The eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas appears to be cooling down. As of the writing of this post, Egypt’s foreign minister had announced, alongside U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, that Israel and the Palestinian militant group had agreed to a cease-fire.
But the conflict and subsequent negotiations begged the question, at least for us here on Ideas@Innovations: Are diplomatic negotiations conducted in the midst of a conflict an appropriate time for innovation?
In terms of the current crisis, said Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, the Middle East has changed substantially in the wake of the “Arab Awakening, as one might call it.” But even so, he said, “we’re ... seeing the old parameters for negotiation.”
That’s because at the core of diplomacy is nuance. “Diplomacy has a whole set of rituals and patterns, which carries a huge amount of meaning,” said Jon Alterman, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. When a diplomat shifts from one word to another, even when both words appear synonymous, it can significantly change a negotiation. Everyone, says Alterman, wants to know the reason for the vocabulary change.
This means “any act of innovation is seen as an initiative,” continued Alterman. “On the other hand, diplomacy is about taking advantage of departures from the ritual to create a different dynamic.”
“Every successful diplomat is both an innovator and an institutionalist,” he continued. “If you merely innovate, then people think you’re a loose cannon. If you’re merely traditional, then you are doing what bad East Bloc diplomats did during the Cold War.”
According to Peter Singer, senior fellow at and director of Brookings’ 21st Century Defense Initiative, the introduction of something new has led to some of the greatest successes in peace negotiations.
“Innovation in peace processes in the past has ranged from changing the settings, changing the negotiators, changing the format, changing the carrots and sticks, changing the timeline, etc. changing anything to break stagnation,” said Singer, “Indeed, some of the most successful negotiations, whether it’s the Dayton Peace Accords or the Good Friday Agreement, involved innovating new ways out of what were seen as intractable conflicts.”
When asked whether crisis diplomacy was a time for innovation or whether it would be better, considering the lives at stake, to follow tried and true diplomatic methods, Singer wrote, “I cannot understand how out-of-the-box thinking would be irresponsible. [It] seems to me the opposite is true, that it would be irresponsible not to explore [the] best ways, even if they are new.”
Read more news and ideas on Innovations: