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Negotiation resembles Sabbath stew, says Israeli diplomat
May 1st, 2012
People in the Middle East work in a different time frame than do people in the West, said Israeli negotiation expert Moty Cristal.
“You need a cooking time,” he said. “You can’t invite people to come Friday evening for a cholent [slow cooking Sabbath stew]. It’s not ready.”
Cristal is a veteran Middle East peace negotiator, advisor, and professional trainer of business leaders around the world.
He was in Milwaukee April 23 to speak as part of a two-session “A Taste of Political Awareness” mini-series of the Edie Adelman Political Awareness Series. His topic was “Israeli Negotiation Strategies: from Egypt and Jordan to Hamas and Iran.”
According to Cristal, negotiation is a complex, nuanced process requiring sensitivity and sophisticated understanding. It often fails because the parties involved lack discernment and oversimplify the issues.
Although the 1978 Camp David talks went well, the Israeli team did not hold a single preparatory meeting to plan strategy prior to the 2000 talks, which ended without an agreement.
“We as Israelis have a lot to learn from America,” Cristal said. “We don’t trust our neighbors; we trust our allies. We don’t rely on our allies, but we trust them. We live in a jungle in that we cannot project weakness.”
Just as one cannot approach a property negotiation without first deciding whether one is buying or leasing, Cristal argued, one can’t go to a negotiation process without knowing the outcome one wishes to achieve. One can negotiate to resolve a conflict or to manage it, he said.
Another question Cristal said the parties must consider is whether they want to pursue a negotiation process that’s mediated or direct. On that point, he criticized the U.S., saying it does not do well as a mediator between Arabs and Israelis, he said.
“An American walks into the room and it’s like talking to a judge,” Cristal said. An understanding of the other side’s mindset is crucial to the success of the process, he argued.
According to Cristal, most of what happens in negotiations is perception. He said people negotiate from three different positions: Strength, interest, and rights. In recent years, Arab/Israeli conflicts have seen some shifting between these positions, Cristal said.
Cristal addressed the question of Iran and also took several questions from the audience. He stated that the cost of no negotiated peace deal is now significantly higher in the eyes of Iranians than it was in the past.
People in Iran differ greatly from their Arab neighbors in that given their country’s history and traditions they are much more democratic in their attitude, he said.
As this is an election year in the U.S., and Europe is currently facing problems of its own, Israeli leaders are “reluctant to try anything drastic against Iran right now,” he said.
Cristal said that if he could have a minute with Obama, he would advise him, “Don’t go to negotiate [an Iran deal] with an Ashkenazi team. Take Farsi negotiators. We don’t understand how to bargain. They’re the masters of the bargain. They do it because they like the game. Or take Indians. They will never leave without a bargain.”
One audience member asked about what would happen to Israel if the Palestinians had their own state.
“When they take over territory and have to deal with sewage and educational systems, they’ll change, because they have a people to govern,” he said. “They’ll have to make practical concessions and compromises.”
Cristal was a member of Israel’s teams negotiating with Jordan and the Palestinians during the 1990s, and he helped resolve the siege by terrorists of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002.
He is founder and chief executive officer of the NEST Consulting Group, which trains managers in the public and private sectors from around the world in negotiation processes.
The event was co-sponsored by the Women’s Division of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the MJF’s Jewish Community Relations Council, and held at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. About 70 people attended. Sarah Hwang and Judy Kristal are co-chairs of the series.
Milwaukeean Susan Ellman, MLIS, has taught history and English composition at the high school level, and is a freelance writer at work on a historical novel.