Mediating the Oslo Accords on the Middle East
by Negotiation Newsletter
Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Norway's back-channel success story." Negotiation Newsletter. Spring-Summer 1995. Pp. 1,11.
This article explores Norway's success in mediating international conflicts, particularly its facilitation of negotiations between Israel and PLO, which resulted in signing a "Declaration of Principles". Jan Egeland, Secretary of State of Norway, explores some of the reasons for such a success of "back channel" peace negotiations, and the lessons from his experience.
The approach used was to facilitate negotiations on the official level, but without publicizing them. At that time, Norway had a better chance to succeed in Middle East negotiations than the United States, whose negotiations were in stalemate. The reasons were the following: (1) Norway had a smaller bureaucratic machine which allowed it to decide on facilitation and implement this decision in a short period of time; (2) Norway's foreign policy was coherent and consistent; (3) Norway had a relatively independent international position, not being under any economic or political obligations. This contributed to its impartiality as a facilitator. (4) For a small country like Norway, it was easier to keep the process in secret.
Norway's limitations included the small state's dependence on the United States and European Union in pressuring the parties to follow the letter of the agreement and its inability to provide incentives for the parties to start negotiations.
Egeland identified several lessons that he learned from Middle East conflict facilitation. They include (1) keeping the process in secret; (2) questioning the parties intentions because some would try to make an impression that they want a negotiated solution, but in reality would have little interest in peace; (3) disagreements within the parties intensify when the agreement is close to be concluded; (4) power imbalance and the ability of a stronger party to "tilt an agreement" might cause the mediator to become perceived biased in the eyes of another party (p. 11); (5) the parties want to be treated equally; (6) when the solution does not constitute a victory but is based on a compromise, public opinion about the leaders inside their countries might fall even if they gain international support.
Given its proclivities and abilities, Norway receives a lot of requests for facilitation conflict resolution processes. It is working on developing a strategy of quick response to those calls. It first holds meetings with both sides of the conflict, exploring the extent of commitment to negotiated settlement of both sides. Most of the conflicts involve the issue of minority dissatisfaction with their position inside a bigger entity. The mediators thus try to facilitate the development of a formula for some kind of autonomy for the minority party. Norway is planning to organize a group of governmental and nongovernmental workers who would be able to quickly respond to the requests for third party intervention. Many Norwegians are trained in performing such functions and the country has technology which can help to establish communication between the parties in regions where direct communication between the opponents is problematic.