Transformation in Olso

Peter Coleman

Assistant Professor of Psychology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: ... Herb Kelman talks about a dilemma that he faced at some point right around Oslo which was that he had had this process as a "container" process for years. It was out of the media, it was unplugged from the Track I peace processes. It influenced it indirectly by people maybe going into that mode eventually or influencing their communities through worship or through the media or things. And that was the point but that was the point in and of itself and it was by definition a confidential space.

That was the only way it worked. And then at some point, I think it was around Oslo, they decided that they needed to change that decision because there was this peace process that was on-going and maybe they should react to it and respond to it and work together to put out these white papers that this group eventually did. And as soon as they did that, Herb talks about this quite eloquently. As soon as they made that choice, it changed the nature of what they did, because suddenly the constituents were not involved in a private process where they're just being transformed as human beings, they're in a political process and potentially signing a piece of paper that their constituents are going to see. And the other sides going to see. And that has a whole different feel to it and it was a critical decision that they made. So it's the decision about private versus public process and fundamentally what are you doing and they made this decision to change and it changed what he were doing and whether or not it's the right or wrong thing to do, who knows. But it was a very important decision.

Q: It's certainly a trade-off. You're trading someone's safety and trust in order to gain constituents support and actually change something.

A: Well, again it depends on your theory of change. If you're theory of change is that you have to ultimately go through the main tract diplomacy in order to affect change because Herb's theory of change was to change society, not just get a peace agreement, you have to change the society. And this is the mechanism for which to change the society. And then at some point because of Oslo, they said we have to get involved, we have to inform this process but by doing so, it impaired this process of the transformation of people and of indirect influence in the community. Now who knows why he did it. Maybe he saw it as impatience, or as a window of opportunity and really wanted to try to feed it but then the Middle East fell apart again and I don't know, was it a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know. But it's an important choice, I know that.

Again, the long-term implications of this are unknown but whether or not you view a process like problem solving workshops as container processes to transform influential individuals in societies at a different level and maintain that and protect that or open it up which shuts that process down and makes it a different kind of process would have an impact on the long-term nature of the conflict.