When private talks fail, try public talks

Some are calling for the U.S. to walk away entirely from the Middle East negotiating process, while others are weighing different strategies and options to get the parties together.   

This is a universal policy option, adjustable over time, which would create a new approach to the larger negotiating process:  After private talks fail, the U.S. should encourage public talks. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The central communications instrument of public talks is a series of magazine-size documents of 1 to 12-pages each that would be available on a formal Internet platform.

Public talks are based on a set of rules and terms that will create a level communications playing field between two adversaries. This could be a four to six-week process of “public talks,” at specified intervals, which could unfold against the backdrop of private talks.

While this policy option is not specific to just the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it could be a new U.S. approach to this long-standing crisis.  Other diplomatic measures around the region could take place simultaneously with public talks.

This is more of a “hands-off” process where the U.S. moves to create a prominent platform that is available to both sides.  Yet either side could deliver this message to the world public unilaterally if the other side refuses to participate. 

A motive to reply would be shaped by the knowledge that a rejection of this written negotiating process may lead to the ascendancy of an adversary’s historical narrative.

Founding principles would shape when and how this process should be applied.  Yet a central characteristic defines public talks:  This open process proceeds regardless of the nature of the response.

The U.S. could create this level communications playing field in a transparent way and have it widely accepted.

Alternatively, the U.S. could assemble a group of ad hoc nations, perhaps similar to the negotiating group now involved with Iran.  This would be at least the U.S., China, the U.K., Germany, France and whoever else is deemed appropriate by this initiative. The U.N. auspices would require Russia’s approval, which is now problematic.

These dialogue documents will feature each side's interpretation of history, questions to one's adversary, negotiating positions and other content relevant to international conflicts.  Later rounds of this process would focus on the negotiating tradeoffs necessary for two or more parties to reach a settlement.

The often diverging views of history suggest that the back and forth exchanges on this subject could become a central element in the overall process of public talks. These formal interactions will encourage widespread acknowledgment of each side’s perspective on historical facts.  From this, a more vivid and widely shared portrait of events may unfold.

This open process will yield a far broader understanding of the steps necessary for the two sides to reach an agreement, thus creating a momentum towards settlement.  Yet, when no compromise is acceptable, the reasons for this position will become clearer than ever.

By opening up the central details of a conflict to the public, a new perspective will be apparent:  The whole world will be watching very specific words and commitments of leaders that will appear within a set of dialogue documents.

When public talks culminates in a single dialogue document signed by both sides, confidence would increase that agreed-upon terms would be adhered to and not reinterpreted after the fact.

As the battle of ideas take place today, advocating for public talks will affirm a nation’s interest in the underlying causes of conflicts and not merely the symptoms.  Nations that do not fear an open and transparent discussion are more likely to see their principles embraced around the world.

President Obama will see this as a universal process where founding principles need to be agreed upon by an established authority. His Administration would decide what mix of leaders, organizations and entities would create the rules and terms for this new form of structured political dialogue.

The starting point for these events may have a distinct drama all of its own.

Connolly is executive director of the Institute for Public Dialogue.