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U.S. Mediator? – A Misnomer in the Middle East Conflict

“It’s like you don’t think that violence can go on for so long”. I stumbled upon this statement when reading an April 5, 2002 Washington Post article about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. What is profound about the statement is that the source is a 16-year old Jewish student living in Fairfax Country. Her statement echoed in my mind as I wonder like many people, “when will the killing stop and the peace begin?” I also wonder, “If the peace begins, how will peace remain?”

My purpose in writing this article is not to point fingers of blame at the Israelis or Palestinians. Nor is my intention to offer clear-cut resolutions to a complex problem with historical dimensions that I don’t profess to fully understand. I seek to share my vantage point about the conflict as a Mediator and focus on the conflict from a spiritual perspective. As I attempt to share my perspective, I take ownership that I probably possess a bias surrounding the conflict. Whether I am fully aware of my bias or not, the fact remains that the way I think is influenced by the fact that I am a U.S. Citizen educated in a Western society, who is daily exposed to the U.S. media and politics.

The headline of a April 4, 2002 USA Today article stated, “U.S. may step up Mideast mediation.” An April 19, 2002 Washington Post article referred to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent trip to the Middle East as “Powell’s mediation mission”. Reading these articles caused me concern. They insinuate that the United States is a neutral party to the conflict. In general, a mediator is a neutral third party to a dispute who facilitates a discussion between disputants to assist in resolving their conflict. So what does it mean to be a “third party neutral”? A third party neutral means someone who is not a party to the dispute, doesn’t have a personal interest in the conflict, and doesn’t have a personal relationship with any of the disputants. Most U.S. mediators would probably agree with my definition of a mediator, despite the particular type of mediation they practice (e.g., Facilitative, Evaluative, or Transformative mediation). Some may agree with my definition of a third party neutral. Some may differ based on the belief that some cultures view mediators as people who do have a personal interest or relationship with the disputants. For example, in Native American culture a Medicine Man or Tribal Chief may serve as a mediator between tribal members. Tribal members may view the Medicine Man or Tribal Chief as a third party neutral despite the fact that he has a personal stake in the outcome (e.g., communal peace) and as a member of the tribe he has a relationship with the disputants. Nevertheless, I don’t see the U.S. as a third party neutral because the U.S. has a personal interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and due to U.S. economic and diplomatic relations with Israel.

The U.S. has a personal stake in the conflict based on its desire to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and prevent Iraq from acquiring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Recently, in an April 7, 2002 Washington Post article, President Bush stated, “…the policy of my government is the removal of Saddam, and that all options are open.” In order to overthrow Hussein, it is important for the U.S. to maintain friendly relations with Arab Nations in the Middle East. My point about U.S. concerns pertaining to maintaining relations with Arab Nations is further illustrated by a particular instance. U.S. Diplomats recently postponed an intelligence briefing (alleging Iraq is developing banned military techniques) with U.N. Security Council members in order to avoid Arab criticism of U.S support for Israel’s military offense. There exists other residual benefits from maintaining relations with Arab Nations, including diplomatic and military support in the U.S. war against terrorism, as well as, financial gain from oil reserves.

The U.S. government is also not neutral because of our relationship with Israel. According to an April 8, 2002 Washington Post article, Israel receives approximately three billion dollars a year in aid from the United States. An April 4, 2002 USA Today article reported that Israel has received more than $60 billion in U.S aid since 1979. Our financial investment in Israel prevents us from being a neutral in the Middle East conflict. Secondly, it is not to far fetched to believe that the Bush Administration is influenced by the strong political presence Jewish Americans possess in the United States. Additionally, U.S. diplomacy has strongly favored Israel. In the first 15 months of the Bush Administration, President Bush refused to meet with Arafat. Vice President Cheney balked at meeting with Arafat during his Middle East tour in March 2002, concurring with Israel’s position that no negotiations could occur until Arafat took steps to halt violence against Israelis.

President Bush’s pronouncements also leave no room for U.S. neutrality in the midst of the Middle East conflict. In an April 6, 2002 Washington Post article, President Bush was quoted as stating that Arafat “…has let his people down and there are others in the region who can lead.” President Bush also proclaimed that Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist. Shortly thereafter, President Bush demanded that Israel withdraw its troops from Palestinian occupied areas and that Arafat speak out against anti-Israeli military groups. Several days later, President Bush referred to Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as “a man of peace”. On April 26, 2002, President Bush met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to discuss plans for Middle East peace. In an April 27, 2002 Washington Post article President Bush was quoted as stating that Abdullah understood that “we’ve got a unique relationship with Israel …” and that “…we [referring to the U.S.] will not allow Israel to be crushed-it’s a part of our foreign policy-it will continue to be a part.” I am not saying that there is no role for U.S. involvement in the Middle East conflict. I don’t believe the U.S. and other foreign countries should be idle as Israelis and Palestinians continue to kill each other. Peaceful co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis is a major U.S. interest. However, the U.S. is clearly not in a position to be a Mediator in the Middle East. It is a fair assertion to say that we can be a Negotiator in the Middle East, regardless of U.S. self-motivated interests. Then why not be candid by avoiding language like, “mideast mediation” and “mediation mission”? What about posting a headline that reads “U.S. Attempts to Broker Middle East Peace, in Favor of U.S. Interests.” Our headlines wouldn’t be as flashy, but we wouldn’t risk undermining our international credibility.

So where is my spiritual perspective in the Middle East conflict? It lies within. External conflicts are external projections of internal conflicts. A profound statement from a book called the Tao of Negotiation that is applicable to the Middle East conflict. The United Nations, U.S., Arab Nations, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority have identified the core issues to the conflict: 1) Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, 2) Israeli acknowledgement of a Palestinian nation and self-governance, 3) Arab nations acceptance of Israel’s right to exist, 4) the right of return by Palestinian refugees, and 5) the status of Jerusalem. However, even if the core issues are resolved, peaceful co-existence will most likely not occur until the “human” issue is addressed by the Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t mean “human rights” – where a government has a legal obligation to protect the rights of its citizens, foreigners, or autonomous groups. The human issue is whether both sides can journey within their souls and release the remnants of anger, pain, sorrow, and fear, all of which lead to conflict. Can both Israelis and Palestinians share the same grief anytime a Palestinian or Israeli life is lost in the Middle East conflict? Resolving the human issue requires courage, a conscious commitment to self-introspection, dialogue in the midst of differences, forgiveness, and a deep embedded love for humanity. The human issue may sound like “pie in the sky” to those readers who perceive themselves as realists and idealists, like myself, as naïve. Yet, I hope that this article catapults both realists and idealists into introspection and action. The U.S. media hasn’t informed me if the Israelis and Palestinians residing in the Middle East or elsewhere are addressing the human issue. I only hear about what Presidents and Prime Ministers are doing in the region. The 16-year old Jewish student’s statement still echoes in my mind. “It’s like you don’t think that violence can go on for so long.” I hope and pray that Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians hear this echo.


Patrick Chapman

Patrick Chapman is an Attorney and President of Catalyst Consultants, a D.C. consultant business specializing in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Human Rights. The term “Catalyst” in Catalyst Consultants signifies his personal and business mission, to be an inspirational agent of change by encouraging people and organizations to transform the way… MORE >

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