.
Reflexive Analysis of Causes - When conflicts are defined in terms of mutual threats and frustrations based upon each side's unique history and experiences, it becomes possible to identify key issues on both sides. For example, in the Taba dispute one of Israel' s key needs was to insure national survival, whereas one of Egypt's key needs was to restore their national pride and sense of importance in the region. A transitional, reflexive dialog would have made it possible for both countries to gradually move away from mutual attributions of blame and evil intent and toward mutual understanding based upon situational attributions for their own and the other's aggressive actions.
Reflexive Generation of Alternatives - The author says that in order for disputing parties to begin to doubt the usefulness of adversarial approaches, they need to be able to consider the other's history, fears, needs, and values in problem-solving strategy discussions. He says that at this stage more emphasis should be placed on articulating goals than on generating concrete solutions.
Reflexive Implementation - According to the author, at the reflexive implementation stage the focus should be on identifying as many barriers as possible to successful implementation of problem-solving strategies.
Integrative Approach - In this section the author discusses how the integrative approach could have allowed Israel and Egypt to settle the Taba dispute in ways that were more constructive and mutually satisfactory.
Integrative Problem Definition - Israel and Egypt were engaged in five wars with each other between 1954 and 1979. When, in 1979, they finally sought to change their relationship to one of peace and cooperation, the relationship was already marked by a long history of negative attributions for the other's aggressive behavior. Their adversarial approach to the Taba dispute was therefore quite understandable and predictable. However, if Egypt and Israel had taken an integrative approach to defining the problem, they might have framed the Taba dispute as a dysfunctional relationship between the two countries which hindered a bilateral, creative problem-solving process. They might have recognized that the real problem lay not with "them" but with "us."
Integrative Analysis of Causes - An integrative analysis of causes could have revealed the unhealthy nature of the relationship between the two countries. Both Israel and Egypt felt their needs for security and recognition were being threatened by the other's insistence upon the importance of keeping the Taba area, and both countries were projecting their own exaggerated fears onto the other. If the Taba dispute had been framed in terms of a dysfunctional relationship between Israel and Egypt, it would have been possible for them to assess more accurately the true causes of the dispute. Only when the true causes of a dispute are recognized by both sides is it possible for them to work together to generate creative solutions that will adequately address these underlying causes.
Integrative Generation of Alternatives (" Integrative Bargaining" ) - When disputes like the Taba dispute are framed in adversarial terms, it is typical for the parties to persistently pursue unilateral solutions. Only when both sides attempt to understand the other's needs in relations to their own is it possible to generate alternative proposals that will satisfy the needs of both. Ideally, such proposals can take the form of cooperative, precedent-setting joint ventures which allow both sides to win and which offer ongoing opportunities for building a more trustworthy and productive relationship over time.
Summary - The author says that possible routes to this type of mutually beneficial paradigm shift may include: (1) problem-solving workshops, (2) controlled communication, (3) Track Two diplomacy, and (4) prenegotiation. He also says that the use of third parties to facilitate joint analyses of conflict tends to yield common definitions of problems and deeper understandings of the other party's needs and motives. This, in turn, allows disputing parties to eventually step out of combative roles and into more cooperative roles. He concludes that although the settlement of the Taba dispute was positive in that it was achieved without war, it was negative in terms of lost opportunities for greater mutual understanding, recognition, acceptance, cooperation, and trust between Israel and Egypt.