Someday Hamas and Israel Will Talk

There is only one solution to the current fighting in Gaza and that is some sort of negotiated agreement. It sounds naïve I understand but until that time we will have little more than the standard conflict resolution mistake of “more of the same.” Deliberation in any form is impossible until the two sides are sufficiently willing and we are certainly not there with respect to the Israelis and Palestinians, especially the Palestinians in Gaza. But if that day ever comes the deliberative conditions below will be important.

Deliberation is a powerful normative ideal to strive for and in its heart it is concerned with the careful and balanced consideration of alternatives under conditions of democratic fairness. To transform the deliberative ideal into actual communication is essentially to operationalize deliberation and lower its level of abstraction. It is to take a theoretical ideal and convert it to symbolic behavior. But this operationalization is never easy or direct. Deliberative democracy is also primarily concerned with democratic decision making, whereas deliberative communication is, shall we say, messier. Deliberative communication includes broader intersubjective meaning creation and is inclusive of many forms of discourse and linguistic structures. Moreover, the polysemic nature of communication, where messages can take on a variety of meanings depending on context and other factors, makes identifying qualities that make communication “deliberative” even more difficult. But as I have noted in other places, deliberation is not one big philosophy seminar characterized by rational argument only. It must include the possibility that judicious argument and sound decision making can take many communicative forms.  In general, deliberative communication has the following five characteristics.

(1)   There is a confrontation of perspectives and argument is the primary communication mechanism for adjudicating differences. Argument takes the form of reasoned opinion where a speaker is required to support reasons and defend against critique. This includes evaluating materials, judging the quality of sources, and defending background assumptions. It is also true that some forms of reasoning maintain ideological dilemmas.

(2)   There is a relational component to deliberation whereas participants respect the other and genuinely listen to their perspectives. Participants actually engage one another and avoid monologues that do not take up the perspective of the other. Participants acknowledge autonomy and mutuality in a civil and respectful manner.

(3)   Consensus is the goal to strive for. This includes will formation such that the collective is ultimately committed to decisions. In order for consensus to be a goal deliberators must be concerned with disagreement. Disagreement is an indication of the diversity that is inherent in divided groups. Deliberative communication should include participants having their own views critically examined because of the presence of disagreement. This improves the quality of opinions. Consensus is a goal but lower levels of agreement are acceptable.

(4)   The position of authorities, tradition, and power are up for discussion in deliberative communication. Participants must meet the objective of the meeting but other foundational assumptions are acceptable topics for deliberation. As Young explains, “Truly democratic deliberation must not rule out self interest, conflicting interests, or relatively emotional or intuitive expressions. . .” (p. 472) (Young, 2000).

Deliberative communication must allow for equality and symmetrical power relations as much possible. People must be on equal footing and no one should unfairly dominate the interaction. Reciprocity would be an important indicator of equality. These forms of communication are specifically suited to diversity  and pluralism that are consequences of ethnopolitical divides.

For more detail see Donald Ellis (2012). Deliberative Communication and Ethnopolitical Conflict. Peter Lang Publishers.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on November 19, 2012, in Israel, Political Conflict and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Someday Hamas and Israel Will Talk.

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