Talking won't always help

The idea that most conflicts arise from misunderstanding is an illusion.

The first US ambassador to the United Nations was a crusty old former senator from Vermont who had never been outside the United States and not much of anywhere inside the US except back and forth to Washington. When Israel declared independence in 1948 and was invaded by its Arab neighbors, Ambassador Austin looked out over the podium of the General Assembly and said: "What I don't understand is why the Jews and the Arabs can't get together around a table and resolve their differences like good Christian gentlemen."

This was an extreme example of an all-too-common misconception in The West, that assumes that differences are due to misunderstandings, and misunderstandings can be resolved through negotiations; that is, talk.

In the last few days, the following non-events have taken place:

Yet another round of talks between Hamas and Fatah, supposed to lead to a reconciliation and a unity government covering the West Bank and Gaza, broke up after agreeing on nothing.

The so-called G-7 and G-20 countries held meetings and decided on absolutely nothing with reference to monetary policies of various members that are adopted to increase competitiveness through currency depreciation at the expense of other countries, rather than by increasing their own productivity.

First President Ahmadinejad of Iran said that his government would be prepared to meet and talk with the United States, and then Supreme Leader Khamenei said no it wouldn't. In the meantime the group made up of the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will be meeting with the Iranians on February 26 for the umpteenth time amid the absolute certainty of all parties and all commentators that the meeting will result in nothing.

It must be admitted that there are times when no agreement is the better result, as witness Munich in 1938 when Chamberlain and Daladier agreed to abandon a "...far away country about which we know nothing..." (Chamberlain was talking about Czechoslovakia, not Bhutan) to the tender mercies of Hitler. It must also be recognized that sometimes negotiations are engaged in simply so that politicians can demonstrate to their constituents that they are doing "something" about a particular problem, when in fact they are doing nothing and have no intention of doing anything significant.

However, the main lesson to be learned from all the extraneous and irrelevant talk that goes on is quite simple--not all, or even most conflicts are due to misunderstanding of the counterpart's position. They are due to irreconcilable differences of substance, and when that is the case, the only misunderstanding is that of the party or parties which believe that talking will resolve the issues in the face of all the evidence.

Only the three little pigs could huff and puff and blow the wolf's house down. In international politics, huffing and puffing only leads to shortness of breath while the wolf calmly proceeds with his plans and projects.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, University of Haifa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 21, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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