Visiting Israeli prof speaks on peace process


A new approach to peacemaking was the topic in the discussion “Conflict and Peacemaking: the Palestinian-Israeli Struggle” given by Israeli scholar Sapir Handleman, PhD, on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus.

Handleman, who received his PhD in Philosophy from Tel-Aviv University and is now Lentz Fellow in Peace and Conflict Resolution Research at UM-St. Louis, spoke during a talk presented by the university’s Center for International Studies and co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council.


Dr. Handleman offered a novel approach to peacemaking in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He noted that some techniques that had helped resolve difficult conflicts in North Ireland and South Africa had yet to be tried in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Handleman described the situation between Israelis and Palestinians as matching the description of “intractable conflict.” He described this kind of conflict as complex, marked by interdependent factors and with cause-and-effect that cannot be controlled.

“As one problem is solved, another emerges,” he told the audience. He said that such problems needed a “revolutionary process” to solve. He noted that there were to critical elements for peace: peacemaking leadership and the preparation of the people for peace.

He said there are two models for conflict resolution that could apply to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the ‘Political Elite’ model and the ‘Public Assembly’ model.”

“In the ‘political elite’ model, there is interaction between political leaders, intended to reach a peace agreement, which has been the dominant experience in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Handleman said. He cited as examples agreements such as Oslo Peace Agreement from 1992 to 2000 and the 2007 Annapolis Process.

“In the ‘public assembly’ model, there is a public, multi-party negotiating assembly. It involves the public in the peace process,” he said. “While this model was used in South Africa and Northern Ireland, it is new to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said.

“In the ’80s, the three most intractable conflicts were South Africa, Northern Ireland and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Now only Palestine-Israel remains,” he said.

Handleman described the detailed steps in each peace-making model and listed the two models’ individual strengths and weaknesses.

The “political elite” model depends on the motivations of the leaders involved. Still, he noted it was often the only way to begin peace negotiations, starting with informal contacts between opposing sides. Another flaw of this model is that it does not recover well from outbreaks of violence and does not involve the public, who may not feel all grievances were aired. Overall, he concluded it was ineffective for lasting peace.

The “public assembly” model, Handleman told his listeners, used a public, multi-party negotiating assembly, “a public congress for conflict resolution.” Representatives can be selected in a variety of ways and it allows for participation by more groups and airing of more issues. “All participating groups must first agree to stop violence,” Handleman said, as a pre-condition to be part of the process.

“A strength is that it de-legitimizes violence, which decreases, and it involves the public, which facilitates negotiations,” he said.

Weaknesses are that it can give a voice to more radical elements and that the assemblies tend to collapse, with no final agreement. Still, Handleman cited this model’s role in moving the peace process forward in both South Africa and Northern Ireland.

Handleman suggested that a hybrid of the two models might be the best solution for the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.

He thought it was unclear if a multi-party assembly would be possible, since the goal is ‘a divorce,’ the Two-State Solution. On the plus side, polls indicated that both sides wanted peace, Handleman said. “Sixty-six percent of Palestinians prefer to have a reasonable process and to have a peaceful resolution,” he said.

However, he noted that factions on both sides were suffering from a Cold War phenomenon called “mirror image,” in which both sides see the other as not wanting peace, only wanting to destroy them, and only understanding violence.

“Both see the other side as not human, not reasonable,” he said.

Handleman thought that public assemblies offered a way to break the impasse. “In public assemblies, as you talk to the other side, you start to see them as human,” he said. “There is interest on both sides to stop the violence. It is in the self-interest of both,” he said.