I recently attended an event hosted by the New America Foundation. Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli Foreign Minister and Minister of Public Security , spoke about the shortcomings of the Annapolis Middle East Peace Process, how to address them, and the broader regional picture. In his discussion about the requirements for brokering peace in the region, Ben-Ami stressed the importance of including powerful non-state actors in the process. He underlined that, in order to get the “buy-in” of the general Palestinian population any agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians needed, in addition to President’s Abbas’ democratic legitimacy, to be legitimized by the support of popular leaders among the militia leaders and prisoners. The former Minister pointed out that in the Palestinian society, as well as in the region at large, powerful socio-cultural-political forces had emerged that needed to be included in the negotiation process if it was meant to succeed. He sternly warned that any furthering of the current policy of exclusion would mean an end to the Annapolis process and preclude progress towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict and the two-state solution. His assessment is being shared by Henry Siegmann, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ United States/Middle East Project.
Ben-Amis’ presentation brought an important principle to light. Excluding and ignoring societal forces that are powerful because of their popular support is counterproductive and potentially lethal for any change process. Only inclusion through dialogue will give political actors a stake in the process and avoid their opposition. We have seen in many places that the more inclusive and broad based negotiations are, the higher the chances for success will be. Reaching out to those with popular support but a seemingly different agenda might create a conceptual challenge for some of the Middle East mediators but the cost of ignoring them is simply too high. No mediator or negotiator can afford having those the population listens to turn into spoilers. Neither in the Middle East, nor anywhere else.
Photocredit: Flickr user Danny Hammontree