Here’s my new piece for The Ambassador Partnership Insights series.

On the strange world of diplomatic negotiating:

In other words, for most negotiating purposes we expect and want the negotiating to end. And it does end. A deal is reached in some sort of reasonable time, or it isn’t. The parties move on.

The thing to understand about international diplomacy is that it is not like everyday business negotiating. In diplomacy the negotiating may last for decades, or even centuries. Worse than that. It may never end.

… One way to look at all negotiating is in terms of five core themes:

  • Security
  • Resources
  • Control
  • Reputation
  • Time / Certainty / Risk

It’s hard to think of any personal negotiation — annoying teenage children, unhappy departmental reorganisation, stressful house-buying, hostile takeover bid — that does not involve several of these in one way or another.

Of all them the most difficult is security. That goes to our deepest fears about survival and identity. It’s where there’s the most at stake. If we get that part of the negotiation wrong, we fear that we may lose everything.

This is all the more explicit at the international level. In the Cyprus case, the Turkish minority on the island want assurances about their safety and cultural identity that for the Greek majority require intolerable concessions on their own security/identity. What is the basis for a deal both communities can live with? An exotic federation or confederation? Partition? While clever negotiators on both sides of the island and around the world ponder these options in micro-detail, the real-life impasse continues.

Likewise Israel and the Palestinians. The Israelis suspect (not without reason) that the basic aim of the Palestinians and their wider Arab supporters (and Iran) is that Israel as the one internationally recognised homeland for Jews should cease to exist. Israel sees itself confronted with Hamlet’s security question of questions: To be or not to be? As Israel chooses to be, what can be the basis for any deal with those who want Israel not to be?

To be continued.

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