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The Conflict Within: The Interpersonal Conflict Between Netanyahu and Arafat

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OJPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution

The Conflict Within: The Interpersonal Conflict Between Netanyahu and Arafat

Landon E. Hancock and Joshua N. Weiss

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The basic problem is one of trust. Unlike the late premier Rabin, who grew to trust Arafat and was trusted in return, Netanyahu has long had a personal dislike for the Palestinian leader. For his part Arafat is suspicious of Netanyahu's real aims, with the Israeli leader being an unknown quantity even to most of his own people. -- Arab Press Service Organization -- November 11, 1996


The Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one that has garnered a great deal of attention and intervention from third parties around the world. While each of these efforts has focused upon different levels of this social conflict and has mostly contributed positively, the process as it now stands is again perilously close to breaking down. It is common in any conflict of a protracted nature, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum, that there are many layers of conflict wrapped inexorably together. Interestingly and somewhat predictably, one of the levels that often gets lost or is deemed less important in protracted social conflicts is the interpersonal level. However, when an interpersonal conflict exists between the leaders of the parties, efforts at resolution become extraordinarily more difficult. We believe the interpersonal conflict may be a significant reason why the current process is failing.

It is our belief that current tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are embodied, to a large extent, in the fractious relationship between Binyamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat. In large part, we hold this opinion because of the differences in Arafat's relationship with Rabin versus Netanyahu. In the case of the former, although the two men could not be considered friends, they were able to build a level of working trust based upon pragmatic necessity. With regard to the latter, neither party has been willing, or as yet able, to work at a functional relationship. Curiously, this dysfunctional relationship and efforts to improve it receive little attention from intervenors, as is implicitly evident by the dearth of discussion and literature on this matter. Instead the focus is on the substantive issues as they relate to the Oslo process. To improve the process the relationship itself must be improved so that at least a working trust is developed.

In this paper we intend to shed some light on this interpersonal conflict by discussing the circumstances that brought the interdependent relationship into being and by analyzing its roots and dynamics - primarily in the form of the respective leaders worldviews. As an example of the significance of this element, the Wye Memorandum will be discussed and shown why the interpersonal conflict is aiding in its current failure. Finally, impediments to an interpersonal intervention will be presented along with potential methods for overcoming them. We believe that an intervention specifically focusing on the strained relationship itself and not addressing it from behind the substantive issues would force the parties to confront at least part of the problem and create the impetus for a working trust.

Setting the Stage for Difficulty

When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli right-wing activist opposed to the Oslo Peace Process, on November 4, 1995, Middle East history was forever altered. That incident opened the proverbial door for the Likud party to exploit the situation and 'paint' the dovish Shimon Peres (Labor's leader) as a threat to Israeli security (now acting without his more hawkish counterpart Rabin). Likud's alternative was a young, American educated, conservative politician named Benjamin Netanyahu.

The elections that ensued between Peres and Netanyahu were so close that CNN initially projected Peres the winner.(1) However, as more votes were counted, Netanyahu narrowly edged out his elder opponent and on May 29, 1996 became Prime Minister of Israel. That event not only slowed the Oslo Process, but also dramatically changed the political scene in Israel.

On the other side of the equation was the survivor -- Yasser Arafat. Having been counted out on many different occasions, Arafat somehow managed to weather every storm from both inside and outside the Palestinian community.(2) Arafat finally believed that he was on the path to a Palestinian State and political prominence with the Oslo Process and partnership with the late Rabin and Peres. Although nothing was definitive in the open ended Oslo Process, many believed that the inevitable conclusion after years of Confidence Building Measures (CBM) was some form of Palestinian State.(3) Thus, it is fair to say that when Rabin died so too did the moderate amount of trust that existed between the two sides.

Indications abounded that an interpersonal problem was in the making. Even before Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister he was not shy about expressing his perception of Arafat as untrustworthy and underhanded.(4) Similarly, Arafat was not fond of Netanyahu or the principles he espoused. These attitudes kept the two from holding a substantial meeting for four months after the election.(5) As Abba Eban said about this lack of interaction, "the absence of overt personal contact between Netanyahu and Arafat … takes us to the borderline of absurdity."(6) Since the election, the two have met on few occasions and both their interpersonal relationship and the peace process are in tatters. The important questions that now must be addressed are why did these men hold these perceptions of each other and what other dynamics are involved in this interpersonal conflict?

The Interpersonal Conflict - The Epicenter of the Quake

The interpersonal conflict between Netanyahu and Arafat has many intricately intertwined dynamics. If any intervention is to be attempted these dynamics must be fully understood. A large part of the analysis will focus on the psychological aspects of the two men involved.

The interpersonal conflictive dynamics between Netanyahu and Arafat pre-date Netanyahu's assumption of office. Their relationship before Netanyahu's election was not based on personal interaction, but on belief systems and clashing worldviews (this will be touched on here, but discussed in depth in the next section). After Netanyahu's election, both realized that they had to interact with each other on, at least, some minimal level. Since Netanyahu's election, the peace process, to which Netanyahu is essentially opposed, has virtually been frozen in place.(7) Various negative moves have been made, such as the opening of the Hasmonean tunnel, building settlements in and around East Jerusalem, bombings, assassination attempts, and lack of agreed upon actions that have added to the crisis and further eroded an already distrustful relationship. The situation has reached a dangerous level where any further escalation could push the parties over the 'tipping point' and back into a cycle of violence.(8)

Among the dynamics that have emerged during this tumultuous period are mirror-imaging, power asymmetry, climate, face, and polarization. Each of these dynamics needs to be fleshed out with definitions and actual examples.

First, much of what has transpired between the Netanyahu and Arafat has been the result of what Wher calls mirror-imaging.(9) Arthur Gladstone describes mirror-imaging as:

Each side believes the other to be bent on aggression and conquest, to be capable of great brutality and evil-doing, to be something less than human and therefore hardly deserving respect or consideration, to be insincere and untrustworthy …(10)

When suspicions exist, as they do between Netanyahu and Arafat, every action -- even defensive in nature -- is seen by the other as provocative.(11)

The opening of the Hasmonean tunnel by Netanyahu and the comments made afterward by both sides are a good example of how this mirror-imaging has manifested itself. According to Netanyahu, opening the tunnel was a "sovereign right … (that would not be held up) because Arafat would not like it."(12) After that incident, riots and violence ensued in Gaza and the West Bank (in which 58 Palestinians, 15 Israelis, and 3 Egyptians were killed). Netanyahu argued that the explosion of violence was "clearly directed by the Palestinian Authority…and that if it hadn't been the tunnel, Mr. Arafat would simply have searched for another pretext."(13) A spokesman for Arafat responded to these charges by stating, "In the past 100 days the Palestinians have been witnessing nothing but settlements, provocations, confiscation of land, and the demolishing of homes…Mr. Netanyahu has forgotten he had peace partners…"(14)Tacitly expressed in these escalatory statements is also the pervasive power asymmetry that exists between the parties.

This power asymmetry has been a factor in the larger conflict and undoubtedly has had an effect on the interpersonal relationship. In this particular situation, the parties are in what Moore describes as an "extremely asymmetrical power relationship." This is defined as "situations in which a party is in a much weaker position, and both parties know it."(15) For example, during the negotiation over Hebron this dynamic emerged; as a PLO official recounted, "Arafat was screaming, 'If you want to control al-Ibrahimi mosque, take the mosque, take everything. Take Hebron, I don't want it. You don't want an agreement on Hebron. You don't want to agree on anything.'"(16) While this outburst could be linked to many different factors, the power difference is apparent. This asymmetry also has effects on concepts such as climate.

Third, the climate of the particular interpersonal conflict Netanyahu and Arafat have constructed is currently very negative.(17) As Folger et al. explain, "Climate is the relatively enduring quality of group situations that (1) is experienced in common by group members, and (2) arises from and influences their interaction and behavior."(18) The impact of climate is not always readily apparent, but it can be witnessed in various statements by the parties. As Abu Amir commented on the current climate in the context of one issue being discussed, "If there had been a good track record (between Netanyahu and Arafat) it may have been received in a different way."(19) Part of a third party's role during the intervention will be to attempt to alter this climate and guarantee as much 'face' as possible to both parties.

Fourth, face or "the communicator's claim to be seen as a certain type of person" is almost always a component of an interpersonal conflict.(20) When there is a threat to their face parties will take certain actions to try to protect their image. Figuratively pointing a finger at the other party is an attempt to save face in a conflict setting. Even trying to solicit a simple gesture, such as getting the parties to say they are fond of each other, has a component of face embedded in it. For example, when a journalist from Time Magazine tried to get Netanyahu to say Arafat was 'a nice guy,' Netanyahu said: "You get him to say it about me and I'll say it about him."(21) This may seem to be a trivial point on the surface, but it goes to a deeper component of face and the parties' ability to work together effectively.

Finally, Wher discusses the concept of polarization - a dynamic evident in this relationship. As Hocker and Wilmont explain, "As parties seek internal consistency and coalitions with allies, and leaders consolidate positions (our italics), parties in conflict tend toward bi-polarization that can lead both to greater intensity and to simplification and (possibly) resolution of the conflict."(22) An example of the leaders consolidating positions as part of this polarization is Netanyahu's relatively high approval rating within Israel vs. his poor external relationships with the Palestinians, the Arab world, the U.S., and other allies. Netanyahu's stance has subsequently brought Arafat closer to Palestinian groups that he had distanced himself from when he was dealing with Rabin.(23)

When dynamics such as escalatory moves, mirror-imaging, power asymmetry, climate, face, and polarization are negatively combined the situation can remain bleak unless something is altered. If that were not difficult enough, one must add the often explosive problem of clashing worldviews.

Worldviews of Arafat & Netanyahu

The ideal of worldview theory is based upon the identity of self and group, as explained via personal and historical narratives. According to Bruner's description of folk psychology, its creation comes from a complex notion of the self who acts within a set of beliefs where all the actions - by the self and others - are interpreted though their psychology, or worldview.(24) Therefore it can be argued that this creation of identity and worldview stems from social narratives that are formed by a combination of individual experiences and interpretations, the society in which we live, and the culture that gives birth to it.(25)

When we look at the identities of our main actors, we also must remember the differences each of them has as a social construct and the differences - for each of them - in their social realities. Therefore, we also need to look at a theoretical level that examines the individual more closely and ties that examination to the larger group level concerns held by the individual. One such theory we can use is the individual's chosen trauma. Like folk psychology, or worldviews, the chosen trauma was designed to explain group dynamics and behavior following seminal events for a society. However, like a worldview, a chosen trauma affects individuals and can be constructed on an individual level, based both upon societal and individual events. According to Volkan, a chosen trauma is "an event that causes a large group to feel helpless and victimized."(26) When a group experiences a chosen trauma, it is often unable to mourn the original event adaptively in order to get past it. This inability often results in a generational effect wherein each generation feels the event as sharply as those who were living at the time of the event.

There are three primary responses to the existence of a chosen trauma. The first is an outward-looking entitlement policy of "we've been hurt, and now it's our turn." This policy connects with dehumanization and victimization of others in the pursuit of one's goals. The second is a purification policy that, when escalated, may lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The third is a masochistic response wherein one holds oneself responsible for the original event and seeks to avoid replicating it.

It is through the use of a national worldview and chosen trauma that we can draw out the individual's orientation to conflict as well as ethnocentric elements of conflict interaction. By using Hocker and Wilmot's components of personal history (i.e., family history and individual life experiences), cultural frames (i.e., societal traditions and norms), and metaphors (i.e., analogies of words or phrases used to characterize a conflict or relationship) we can also search for events that colored the participants' individual-level worldviews and chosen traumas.(27)

Thus, the elements of personal worldview and chosen trauma need to be unearthed to understand how these psychological perceptions have tainted both Arafat's and Netanyahu's orientation to the Middle East peace process. As we shall see below, the clash of worldviews provides a solid basis for the lack of understanding and communication between the two, resulting in the current deadlock of the process.

Yasser Arafat: Mr. Palestine

Yasser Arafat has been described many ways, both positive and negative. But the meaning with the most salience for this paper is his designation as Mr. Palestine. In this respect, Arafat is a man who has suppressed his individual identity for the purpose of creating himself as an icon representing the Palestinian people.(28)

One possible - indeed probable - reason for Arafat's submersion into Mr. Palestine was the fact that he lived in Egypt for much of his youth, especially during the 1948 war, which established the state of Israel. Some speculate that he is trying to make up for staying in university when others were fighting on the front lines, thus making him less Palestinian than those actually fighting. By throwing himself into the liberation movement single-mindedly, he may be trying to make up for his lack of earlier participation and to counter the rumors - abetted by his Egyptian accent - that he is not truly Palestinian.(29)

Even as a young man Arafat gained a reputation as a compulsive doer, leaving little time for anything except the PLO. He is legendary for the simplicity of the life he leads, often being referred to as a modern Bedouin, moving from place to place and owning little more than he can carry with him. While others in the PLO's leadership lived ostentatiously or have settled down to raise families, Arafat has always kept to his spartan, monastic existence - even denying his 1990 marriage to Suha Tawil and certainly not allowing it to change his lifestyle.(30) Due to many assassination attempts, Arafat has always kept on the move. He has been inculcated in the life of a guerrilla leader, often never sleeping in the same place for two nights in a row. This is a part of his image as a homeless refugee whose sole concern is the liberation of his homeland.

Also of note is Arafat's ability to remain alive and in control of the PLO after decades of fighting with the Israelis, other Arab countries (Syria and Jordan on occasion), and within the Palestinian community for control against former allies, such as Abu Nidal, and constant enemies, like George Habash of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The first reason for his success is his ability to keep on the move, divulging his location and plans to few. The second is his insistence on personal control and micro-management of the PLO's functions. Not only does he insist on face-to-face meetings to discuss most matters of importance, but he also directly controls most of the PLO's finances, personally signing checks for almost all of its expenditures.(31) Whether this has continued within the structure of the new Palestinian Authority is unclear, but it is quite likely that Arafat still keeps as much personal control over finances and, especially, information as possible to ensure his continued place at the head of the Palestinian political establishment.

Arafat, like many other Palestinians, sees the failure of the Arab countries to liberate Palestine in 1948 as a sign that if Palestine was going to be freed, it would have to be set free by Palestinians and not by the other Arab states.(32) This, like his many years spent on the run, makes Arafat a complex character and one that it difficult to get a handle on. When looking for Arafat's worldview and chosen trauma we must look to those of the entire Palestinian people and, if anything, magnify them to find his personal views. The worldview of the Palestinian is that of a homeless refugee whose identity, in a sense, is the PLO, which transforms the negative image of the homeless refugee to a positive one of a Palestinian nationalist.(33) Arafat exemplifies this worldview in the sense that his identity is the PLO, and like the PLO he has been the most persistent fighter for the creation of a Palestinian state. His commitment to this end is shown through his willingness to work with anyone who could possibly assist him, whether they are Saudi princes or Chinese communists. As he has said himself, "What meaning does the left or the right have in the struggle for the liberation of my homeland?"(34)

The chosen trauma of Arafat and the Palestinians, beyond the many other events that have scarred the Palestinians, was the 1967 Six-Day War. This is so because of the expectations prior to the war and the tremendous depression afterwards. According to various accounts, the Arabs were forced to prepare ahead of schedule because of the actions of Arafat's Fatah guerrillas who had begun their first bombing campaigns at that time. However, because of Nasser's promises, everyone expected the combined forces of the Arab countries to push the Israelis into the sea. When this didn't happen, the Palestinian people, and Arafat in particular, learned that they could not rely on other Arabs to help them and that their fight with Israel would have to be won on their own. It is for this reason that this event, rather than the brief war between Jordanian forces and the PLO or the 1982 expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon by Israeli forces, was chosen. While those events helped shape the character of later resistance moves, the first forced Arafat and others to reevaluate their position vis-à-vis both the Arab countries and their conflict with Israel. The realization that Israel was not going to be easy to defeat may have planted the seeds for future negotiations toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Binyamin Netanyahu: Revisionist Zionism

Binyamin (or Benjamin) Netanyahu was born in 1949 to a family steeped in Zionist tradition. His paternal grandfather was a devoted Zionist and his father worked closely with Vladimir Jabotinsky, leader of the Zionist Revisionist movement in the 1930s.(35) It was from this extremely hard-line position that Netanyahu developed his beliefs and Jewish revisionist worldview.

In this revisionist worldview, the state originally promised to the Jews consisted of the current state of Israel - including the occupied territories - and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. According to Netanyahu, when this region was divided into two regions:

Britain tore off Transjordan from the Jewish National Home in 1922: with one stroke of the pen, it lopped off nearly 80 percent of the land promised the Jewish people, closing off this area to Jews to this day. (36),(37)

Beyond this, Netanyahu - like Jabotinsky and Golda Mier - does not believe in the existence of the Palestinians as a separate people, instead referring only to Arabs and Jews. In fact, it was only under intense political pressure as Prime Minister that Netanyahu started to refer to Palestinians as such, instead of as "Palestinian Arabs."(38)

In addition, Netanyahu's military service - which is compulsory in Israel - was served as a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) elite anti-terrorist group, the Sayeret Matcal, where he participated in many high-risk operations, including the raid on a hijacked airliner outside Tel Aviv in 1972.(39) One seminal event occurred in 1976 when Netanyahu's brother Yonatan - a Lt. Colonel in the IDF - was the only military casualty in Israel's successful rescue of hostages from Entebbe, Uganda.(40) When Netanyahu heard about this he was in the US pursuing a business career. He immediately returned to Israel and - with his father - founded the Jonathan Institute in his brother's memory. This institute was dedicated to studying and combating international terrorism as exemplified in his introduction to a book produced from one of its conferences:

the West, the principal target of international terrorism, must organize itself for this battle...[with] the moral understanding that terrorism, under whatever guise or pretext, is an inexcusable evil, that it obliterates the political and moral distinctions which are the foundations of humane and free life under the rule of law; that the West, in short, must resist terrorism and ultimately defeat it.(41)

The death of his brother - combined with his own service in Sayeret Matcal - exemplifies Netanyahu's personal chosen trauma, which is centered around the issue of terrorism, most especially Palestinian terrorism.

In the preface to his 1993 book, A Place Among Nations: Israel and the World, Netanyahu states that peace must be built on truth. However, most notable is his assertion throughout this work that "the Arab world's main weapon...against the Jewish National Home has been the weapon of untruth." To say that Netanyahu has difficulty trusting Palestinians or the PLO is putting it quite mildly. Like his own assertion that the Jewish National Homeland consisted of present day Israel and Jordan, Netanyahu insists that when PLO officials discuss the occupied territories they mean all of Israel, not just the West Bank and Gaza Strip.(42)

In A Place Among Nations, Netanyahu categorically states that he believes the PLO has no intention of living peacefully with the state of Israel and that its willingness to negotiate for autonomy and a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza are just the first steps to its long-held plan of eradicating the Jewish state completely. He states that destroying Israel is "the PLO's reason for existing" and without that reason "you have no PLO."(43) In his distinction between Western democracies and totalitarian regimes, he clearly puts the PLO in the latter category stating that its choice of affiliations (i.e., the Soviet Union, Communist China, and Lybia) is due to

its affinity for the goals and methods of tyranny...[aligning] it with the likes of the Nazis and the Soviets, terror organization of almost every description and Arab despots from Nasser to Saddam.(44)

Netanyahu's characterization of the PLO's leadership structure as autrocratic and dictatorial only serves to enhance his personal distrust of Arafat, given the latter's prediliction for control over the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. In his final analysis of the PLO's goals in the peace process, Netanyahu is compared to the myth of the Trojan Horse, which the Western democracies will force Israel to let within its walls. And where, once in, it can complete its grisly task.

Why Wye is Going Awry

Based on what has been discussed above it would be useful to put this into a current context so the impact of the interpersonal conflict can be better understood. Unfortunately, there is such a situation ongoing that has emerged from the Wye River Memorandum signed October 23, 1998 that is very dangerous and highlights the lack of a somewhat solid interpersonal relationship.

Almost immediately after the leaders left Wye, Maryland, new conditions to the approval of the agreement were added by Netanyahu that provoked an untrusting response from Arafat. Netanyahu, in seeking the approval of the accord from the Israeli Kenneset, added that if Arafat unilaterally declared a Palestinian state Israel would cease all withdrawal plans. It is logical to conclude that if there were some form of trust a statement such as this would not have been necessary. Arafat responded by explaining that no amended conditions would be honored and angrily declared that he would not be deterred from declaring a Palestinian state in May of 1999.(45)

Netanyahu discussed Arafat and the Wye River Memorandum in depth in the November 23rd The Jerusalem Report. The report began by explaining that "Netanyahu…made clear that he has yet to forge a partnership of trust with Arafat…"(46) Horowitz, the interviewer, posed a number of telling questions to Netanyahu. For example he asked, "Arafat has begun to talk of you as his peace partner. Is that how you see him?" Netanyahu answered conditionally - suggesting a lack of trust - by stating, "If he keeps his commitments, the answer would be positive. If he doesn't, then this will be a tragedy for peace."(47) Later in the interview Horowitz posed a seemingly benign question about Wye, namely "Do you think, from these first few days, that this Wye deal is going to be carried out?" Netanyanu's brief response "Up to them (Palestinians)" indicates that he still does not see reason to trust Arafat or have any desire to do so at this point.(48) This response further highlights the need for an intervention that focuses solely on the relationship of the two leaders whose fates are inexorably tied. Those who might argue that such an intervention is not required because Netanyahu's tenure appears to be close to an end would do well to look to his past brushes with governmental collapse as well as his own attitude of dismissal towards the upcoming elections. (49)

An Intervention Strategy

It is evident that the current process is failing and, therefore, something different and possibly radical must be tried to pump life back into the process. An intervention specifically focusing on the strained relationship of Netanyahu and Arafat may be what is necessary (while admittedly this will not solve all the problems that exist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).(50) A major goal of this intervention would be to come to some type of effective working arrangement between the parties - similar to what Rabin and Arafat had created.(51) While not suggesting an exact process, we will discuss some of the likely points of resistance and how to overcome them.


There are a number of reasons why these parties may be resistant to enter into this process. The first reason the parties might oppose this process is because they perceive the potential third parties to be partial and/or have ulterior motives. In order to dispel these fears, the third party should be comprised of at least one Israeli, one Palestinian, and one outsider. These people must have intricate knowledge of the conflict and their respective societies and cultures, while the outsider will provide the process and an impartial perspective.

The second reason the parties might resist this type of intervention is because of the perception that they will somehow look weak. In many societies - particularly Israel - if a leader were to enter into a dialogue that specifically discussed the relationship they quite likely would be criticized by conservatives and hard-liners. For that reason, the dialogue should be done informally at a retreat away from the region. Furthermore, there is no need to tell the media exactly what is being discussed beyond the fact that the two leaders are working to improve the peace process.

The third reason the parties might resist is because they might have motives that are contrary to improving the relationship. It is often difficult to keep in mind, but there are many times when parties to a conflict do not want to resolve contentious issues or dysfunctional relationships because they are benefiting from them.(52) Of the parties in question, Netanyahu is more likely to take this stance due to the nature of his ruling coalition.

While this is a limited list of reason why the parties may resist, many restrictions would be hard to know before hand and would thus have to be dealt with as they arose. Resistance takes many forms and it will be the third parties job throughout the process to determine where resistance is coming from in order to adequately address it.

Being Persuasive - Extracting Self-Interest

Why should the parties agree to do this based on all the impediments outlined above? That is the key question and is really where the intervenor must be skilled in the art of persuasion.(53) If one searches diligently they can find clues to work with that may intrigue the parties enough to give the process a try.

On the one hand, it should not be as difficult to persuade Arafat to enter this process. This statement mainly hinges on the fact that Arafat's entire political life depends on the successful implementation of the Oslo Peace Process. The struggle that he has championed for the last four decades would fall by the wayside if this process collapses. He will have blocking factors that will need to be addressed, but the third party knows he is committed to seeing this process through to fruition.

On the other hand, it appears that Netanyahu has very little reason to enter into this process. However, to get Netanyahu to partake there are a few useful pieces of information the mediator can use. First, unlike most in his party, Netanyahu is an optimist with a can-do attitude and someone who particularly enjoys challenges.(54) Throughout his entire political life people have written him off, but he continues to persist. Moreover, at least half of the Israeli public wants him to move the peace process forward. These elements of his personality could be used to frame the situation and persuade him to at least give the process a chance.

Second, Netanyahu wants autonomy (not independence) for the Palestinians. He desires this because he wants to be rid of overseeing the Palestinians - something the Palestinians also want. If this does not happen, the Palestinians are likely to rise up and terrorist acts will resume. These acts are certain to be far more violent than during the Intifada because expectations have been raised and dashed.(55) Both would be particularly troubling for Netanyahu because he was elected on a platform of securing Israel.(56)

Third, Netanyahu can only stall the process for so long before the Palestinians recognize what he is doing and revolt. As Morris argues, "The Palestinian Authority would try to mobilize Washington and the Arab states to put pressure on Israel, but one could also expect the outbreak of terrorism…"(57) Currently, this point is not that far off.(58)

Fourth, Netanyahu has made some stern statements about autonomy for the Palestinians and with regard to other actors in the region. However, if one analyzes those statements carefully there is some wiggle room if solutions are framed in his interest.

Fifth, and most importantly, Netanyahu is thought of by most as pragmatic and opportunistic. This is extremely valuable information for the third party. If Netanyahu is highly pragmatic and opportunistic he surely will be tempted to grab onto a self-interested argument. Furthermore, this would be an opportunity with very few consequences - as long as the process is unofficial in nature. Clearly, it is not in Netanyahu's interest to put American-Israeli relations in deeper jeopardy and doom the Israeli economy - something that will happen if violence breaks out again.


There is no trust between Binyamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat. When trust is lacking, issues on the surface become the focal point of any conversations. Meanwhile the relationship - based on this deep mistrust - continues to fuel a seemingly unending barrage of issues. It is arguable that until some semblance of a working trust is established issues will continue to emerge and the situation will continue to falter. In other words, discussing issues without focusing on the underlying dysfunctional relationship will not get this conflict any closer to resolution than it is today.

There are always many unknowns in a conflict resolution process. These processes certainly hold the opportunity for both failure and success. However, if some type of process is not undertaken the interpersonal conflict between Netanyahu and Arafat will certainly not improve. While the two leaders continue to suffer individually, their respective peoples remain the true victims. By coming to some greater understanding of the conflict within, the larger conflict processes will become more manageable.

1. CNN Transcripts from Lexis/Nexis. May 28, 1996.

2. For various accounts of Arafat's struggle and efforts see Gowers, A. and T. Walker, 1991. Behind The Myth: Yasser Arafat and The Palestinian Revolution. New York: Olive Branch Press. And Wallach, J. and J. Wallach. 1992. Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing.

3. As Abba Eban stated in July of 1996, "The easiest concession for Israel to make is in the matter of Palestinian statehood, because it's going to happen anyway. It does not depend on me or any Israeli, or even upon Prime Minister Netanyahu." Eban, A. July 5, 1996. "Forgone Conclusion." Jerusalem Post. P. 5.

4. Netanyahu, B., 1993. A Place Among Nations: Israel and The World. New York: Bantum Books. pp. 212 - 213.

5. The two met briefly in that time period, but did not discuss any issues. See Erlanger, S., October 2, 1996. "Tension in the Middle East: The Overview; Netanyahu Holds Talk with Arafat for Three Hours." The New York Times. p. 1A.

6. Eban, A., p. 5.

7. The withdrawal of Israeli security forces from Hebron (signed on January 15, 1997) is the one bright spot that has been accomplished and could be used in an intervention to highlight the possibilities. See Netanyahu, B. A Place Among Nations. Pp. 388 - 389 for his beliefs on the fallacy of a land for peace process. As he stated "…to some Israeli's …they believe Israel will be coddled when it pursues the right policies. Presumably this means getting rid of the hateful "territories," since, these people believe, all of Israel's ills stem from the fateful days in June 1967, when it took possession of these lands…(however) after pocketing the territories, the Arabs would go back to demanding eastern Jerusalem, the "right of return," autonomy (and later independence) for the Arabs of the Galilee and the Negev, and more - demands that would place Israel in even greater danger, and against which Israel would still have to struggle on the world scene to defend itself. "

8. On September 10, 1997 Donald Horovitz wrote "With no co-operation whatsoever at present, it will not take much to plunge the sides into full-scale confrontation." See Horovitz, D. September 10, 1997. "Albright flies into situation which desperately needs her intervention." The Irish Times. P. 10

9. See work by Arthur Gladstone, Vamik Volkan and Ralph K. White on this subject. See also ideas such as Moral Alchemy by R.K. Merton and Negative Self-Fulfilling Prophecies.

10. Gladstone, A., June 1959. "The Conception of the Enemy." Journal of Conflict Resolution, III, p. 132.

11. See Lewis Richardson Reaction-Process Model in Richardson, L. 1960. Arms and Insecurity: A Mathematical Study of the Causes and Origins of War. Pittsburgh, PA: Boxwood Press).

12. Horovitz, D. October 1, 1996. "Netanyahu puts all the blame on Yasser Arafat." The Irish Times. Internet Edition.

13. Ibid.

14. Dun, R. September 27, 1996. "Tunnel fury: Israel appeals to Arafat." The Sydney Morning Herald. Internet Version. World Section.

15. Moore, C. 1996. The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict. Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc. p. 336.

16. Amr, W., December 24, 1996. "Arafat nearly stormed out of meeting with Netanyahu." Reuters News Agency. p. 2.

17. The climate is not solely generated by the two leaders, but in conjunction with other elements and actors of the conflicting parties. However, the leaders contribution to this idea is critical because they have a significant ability to alter the atmosphere.

18. Folger, J., M.S. Poole, and R.K. Stutman. 1997. Working Through Conflict. Third Edition. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. p. 156.

19. Immanuel, J. March 21, 1997. "Palestinians skeptical of Netanyahu's offer." The Jerusalem Post. P. 2.

20. Folger et al, pp. 127-128.

21. Anonymous, October 7, 1996. "Netanyahu says summit improved communication with Arafat." The Jerusalem Post. p. 2.

22. Hocker, Joyce L. and William W. Wilmot. 1995. Interpersonal conflict. Fourth edition. Madison, Wisconsin: Brown and Benchmark Publishers. p. 162.

23. For a good discussion of this factor see Makovsky, D. March 14, 1997. "Netanyahu's precarious balancing act." The Jerusalem Post. Pg. 9.

24. Bruner, Jerome. 1990. Acts of meaning. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 13.

25. Somers, Margaret R. 1994. The narrative construction of identity: a relational and network approach. Theory and society. 23:5 (October): 605-649.

26. Volkan, Vamik D. 1993. Ethnonationalistic rituals: an introduction. Mind and interaction. (December/January): 3-19. p. 11.

27. Hocker & Wilmot. pp. 4-17

28. Rubenstein, Danny. 1995. The mystery of Arafat. South Royalton, Vermont: Steerforth Press. p. 1.

29. ibid. p. 15.

30. ibid. pp. 96-7.

31. ibid. pp. 124-5.

32. Gowers, Andrew and Tony Walker. 1991. Behind the myth: Yasser Arafat and the Palestinean revolution. New York: Olive Branch Press. p. 48.

33. Wallach, Janet and John Wallach. 1992. The new Palestineans: the emerging generation of leaders. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing. pp. 301-5

34. Gowers & Walker. p. 62.

35. Drake, Laura. 1996. A Netanyahu primer. Journal of Palestine studies. 26:1 (Autumn): 58-69. Netanyahu, Benjamin. 1993. A place among nations: Isreal and the world. New York: Bantam Books. Wheatcroft, Andrew. 1983. The world atlas of revolutions. New York: Simon and Schuster.

36. Drake. p. 59. Netanyahu, 1993. p. 50.

37. While we acknowledge that Netanyahu's belief in a 'Greater Israel,' it is our contention that his pragmatism precludes any desire to 'regain' the 'lopped off' territories.

38. Drake. p. 65.

39. CNN. 1997. Benjamin Netanyahu: Isreali Prime Minister. CNN newsmaker profile. Electronic copy located at Universal Resource Locator (URL)

40. Slater, Robert. 1996. Rabin of Isreal: warrior for peace. New York: Harper.

41. Netanyahu, Benjamin. 1986. Terrorism: how the West can win. New York: Avon Books. p. xi. Emphasis in original.

42. Netanyahu, 1993. p. 210

43. ibid. p. 232.

44. ibid. p. 235.

45. This does not even discuss the large security role the CIA has agreed to play in order to insure security measures. The inclusion of the CIA clearly indicates that Netanyahu does not trust that Arafat is doing all he can to prevent these acts. Another indicator of missing trust.

46. Horovitz, D. "Implementing the Deal" The Jerusalem Report. November 23, 1998. P. 20.

47. Ibid, P. 20.

48. Ibid, P. 24.

49. Rupert, James. December 23, 1998. "In no time, Netanyahu has election challengers" The Washington Post. A16.

50. This was a tactic that President Carter used with Sadat and Begin at Camp David and is one that has been neglected in this particular instance.

51. Trust is the key issue in this interpersonal conflict. Sometimes that may be obvious and other times it may be a factor that is nested and needs to be brought out or emerges via interaction. For example, take the following account, "At one moment during a dreary, post-midnight negotiating session … where only Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and a translator were together in a room at the Erez junction, sources say Netanyahu looked at Arafat and said, as if he had just had an epiphany, "the problem is you don't trust me!" Arafat, who until that point had been using an Arabic translator, in these sessions in order to overcome his limited vocabulary in English, blurted out in English: "Yes, that is right." See Makovsky, D. March 14, 1997. "Netanyahu's precarious balancing act." The Jerusalem Post. p. 9.

52. Netanyahu recently was asked why, after describing Arafat in scathing terms in his 1995 book Fighting Terrorism, would he do business with him. He replied "Well, the situation has changed. We inherited an agreement that we didn't sign, we didn't like, that we opposed. What we said, however, was that we would keep the Oslo Agreement under two stipulations: one, that we would reduce the extent of the withdrawals…; the second is to insist that the Palestinians side be obliged to keep its commitments by assuring the principle of reciprocity in the redeployment…So it is not a question of trust, it's a question of verification." Horovitz, P. 20.

53. For an interesting book on persuasion see Cialdini, R. 1993. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: William Morrow and Company.

54. Drake, p. 66.

55. Thwarted expectations can cause violent fury - the violence in the post-apartheid South Africa is largely due to the unmet expectations of black South Africans, which were very high (some say unrealistically high) after the Apartheid system was lifted in 1990.

56. Morris, B. Autumn, 1996. "Israel's Elections and Their Implications." Journal of Palestinian Studies. XXVI, no. 1. p. 79.

57. Ibid, p. 80.

58. Last year Mr. Weiss had the interesting experience of partaking in Professor Herbert Kelman's Interactive Problem-Solving Workshop. In that workshop the Palestinians - far more than any other emotion - expressed deep frustration about the situation. They made the point emphatically that their frustration was heightened by their raised and dashed hopes. Their dignity had been trampled upon.

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