Senior Scholar, Retired Professor of Social Ethics, Harvard University; Former Director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR), Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
Topics: problem solving workshops, scale-up, track II communication, track I - track II cooperation, facilitation
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
- Problem Solving Workshop Theory
- Facilitating Problem Solving Workshops
- Facilitating Problem Solving Workshops
- Scaling Up from Small-Group Processes
- The Process Behind Problem Solving Workshops
- Brainstorming in Problem Solving Workshops
- The Oslo Accords
- Secrecy and the Oslo Accords
- BATNAs as a Cause of the Oslo Accords' Failure
- Problem Solving Workshops and Implementation
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: Ok Dr. Kelman, this first question that I ask everybody is can you give me a brief overview of your work?
A: That's going to be a little hard because I have a tendency to go back to the beginning. If you want me to go back to the beginning, I'll just very quickly go through the earlier years because it would take us forever otherwise. I went into social psychology out of an interest in issues of war and peace, and social change and social justice and so on, so that's where I came from. But I had an academic bent so I wanted to do work that would be relevant to that and I just started. When I was an undergraduate I decided to go to graduate school in social psychology. I went to Yale where I got my PhD in 1951 working on attitude change
but right from the beginning, when I was still a graduate student, I began to explore the question of the relevance of social psychological analysis and research to issues of war and peace. Then in 1951-52 a colleague, fellow student at Yale, Arthur Gladstone, and I, together with a few other people, very slowly started an organization, I believe in 1951, and it was kind of established in 1952. It was called the research exchange on the prevention of war, and the interest was in seeking out the relevance of psychological and social science research to issues of war and peace. I wrote a few pieces and particularly engaged intellectually with the question of what is the relevance of social psychological analysis and what is the role individuals in international politics and issues of levels of analysis, kinds of issues.
I also was in 1955 at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto where, together with a group of other fellows, we developed the proposal for a new journal and that was the Journal of Conflict Resolution, which then started publishing in 1957. It was based at the University of Michigan for its first years and later moved to Yale where it still is. The Journal of Conflict Resolution eventually led to the establishment of a Center for Research on Conflict Resolution at the University of Michigan. I continued to be involved in this area mostly writing and thinking and as I said, trying to explore the general issue of what are the social psychological contributions, what are the social psychological points of entry, always with the conviction that as we are dealing with war and peace we're dealing with societal and inter-societal issues, not with personal issues. I was always against the simple minded reductionism to the level of the individual but still trying to define what is the role of the individual, in fact I wrote a paper at one point on the role of the individual.
Research wise, I began a project in the late '50s; the role of international educational and cultural exchange starting with student exchanges, the impact that such exchanges have on national images and professional images, self images and so on. This was slowly easing into research, otherwise my research was not on unrelated but different topics, more general theoretical issues on social influence and attitude change in social psychology. These were the kinds of things that I was doing and I had my first teaching assignment here at Harvard from 1957-1962, where I began research on the educational/cultural exchange and continued to write. Then I moved to the University of Michigan in '62 where I had a joint appointment as a professor of psychology and a research psychologist at the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution, which was itself an outgrowth of the Journal of Conflict Resolution. So I was really in a sense going to an activity that I had been involved in from the outside and was now becoming involved in within the inside.
Ken Boulding was at the Center for Advanced Study with me in 1954-55 as was Anatol Rapoport, whose name you might recognize. I think Anatol and I are the only people from the original board, advisory/editorial board at the Journal for Conflict Resolution; we're still on it. Anatol for many years was running a section on gaming. These were some of the people who were at the center and were the core group that developed the idea for the journal. With Boulding at the University of Michigan and Rapoport just about to come to the University of Michigan, it was natural for us to base the journal there. The earlier group, the Research Exchange on the Prevention of War, published a more informal bulletin edited by Arthur Gladstone, but the technical work of putting it out was done by two young men who were graduate students at the University of Michigan, Bill Barth and Bob Heffner. So University of Michigan was the obvious place. I came there in 1962 and was with the center and there I became involved in another line of research in this field which was the study of nationalism and the relationship of individuals to the nation state, together with Dan Katz and originally Richard Flax, now at Santa Barbara, John de la Motta was a graduate student working with us, now at Wisconsin. So that was another line of research. Also in 1965 I published a book that I edited called "International Behavior: A Social Psychological Analysis," which a number of social psychologists, political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, contributed a chapter, and it was the major text in the social psychology of international relations. There were other books but this was an attempt to pull together the field. This is all pre-history.
The turning point, for me, in a way, came in 1966, and by that time I was established as a scholar interested in peace research and the social psychology of international relations, with special emphasis to issues of war and peace, conflict resolution, and so on. In 1966, I met John Burton for the first time, who I assume you have heard a lot about since he was one of the main movers of the program at ICAR. John was teaching international relations at University College of London and had established a center for the analysis of conflict and one of his students at the time was Chris Mitchell. He had developed this approach that he called Controlled Communication that involved bringing together political influentials in a conflict region for direct communication in a completely informal, academic, confidential context. He tried that out in a region he was very familiar with, being an Australian diplomat, namely the conflict between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore and that was his first experiment with the approach of controlled communication, which I believe was in early '66. And then he was planning to do another exercise on the Cyprus conflict in November of '66. I met him in Michigan, he told me about his work, and I became very excited about it because, to me, it was, in a way, what I was looking for.
I had mentioned to you that one of the things that I had been doing over the years was trying to find a theoretical point of entry for social psychology into the field of international conflict, international relations, more generally. I saw what Burton was doing and this whole model of what we call now track II diplomacy, as putting into practice a social psychological approach, at least in my parochial view, I saw it as a social psychological approach to international conflict, putting it into practice directly. The work that I had been doing was more indirectly related, but this was a direct way of putting this into practice. I call it a social psychological approach because it is a way of producing change in individuals, in this case, elites, politically influential individuals, but nevertheless individuals, via a group process, via interaction with each other, as a vehicle for changing the political culture and producing changes in the policy process. It is this relationship between the individual, behavior and interaction of individuals, and larger social system functioning that, to me, is the essence of social psychology. So that is why I saw this as social psychological approach and really, in a sense, you might say, what I had been looking for all those years.
So when Burton asked me to come and participate as a member of the 3rd party in the Cyprus exercise in 1966, I said, delighted, and I came, and that was my introduction to the approach, as well as to Burton's circle which included Chris Mitchell and John Groom at the University of Kent, who moved Center for the
Analysis of Conflict to Kent after Burton retired. Burton retired three times. When he retired from London he moved to Kent. When he retired from Kent he moved to South Carolina and then to Maryland and then to George Mason and then back to Australia. So in a sense as I have said, up to '66 was pre-history. '66 was my introduction to conflict resolution practice and I moved into it slowly. I went to the meeting in '66, I found it very interesting and it was still in a very experimental phase and I got to contribute, form a connection with the London group. One of my contributions was the use of the term "problem solving". I prefer problem solving workshops, a term I didn't invent, I don't know who invented it but I know that Leonard Doob used it first, and he was my teacher at Yale. Neither he nor I were doing this kind of work. He got into largely through his interest in East Africa and then later I became interested in Cyprus. Of course Burton did Cyprus so that has been a favorite laboratory. I hope they are going to get it together now at last; it has been going on for a very long time but at least not at the level of violence that we see in the Middle East.
1966 was when I became acquainted with the approach; I began to think about it. The summer of '67 was the '67 war in the Middle East, which has always been of great interest to me, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Arab-Israeli conflict more generally, because of my own background, which is a whole other story. I don't want to give you my autobiography but I am a Central European Jew. I was born in Vienna and was a child during the Nazi ???
of Austria and was involved in the Zionist movement, so this was always very important to me. During the war in '67 I began to think that maybe Burton's approach could be applied towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, i got in touch with Burton and we explored the possibilities, he actually raised some money. The problem was that I didn't have the kinds of contacts that you would need to really set up a meaningful workshop and Burton didn't really either. We tried but didn't get very far, we let it go and the main lesson for me was that if you want to do this kind of work you have to really work at it, you can't just do it in passing, you can't become an instant diplomat. You have to do a lot of preparatory work, including in my case, I realized, becoming acquainted with the Arab world, which I was not acquainted with at all. I was acquainted with Israel, had been there a few times and so on. So that kind of drifted and I got involved in other things.
There were two things that did happen-I was invited to participate in a panel at the American Political Science Association meetings and I wrote my first paper on this topic, which was called something like the Problem Solving Workshop in International Conflict. The paper was published in 1972. I forgot to mention that in 1968 I was invited to come back here to Harvard as a special chair of social ethics. I liked it at Michigan but this was hard to refuse and so I actually came back in 1969. I was teaching at Harvard again at that time. A young man, Stephen Cohen, who was just finishing his degree here, had received a teaching appointment in the department and I didn't really know him very well but I talked to him and we discovered our joint interest in international relations and social psychological aspects of it, and so on, as well as in the Middle East. He had read the paper I just mentioned and we decided in 1971-72 we were going to teach a seminar together on social psychology of international relations and Steve suggested that we do a problem-solving workshop as part of the seminar.
This was a totally new venture. It was a small class, half a dozen students, and we started from scratch. Steve and I had decided from the beginning that we didn't want to do it on the Arab-Israeli conflict because we are both Jews and it didn't seem appropriate for a 3rd party in this particular conflict to be both Jews. We decided to try something else but the students somehow persuaded us to do the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that wasn't hard because it was something we were both very interested in. We did get two Arab advisors, we were still the third party running it, but we had two other people working with us and so on. This was our first experiment in doing a workshop. Originally the plan was to have it a 3-way workshop, Israelis, Egyptians, and Palestinians. We had the teams selected but in the end, the Egyptians dropped out. We developed a system of pre-workshop sessions. We had these pre-workshop sessions with the three parties and the Egyptians dropped out. In retrospect I think I understand why they did, but as it happened we ended up with an Israeli-Palestinian workshop and that turned out to be the first in a series of at least 50 or so that I have done over the years. This was my first practical experience, very, very instructive, I can't go into details now, but I learned a tremendous amount from that. I learned from the recruitment process, from the fact that the Egyptians dropped out. All of these were important learning experiences. Obviously we developed our own technique and I tried some of the procedures that I had observed in London, in the Cyprus workshop. They didn't quite work, maybe because of the particular nature of the conflict, maybe because of my particular orientation, whatever. It was a first experience.
I then went off on a leave to Seattle and came back a year later, '72-'73, and as it happened, on my way back, I had a heart attack in Montreal at a meeting, giving a lecture, I had to stay there for a while. I came back and was home, convalescing, in October of 1973. This first workshop was in 1971, and in October 1973 I was home convalescing from my heart attack and at that time the '73 war in the Middle East broke out. So I was sitting at home, watching television, thinking about the Middle East and my own future and I made the decision, at that point, that if I'm going to do this, I better just devote myself to it. I made the decision that I would devote myself to work on the Arab-Israeli conflict with this particular conflict resolution approach that I had learned from Burton and been evolving. I forgot to mention one other element in all this and that is that in 1970, I had done some further exploration, I had been to Cyprus, I introduced Burton and Doob to each other, we talked, I went to a conference that Doob organized. I was involved in the field but it wasn't my primary activity because I was busy, had many commitments, and I wasn't quite ready to put this number one on my list of activities.
In 1970 I went to Israel and I explored this idea with a number of Israelis, and I got mixed reactions. Some very enthusiastic. Some said, well, it's worth trying, and there was one negative response, which really had an impact on me, a man whose name I won't mention, a personality, known figure, who said we don't need outsiders, I think he said specifically American Jews, coming around and telling us what to do. I don't know the exact words that he used exactly but he said, for us, meaning the Palestinians and the Jews, these are matters of life and death, and you just come in and out. Basically he was saying that if you want to do this you have to be really serious about it. I didn't accept all of his reasoning or his attitude but what I did accept was the idea that if I am going to do this I have to really be prepared to make this a central activity. It is not the kind of thing you can do with your left hand if you are right handed. Since I wasn't ready to do that, I moved on.
Q: He didn't want you to parachute on in and try to solve the problem and then jet back out.
A: Basically although I think he was more negative than that. That's what I concluded from it. I didn't accept the idea that the contributions of an outsider are irrelevant. But I accepted the idea that, as an outsider certainly, you want to make a contribution, you can't do it half-heartedly; you have to do it whole-heartedly. That was the conclusion I drew. The point was that in 1973 as I was sitting watching the news about the October war, I decided I was ready to do it whole-heartedly and since then that's what has been happening. I've done other things but that has been my primary preoccupation since 1974 and it involved all kinds of activities. A major one, starting in 1974, I began to read on the Middle East, and go to various kinds of conferences, my wife started taking courses. It was very important for the whole future of this that she be fully involved in it because the work really engulfed our lives. If she hadn't been involved in it, it wouldn't have worked because it would have been a continuing conflict. But with her own involvement it became a family affair, our life in many ways centered around both the Middle East and the conflict resolution work which was my package. I continued over the years and to this day to be very interested in the theoretical development, development of methodology, development of a theory behind it, I've done teaching in this, directed student research, written considerably about it. I'm a generalist but practice-wise I really concentrated on the Middle East, so I became a regional specialist in a very serious way. I've continued to be involved, here and there, in other conflicts, particularly Cyprus have interested in me.
My students and colleagues have worked in Northern Ireland, and Sri Lanka, Colombia, and various other regions, but those were very part-time activities. Cyprus sort of came closest to being the second case, I have been involved in maybe half a dozen Cyprus workshops. I organized two myself and I have been in some others that other people have organized. But even there I haven't kept up with Cyprus politics, and Cyprus life and affairs to the same degree, anywhere near the same degree that I have with the Middle East. Anyway, '75 we started traveling in the Middle East, in the Arab countries and started doing workshops and so on. That has sort of been the history. I had a certain turning point, I mean I have always been interested in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this was kind of consistent with the whole Burton approach, which is to work with the parties most directly involved. In other words, when he was working in Cyprus, he was working with Greek and Turkish Cypriots not both Greece and Turkey. Burton was very sophisticated IR theorist and so on, he knows as well as anybody else that you can't solve the Cyprus problem without Greece and Turkey, and obviously you can't solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem without, first of all the other regional powers, secondly the world powers, we all know that. But the unique aspect of this approach as I saw it, is to work at the level of the people who lives are most directly effected by the conflict and you know these I treat them and I think Burton has increasingly over the years treated them as identity conflicts, you know conflicts between identity groups. And that is really a special character, the special contribution of our work.
So I don't for a moment neglect the fact that you are dealing in a much larger, multi-national, multi-party conflict. But my particular focus is the parties who are most directly, existentially involved in it and that is why in the Arab-Israeli conflict, my interest has always been the Israeli-Palestinian aspect of it. One of several high points in my life was in '77 when I was in Israel on my way to Egypt. When I started this work I was working for the first few years with Steve Cohen and we, on the basis of our experience, with our initial experimental workshop in '71, and on the basis of logic, we decided that we need to expand our third party, in other words you can't have the Jewish third party for this conflict. But we also felt that you can have people who are partly insiders as long as the team is balanced. So we found three Arab-American colleagues to work with us, so we formed a team. And we did some things together and one of the things that we did together was in '76. I had met Bhoutros Gali, who later became the Secretary General of the UN, but who at that time was a professor of political science at the University of Cairo and the president at the Alafram Center for political and strategic studies. So we met when he was visiting here in Cambridge and we had a very good rapport.
We came up with the idea of a roundtable in Cairo at the Alafram Center in which my team, this Arab-Jewish team, our third party team and our work, would meet with a group of Egyptian political/social scientists to talk about common interests with the theme being mutual images or mutual perceptions, I don't remember, in Arab-Israeli relations. People told me later that even the title was an innovation for those days, I mean even talking about Arab-Israeli relations. It was an extremely interesting meeting in November of '76. There was a personal outcome to that meeting in that I was approached by faculty members from the American University in Cairo, asking if I would be interested in coming as a visiting professor, they have a sort of distinguished visiting professor, which is a short appointment where you don't teach classes but you come for a few weeks and give lectures and you know meet with classes, give a public lecture and so on. I said yes, I would be thrilled. I actually told them, I am Jewish, is that a problem? And they came back to me and said, no, it is not a problem. In retrospect I think it wasn't just not a problem, it was part of what made me attractive to them because what I didn't fully realize at the time was that this was a time when the Egyptians were seriously reconsidering their whole policy and I was part of it. And this whole roundtable that we had was part of it. And Bhoutros Gali was interested in it because he was preparing himself for a role in this new Egyptian policy. So anyway, I had agreed and we had set, I forget for what reason, my schedule that I would come to Cairo in November of '77.
So on the way to Cairo I was stopping in Israel for a meeting for a conference on Arab-Israeli peace and while I was there Sadat chose, very graciously in my interest, to make his historic trip to Jerusalem. So I was there during this very, very exciting period in Israel when Sadat came for the visit. Right after that my wife and I went on to Cairo where I was beginning my term as distinguished visiting professor. When I came there, I was expecting them to ask me, because that was the agreement that I would be giving a public lecture plus appearances in various classes. But otherwise we really didn't work out an agenda and I just packed a suitcase of lecture notes and figured whatever they ask me I will talk about if it is in my domain. Well when they heard that I was just coming from Israel, that I was there for Sadat's visit, they asked me to talk about that. Well I didn't have any lecture notes on that. So I sat down and spent a few days preparing a lecture which I have re-read recently and I think it was quite good if I have to say so myself. It was called the "Psychological Impact of Sadat's Visit on Israeli Society". The thing that I liked about it was that I said at the time that I recognize it is a great breakthrough, and was already able to quote the Israeli public opinion data, but I said that the process will not fulfill itself, the process that was started there, without a solution to the Palestinian problem. So that was one of my main arguments in that lecture.
Anyway, so while there I got in the spirit of the whole thing, excited about the Egyptian-Israeli process. Steve Cohen, who I mentioned before, was in Israel at the time, came to Cairo and we kind of talked to various Egyptian colleagues and developed a plan for a conference essentially on the question of what happens after the peace agreement. After there is a peace agreement how do you produce fundamental changes in the relationship, how do you produce reconciliation, and so on, in other words, transforming the relationship after an official agreement. We had some very interesting participants, Israeli, Egyptian and some others, at least Boulding incidentally was to participate in this as well, Alfred Roser who is a major figure in the Franco-German reconciliation post WWII. Anyways it was an exciting concept and it was to take place in Bellagio, Italy, in January of 1979. In '78 there was the Camp David agreement, with Sadat, which was rejected by Palestinians and by Arabs in general as the Egyptians making separate peace with Israel. My Egyptian colleagues who were involved in this conference called and said, we can't participate in it unless you have Palestinian participation. I had one Palestinian who was a member of our team, he was a Palestinian-American, but that's not what they meant. They meant really politically involved Palestinians. I told them it's not possible because Palestinians were rejecting the whole Camp David concept, I'm talking about Camp David 1, and the whole separate, what they considered separate, Egyptian-Israeli peace. Bringing together Israelis and Palestinians was easier than bringing Palestinians to an Egyptian-Israeli gathering in which they would be signing on to that peace. It was politically impossible. I tried to persuade them that it was important to have this meeting, that particularly it would be an occasion for the Egyptians to persuade the Israelis that there cannot be a separate peace, the peace has to deal with Palestinian problem.
The reason that they did not want to come was not because they did not think it could be useful but because it was politically objectionable to them, so that whole thing had to be scrapped. We then had a small workshop of some of the people who were involved to try to review what happened and I came away from that workshop with another decision, which was that the Egyptians feel, and I understood that from the beginning, that there can't be normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel without a solution to the Palestinian problem. This whole process of improving relations and so on, which I think was a valuable thing to do, but that politically, it really depended on, first working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At that point I said to myself that was where I wanted to concentrate. Ok if people want to work on the Egyptian-Israeli conflict, fine. Steve Cohen and Azar at University of Maryland, who unfortunately died, they were part of our team who wanted to continue to work on the Egyptian-Israeli front and they did and produced some useful things. But I decided that I was going to concentrate on the Palestinian issue and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that was, in a sense, another turning point although it was continuous because that had been my primary interest in any event from the beginning as I mentioned before. And since then it has continued in a variety of ways.
I've integrated work into my teaching so that what we did in 1971 in the seminar, I did smaller versions of it in other years in the 1970s but not a full-scale workshop as part of the course. I continued teaching periodically the seminar on social psychology of international relations which eventually I called "International Conflict: Social Psychological Approaches." So I continued bringing in Israelis and Palestinians but not for a full-scale workshop. In '79 I had a full-scale workshop but on the Cyprus conflict. But from 1982 on, between 1982 and the last time I taught the seminar in 1999, I taught it 13 times and each time with an Israeli-Palestinian workshop as an integral part of the course. Those, I should say, I've always been very strong about making that clear, those are not simulations or exercises, they were real workshops, the way I would do a workshop with other people. They were more opportunistic in the sense that I was always working on a very small budget so I was looking for people who were already in the area, and sometimes, Israelis almost always I could find, we had 4 and 4 in these workshops, finding Palestinians was sometimes harder, sometimes I had to bring people from Washington, never from the Middle East. So in that sense it was different. I didn't start out with saying these are the people I want. I said these are the kinds of people I want but not the particular people. I started out with here's a selection of people who might be suitable, and then try to piece together teams so that was different. Another thing that was different is we had a very large third party. The course became very popular; I had to restrict participation. But we usually had a third party of about 25 people with 4 Israelis and 4 Palestinians but we worked it very well. After we finish I will show you the room where most of these workshops were held because it is right across the hall here.
We worked it very well so that the students were an integral part, clearly defined as members of the third party, subject to the third party discipline, but I didn't have them in the room all the time. They alternated around the table. We had a round table seating 16 people, 4 Israelis, 4 Palestinians, 3 permanent members of the third party, me and two colleagues I had invited and 5 students who were rotating. The rest of the time the students sat in an observation room with a one-way mirror so that they were able to see and hear everything. Of course everybody knew they were sitting there but I wanted to avoid having a big room to avoid an audience effect. These were real workshops and played a role and had people in them who were politically involved and in some cases politically influential, but also very significant learning experience for the students. In addition we did other kinds of workshops, freestanding workshops in a variety of things. We did two women's workshops in which all the participants were women as an experiment to see what the differences we find there, a lot of my students, over the years, in this field, have been women. This was a matter of very central concern and those were very instructive. Eileen Babbitt was one of the key-yes, I was just thinking about her, as I was talking about this. She was involved in both of these women's workshops and she was my key partner in organizing the second one. The first one-we had all the Israelis and Palestinians women, but there were two men in the third party, a student and myself. In the second one the third party was all women. I was allowed in as an observer, special dispensation because of my role in organizing this, and so on. We did that; we did a fishbowl, a number of different kinds of workshops over the years.
Basically during these years, starting in the 70s and throughout the 80s, these were all one-time workshops. A particular group of people brought together for one occasion. The usual pattern was, well, for example, the ones I did with the class, and the other ones were similar but we'd have an evening 5-hour pre-workshop, with the Palestinians and a similar pre-workshop sessions with the Israelis. We would start the joint sessions on Friday afternoon and go through Sunday afternoon so it was basically 2½ days. I had some people who participated in more than one of these events but the group as a whole was a one time gathering so that is what I mean by one-time event. One-time for an extended weekend plus the pre-workshop sessions; that was the typical pattern. It varied sometimes depending on the circumstances etc. but that was more or less what we were aiming for. In 1990, I was working with Nadim Ruhanna??? who was my partner in this work during the entire 1990s. So in 1990 we organized our first continuing workshop where we got a group of quite central, politically influential Palestinians and Israelis who committed themselves to three meetings over a period of a year or so. We met and after the third meeting the group agreed to go on and we then had some sub-group meetings and two more plenary
meetings until the last one in the summer of '93. The situation began to change but after the summer '93 meeting, almost within days after that meeting, the Oslo Agreement was announced. At that time we met with some of the people and decided to end that group. So that was what we called the continuing workshop.
and I wrote an article describing the logic of that, and the procedures and what we learned from it. So that met from 1990-93. Of course I continued doing one-time workshops during that time like those with my class but that was the main effort that I was engaged in. Starting in '94 we had a new group, which we called the Joint Working Group on Israeli-Palestinian Relations; that was similar kinds of people, but this time and for the first time in our work we met with the explicit purpose of producing joint documents which turned out to not be very easy. In a certain sense one of the strengths of our approach is the confidentiality and the fact that people don't have to worry about what will others say, and how will others react and that made people more creative. The problem of how this would then be transferred to the policy process-in most cases, sometimes the group decided to take some action, and there were a couple of cases, one in which they decided to write two adjoining op-ed pieces and another case where they decided to bring a proposal to the political leaders. But in most cases, in the majority of cases, the use of what was learned was left to the individual participants and they used them in a variety of ways. That's why it was important to have influentials so that they would be people who could make effective use of they learned in the course of these encounters and they did so in their writing, their political work, their speeches, their party work, and their movement work in advising political leaders and so on.
But this new group that we started in '94, here the explicit purpose was to come up with joint documents. Everything was kept confidential and no attribution up until the final point, they had the right to say no, if they didn't want to sign the document, they weren't committed to it, but if they did the work that they had agreed to do, ultimately their names would be known and that affected the process. Obviously that's a trade-off because by going public we were able to, hopefully, have some impact. Also it contributes something to the debate and thinking and so on. We came up with three papers that were published, and we actually had a fourth paper, which was very close to completion but then overtaken by events. So that was the look of the '90s. We started in 1990, and in 1991 the official process began with the Madrid conference and the Washington meetings, and then the Oslo Agreement, so the '90s were a new experience. The '70s and '80s were all pre-negotiation. The '90s, to a considerable degree, were para-negotiations. We were meeting at the unofficial, track II level while official meetings were already beginning to go on and continuing to go on with all of their ups and downs. My new challenge now is how to make this approach useful-I wish it would have been post-negotiations where you focus on peacebuilding, well, you focus on implementation and peacebuilding, but unfortunately in my conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian case, we are in the phase of broken-down negotiations. I'm continuing to work and to see what we can do and I've had a few activities since 2000, the breakdown, effectively in 2000. I've had three meetings of one kind or another. Am I still answering your first question? I don't know if I warned you. Remind me what the question was.
Q: That was for the overview. I think we got the overview of your work from top to bottom. I only have two other questions really, since that was so complete. You saved me the trouble of asking a lot of it, which is just fine. Could you describe the workshops more, and explain how they are different from a dialogue? You mentioned the pre-negotiation, or the pre-meeting phase, rather, and also the fact that it was confidential so there's a little more freedom to come up with ideas. What other things characterize the problem-solving workshop?
A: The confidentiality and everything else that we do, our ground rules, and our action as third-parties, are really geared, as much as possible, to create the kind of atmosphere, in which people, to begin with, are willing and able to speak to each other and listen to each other. In other words we try to create an atmosphere in which, when I talk to my students about it-I say it is easiest for me to describe it in showing how it differs from a debate. In a debate people take positions and they need to win, they need to persuade audiences. They're not interested in what the other says or learning anything from the other. They listen to the other only tactically. I have to know where are the other guy's weak points so that I can attack him more effectively. What do I have to do to outshine the other and so on. They focus more on the audience whereas we try to create a situation in which they focus on each other. They listen to each other in order to try to understand, they speak to each other in order to make themselves understood.
Confidentiality is central to this, but also the behavior of the third party is very important, and this is why I say when my students participate they are subject to third party discipline. There is a real discipline for the third party and part of that has to do with the fact that we are not evaluating, we are not taking positions, we are not adjudicating differences, and so on. The third party role is very important in that, so it is to create that kind of atmosphere where people listen to each other and eventually try to be analytical in the sense of gaining entry into the others perspective, to try to understand the situation from where the other comes from, and in the process into their own perspective. Very often people learn from this process what their own priorities are: what is more important, what is less important. When you are involved in this kind of positional bargaining and debating and so on, everything becomes equally important. When you engage in a more analytical process you begin to distinguish what is really important to me? That's what we tried to get them to focus on; in a way it's an extension of the logic of Fischer and Ury, Getting to Yes kind of approach. It's an extension in the sense that we want for people to get behind their positions and explore their needs. So it's getting an understanding of each other's, and indeed of their own, needs, fears, concerns, priorities, and that's the first part of the workshop.
The second part is joint problem solving, joint thinking is the term that we use, where they really try to think about not only what is good for us-what do we have to get out of you-but what is good to both sides on the assumption that that is the only kind of viable solution is one that is responsive to the needs of both sides. Substantively our discussions are very unstructured. We don't give an agenda of topics or any such thing, but they're structured in the sense of the kinds of questions that we pose for people, that we want them to address themselves to. The agenda changes when you have a continuing workshop because then some of these things happen over a series of meetings. But in some ways it replicates itself at each meeting, even at a continuing workshop. The first thing we usually try to do is for the two parties to talk about what's happening on the ground in their own communities. Tell each other what's the mood in my community, what are the different opinions, how do people line up, where do we stand personally with regard to that range of opinions, and so on, and that fulfills some important functions. It's a ice breaker, it's more descriptive and informational, and information-giving so that they don't immediately get into a confrontational mode of discussion. It also establishes a very important element-the role of the other as a resource, not only as an adversary, and this goes back to Burton. If you want to find out what's happening in the other community and how it's being interpreted and understood, you have to go to the other. So it establishes the role of the other as a resource and that, I think, can then be drawn upon in the rest of the meetings. When we have a continuing group, they know each other and have formed relationships, and so on, but we still always start with a kind of review, and that's very helpful.
The second phase is a needs-analysis where we ask each side to talk about the needs, fears, concerns, on their own side. The other is not expected to argue with these and to debate them but to try to understand them. They can ask questions, make challenges, but basically to try to understand them, and even when we have a continuing workshop we may repeat that as we take up-in a general workshop we might just start with what are the basic needs and fears that have to be addressed for a solution to this conflict to be acceptable in your community. In a continuing workshop we might do this with respect to a particular issue. On the issue of Jerusalem, what are the needs, and so on and so on? That same format applies even when you have a group that has worked together for some time. Then we end that at some point. You can't give it an artificial ending but at some point we come to a conclusion a) we've gone as far as we can go today, and b) we want to move on. So we usually end it by asking, we haven't always done this but now I do this fairly routinely, each side to summarize what they heard from the other. This is kind of a test and then the other can correct it, say well no, you didn't quite understand this, or maybe we didn't make this clear. It's a way of testing how well they have understood.
Then we move into the third phase which is the joint thinking phase that I described in which the assignment is a difficult assignment of not only being a spokesperson for your own side but being a spokesperson for a mutually acceptable solution, and really working together in shaping that. The next phase, the next element of the agenda, is discussion of constraints, which are extremely important, the political constraints, and the two sides need each other to understand that, the public opinion on the other side. This is something that the parties in conflict generally don't understand. They understand their own public opinion very well, they know what the constraints are, but they kind of seem to think that the other can operate without constraints. I prefer not to do too much of that in the earlier phases, like in the joint thinking phase, because this is sort of consistent with the whole logic of brainstorming, you don't want people to chop off potentially creative ideas right at the start. I don't want them to say that this will never work. I say lets leave that for the moment and see if we in this room can agree on something, and come up with a formula. Then we ask if it can work, if not, why not, and what can we do about it. That's why I try to reserve discussion of constraints for the next phase. The final phase is how do we overcome the constraints and that's what we talk about, what can we do, individually, collectively, together, apart. The agenda is structured in terms of these general categories but not in terms of the substance. There we want the participants to be as free as possible.
Q: It seems like much of the Oslo Agreement was based loosely on this kind of workshop where people come together, in confidence, talk about possibilities, and then come up with new solutions. Oslo, by most accounts, hasn't worked. Some people may still be waiting for it to work. Does that change the approach at all, or the relevance, maybe, of the problem-solving workshop in situations of such great conflict like this?
A: I don't think so. First of all, I think that the main contribution of the kind of work we did, and others as well, at the track II level, and I'm doing a chapter for a book that Ron Fischer is editing and we had a panel at the International Society of Political Psychology, which I presented my ideas about what our work contributed to Oslo, and I think the main contribution in our work is in preparing the ground for Oslo in developing the building blocks for Oslo and I would summarize it by saying three things. One is developing cadres, people who had the experience of talking to each other and found it useful and actually none of my people were directly involved in Oslo but this was a larger part of the two communities. The people who had been involved in the track II activities had an influence and Oslo started as a track II. It was always a little messed up because on the Israeli side it was completely track II, on the Palestinian side it was track I, but it had some of the elements, it was a bit of a mixture. Many of us think of it as track I 1/2. So we contributed in terms of developing the cadre. Very importantly we contributed in terms of developing the ideas and that's what I focused on in my paper, the ideas that were the building blocks, culminating in the whole concept of a two-state solution. When I began my work in the '70s these ideas didn't exist, and by the time of Oslo some of these ideas were widely accepted. We helped to develop these ideas that made the Oslo Agreement possible and the other is to help develop a political atmosphere for it. These were the contributions.
There are a number of problems with Oslo. It cannot be evaluated as a track II process. It was a track I process, or at least the outcome was an official political agreement and there is the anomaly, and I wrote about this long before Oslo failed, that there was a contradiction in the sense that in order for an agreement to emerge, the process had to be secret. If it had been public it would have been shot down long before it got to the point of agreement. But because it was secret there wasn't the opportunity to build the constituencies for it and that was an inherent problem to which there was no solution. There would have been no Oslo if it hadn't been secret, there wouldn't have been any agreement. So you couldn't solve that problem. It should have been taken into account, and there should have been explicit efforts to build these constituencies afterward and not enough of that was done.
The other problem with Oslo, and again I think it was inherent-the problem was that they could not come to an agreement about the final outcome. In other words they didn't come to a firm agreement not only about the final status issues, which were the critical issues, but even the concept of a two-state solution. It was generally understood that that's at the end of the process but there was no commitment to it, and because of that lack of commitment, two things happened, in my analysis. First, the leaders maintained reserve options. In the case of Rabin, the reserve option was: if it doesn't work, to re-institute control and in the case of Arafat: if it doesn't work, the reserve option was to re-institute the armed struggle. These weren't just psychological options; these were options on the ground. In other words Arafat didn't dismantle, he continued to build weapons beyond what the Oslo Agreement permitted, and he maintained the viability of an arms struggle of sorts. Rabin certainly maintained the possibility of reinstating control and we now are in the situation where these reserve options have become the dominant things but they maintained these reserve options because they didn't make that final commitment. The other cost of the reserve option is that they didn't, in a way they couldn't, but they didn't even when they could have, educate their publics.
It was difficult to educate their publics to a solution, to the reason and the value and the cost of a solution, which they weren't willing to state, publicly. Rabin wasn't prepared to say we are committed to a two-state solution and tell his public here is what that means, here is the price we have to pay, e.g. settlements, and it's worth it, it's good for us and them, it's good for peace. He wasn't ready to fully do that. Arafat had no problem with saying a two-state solution but he wasn't prepared to say that this means the end of the conflict, this means very serious compromises on the issue of the right of return. He wasn't prepared to say those things. They didn't really educate their publics properly and bring them along. It was a consequence of the fact that what was the obvious implication of Oslo was left implicit rather than explicit. But, again, they weren't ready to make it explicit so the choice was do you have an agreement with all of these flaws or do you have no agreement? My own feeling is that I wish they had been more aware of the limitations and done more to correct for them in the post-Oslo process but I am still glad that they came up with the Oslo Agreement and I still think that it represents a fundamental breakthrough. The big difference now is to revive the process. Now you have to start at the end, (the final status, stuff?) yeah, you have to start with a definite commitment to a two-state solution but more than just the words. Everybody is committed to that now but what Sharon means by two-state solution and what the Palestinians mean by a two-state solution are two very different things. The U.S. is now committed to a two-state solution. All that is progress, by the way, real progress and lets not minimize that, but it needs to be spelled out. That's what we are going to come back to, that or continuing warfare with really disastrous consequences for both parties.
Q: At the risk of stating the obvious, maybe one of the lessons learned from the Oslo process for the problem solving workshop methodology is that problem solving workshops are a great way to get an idea out but certainly a very insufficient piece of the process for implementation overall?
A: I certainly agree with that, I've never thought of it otherwise. There is no substitute for political decisions and for what you need for political decisions, which is both an official, authoritative process-our advantage is that we have no authority, but to implement an agreement you need authority. Secondly, you need to put public opinion. We contribute to that. In other words we provide potential inputs to public opinion, very significant ones, potentially, by getting these ideas into the public debate and into the public consciousness. They come out of workshops, in part, along with many other activities. Of course I don't want to exaggerate the contribution of this one approach because it is one of many. We contribute to that but the task of persuading public opinion is a task that requires political leadership and it doesn't happen by itself.
Q: Problem-solving workshops can be used even to that end as you were mentioning. It can be used both for coming up with the ideas and then maybe to even generate support in the sense that people can talk about it more.
A: RIght, but it's not a substitute for the educational process that political leaders have to engage in. Our people, we do not select participants, primarily on the grounds of being political leaders. Some of them, may be, some of them are to some degree, but we select them more on the grounds of being political thinkers, influentials, but that's different from a political leader in the sense whose task it is to mobilize the public. There may be an occasional person in our workshop who performs that role in his society. That's not primarily the basis on which we select people. Workshops do not substitute for either part of the political process, the authoritative part or the educational part, whatever you want to call it. I have never claimed or thought that it does. I still believe that Oslo was useful and I'm not ashamed of our contribution to it although it's different than it was in '93 or '94. At that time I could feel good when people said, oh, you had something to do with Oslo. Now I feel defensive but I am prepared to defend.
Q: Thank you so much Dr. Kelman. I really appreciate all your time.