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A common-sense approach to mediation for peace

A common-sense approach to mediation for peace

Mediation is an art, not a science, a pragmatic exercise in persuasion using the simple tools of common sense and logic, focusing on commonalities rather than rivalries, looking toward the future, turning the page on irreparable errors and trying to build a sustainable modus vivendi. Indeed, we humans have more commonalities than incompatibilities. We share a lot – beginning with our innate human dignity, the love of family and children, the hope for their future, the capacity for empathy, universal humanitarian values, a commitment to the rule of law, the UN Charter and its mechanisms.

As former US President Jimmy Carter said at the conferral of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Human Rights Day 10 December 2002: “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children. »[1]

While we agree on abstract values, we do not always have the same moral compass, the same priorities or the same understanding of the facts. For mediation to bear fruit, there must be — at a minimum — an incipient desire on the part of the hostile parties to break the stalemate, to remove obstacles to a compromise. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango[2], and if one party refuses to dance, there is no sense in attempting mediation.

War fatigue is a frequent pre-condition to peace negotiations, but an animus to listen and to consider options to end the slaughter is required. The major obstacle to negotiation is frequently the intransigence embedded in the military-industrial complex. As long as people are making money on the war, it will be difficult to stop it. Since time immemorial there have been war profiteers, and this plague will not end anytime soon, notwithstanding the noble principles enunciated in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the nine core human rights treaties.

Authority and Credibility

Since war destroys the trust among the belligerent parties, they must rely on third-parties to help along. Despite doubts and hesitation, the belligerents must at least have a modicum of confidence in the mediator. In a two-party conflict, it is easier to find a mediator with sufficient moral authority to be accepted by the conflicting parties. That was the case in the successful mediation conducted by Nikolaus de Flue in Switzerland in the 15th century, thus avoiding a war between Swiss Cantons by virtue of a common-sense compromise reached at the Diet of Stans in 1481.[3] Bruder Klaus’ mediation was well received by the quarrelling canton leaders, who were genuinely looking for a peaceful, face-saving compromise.

One of the functions of the mediator is to facilitate the beginnings of an atmosphere of trust. This requires strict impartiality and objectivity on the part of the mediator, as well as a good measure of patience and perseverance. If the parties perceive the mediator as having his/her own preferences and prejudices, the mediation will fail. That is why, for instance, the Palestinians have never accepted the United States as a mediator in the Israel/Palestine crisis, because the US is unabashedly on Israel’s side[4]. The same can be said for the consummate hypocrite Tony Blair, who for a while was the Quartet’s envoy for negotiations between Israel and the Palestine authority[5], or for the EU Special Representative to the Palestinian/Israeli Peace Process[6].

Mediation must be carried out by persons who have no stake in the outcome of the deal. This holds true for the Russia/Ukraine conflict, which is essentially a US/EU/NATO/Ukraine vs. Russia conflict. It should be obvious that a believable mediator cannot not come from the US, UK, France, Germany. There are, however, numerous blueprints for peace and numerous qualified mediators who have offered their good offices, including Pope Francis[7], Latin American[8], African[9], and Asian[10] leaders.

In order to have authority and credibility, the mediator must not stand to gain from the outcome of the mediation. Not only factual impartiality but also emotional independence is required. The mediator must not only be a good listener, he/she must be capable of understanding the emotions of each party and must be skilful in using logic to marshal the facts and the competing narratives, so that a rational compromise may emerge. It is not the function of the mediator to challenge or dismantle political myths, which, although objectively false, are subjectively believed in and adamantly defended. The mediator must accept the myths as a “factum” to be reckoned with, but the myths must not be allowed to dictate the outcome of the mediation.

Obstacles to success

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