Obituaries

Saadia Touval, 76, Expert on Mediation Issues

Saadia Touval taught in Johns Hopkins University's conflict management program and was a longtime dean at Tel Aviv University.
Saadia Touval taught in Johns Hopkins University's conflict management program and was a longtime dean at Tel Aviv University. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 25, 2008

Saadia Touval, 76, a political scientist who made an influential argument that biased mediators in international disputes were often the most effective, died April 17 at his home in Rockville. He had gastric cancer.

Dr. Touval, a former Israeli university dean, taught in the conflict management program at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington from 1994 to 2007.

Starting in the 1970s, his work on "biased intermediaries" had an impact on prominent U.S. negotiators such as Aaron David Miller and Dennis Ross, who borrowed his ideas.

Dr. Touval drew on concrete lessons from disputes in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans to assert that neutrality or impartiality were not as important as holding power.

Looking at the Middle East, he pointed out that Arabs viewed the United States as a reliable ally of Israel. This was not a problem, he wrote, because the Arabs knew that the Americans were in a better position to win concessions for them.

It was considered a fresh concept when he first explored the topic in foreign policy journals and books such as "The Peace Brokers: Mediators in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-1979" (1982).

Ross and Miller called Mr. Touval one of the more distinguished and helpful scholars in his field because of his vivid examples.

"He came up with a reasonable and compelling look at theory for practitioners," said Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "For a political scientist in a field just littered with jargon and unusable formulations and concepts, he came up with a very practical approach that was of great benefit to me."

Saadia Eli Weltmann was born Jan. 28, 1932, in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, and raised in the British mandate of Palestine. He and his parents Hebraized their surname to Touval after his father, a lawyer, was appointed Israeli ambassador to Budapest after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

As a young man, Dr. Touval was a runner carrying messages between the Jewish paramilitary group known as Haganah and command posts on the borders of Jewish and Arab Jerusalem. At 18, he co-founded a kibbutz near Jerusalem.

He was a 1957 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where he also received a doctorate in government in 1960.

As an author, he was influenced by his father's nationalism as well as seeing the broad geopolitical trend of Europe turning over its African colonies to black-majority rule. He was teaching political science and African studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem when he wrote his first book, "Somali Nationalism" (1963).

His later works included "The Boundary Politics of Independent Africa" (1972), "Mediation in the Arab-Israeli Conflict During and After the Cold War" (1999) and "Mediation in the Yugoslav Wars" (2001). He also was editor with I. William Zartman of "International Mediation in Theory and Practice" (1985).

Starting in 1967, Dr. Touval spent almost 20 years at Tel Aviv University, where he became dean of the faculty of social sciences.

He held visiting teaching assignments, including Harvard, Princeton and Cornell universities, and settled in the Washington area in 1993 as a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, a congressionally funded research and policy center for conflict resolution.

In 1994, Dr. Touval wrote a much-cited article in the journal Foreign Affairs that questioned the United Nations' effectiveness as a post-Cold War mediator and referred to failures in Afghanistan, Angola, Haiti, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

"Intractable disputes," he wrote, "should be mediated by states motivated by self-interest to do so and possessed of the resources and credibility for effective negotiation, with the international community lending encouragement and support through the United Nations. Otherwise, the new world disorder will continue apace."

Survivors include his wife of 43 years, Ayana Horovitz Touval of Rockville; and two sons, Amitai Touval of Manhattan, N.Y., and Yonatan Touval of Tel Aviv. Another son, Ithiel Touval, died in 1985.


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