This will not stop if we don’t talk

Free gaza from HamasConflict!

ze lo y’gamer im lo n’daber

This won’t stop if we don’t talk

It is probably unimaginable to think of Hamas and Israel actually talking civilly but getting to the negotiating table is the only answer. Here are some thoughts on doing that.

The above phrase in transliterated Hebrew is going around Israel. It means “this will not stop if we don’t talk” and it appears on protest signs, news stories, and casual conversation. It rhymes in Hebrew. Truer words have never been spoken. The issue is not how to talk to each other or what form those talks should take, the issue is getting to the table. All of our knowledge and skill at communication, dialogue and deliberation, is wasted and unavailable if you cannot get the two parties to the table. If Hamas or Israel insists that the other side must be destroyed or their incompatibilities are irreversible and there’s nothing to talk about, then the violence and conflict will simply continue.

At the moment I’m concerned about getting to the table. Essentially, this is the issue of “ripeness” which you can read more about here. Ripeness refers to the right time or the belief that the conditions are best for talking and solving problems. Right now no one would consider the time “ripe” for conflict management between Israel and Hamas for example. The time might be necessary or the most urgent given the violence but the situation is not ripe. “Ripeness” is a delicate matter because it is a little subjective and difficult to know when exactly is the “right time.” One can move too early, too late, too fast, or misjudge the other. Moreover, conflicts usually have more than one ripe time.

But I do not advocate sitting around waiting for the ripe moment. Participants in a conflict sometimes avoid ripe situations because they get more out of prolonging the conflict. Hamas always says it has “time on its side” because the status attributions it receives from war with Israel outweigh any benefits of negotiation and talk. One question becomes then how you create ripeness, how do you construct conditions that will increase the chances of bringing two sides to the table? Here are some strategies:

1. Third parties are always good sources of incentives. The Middle East has been most calm and in control when there is a significant international polity (the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate, the United States,) that can provide incentives for talks. Actually, anytime a third-party is willing to intervene and try to mediate the conflict it is a good indication of ripeness.

2. The second strategy for getting people to the table, although a less pleasant one, is waiting until things are so bad that negotiation becomes attractive. As the saying goes, “sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.”

3. Sometimes it’s possible to get people to the negotiating table by promising them more than they expect. Perhaps some symbolic recognition that was earlier denied, or a tangible resource.

4. New ways to be interdependent that benefit both sides are always strong strategies. Interdependence creates common interest and overlapping concerns and the two parties will talk if the reward possibilities are sufficient.

5. Pre-negotiations or “talking about talk.” Finally, it is sometimes useful to get the two parties to talk about how they would organize and develop dialogue or deliberation. Don’t engage in actual discussion and deliberation and do not term the conversation as official negotiation or discussion. But get the two parties together and have them imagine what the process would look like. This should move them closer to the actual experience of problem-solving deliberation.

Persuading the two parties to talk and find a way to negotiate a settlement – to get them to the table – is typically more difficult than constructing an actual settlement package. There are lots of solutions and proposals to end and contain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of them are understood and accepted by both parties and not very controversial. But none of this matters if the two parties do not talk.







About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on July 20, 2014, in Communication and Conflict Resolution, Political Conflict and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Terry Steichen


    To make any progress once you have opponents “at the table” there must be a clear understanding of the parties’ differences. If these difference remain hidden, they can’t be discussed. And if they don’t get discussed, they can’t be resolved. Just being “at the table” may accomplish nothing.

    One each party acknowledges its differences with the other party(s), progress can happen. By merely acknowledging their differences, the parties are accepting the reality of the other’s beliefs (which they may, and probably do, sharply disagree with).

    But if you are really rigorous and dispassionate about laying out the differences with some precision, many times the parties learn things about the others (and themselves) that were fuzzy and inaccurate. When that starts to happen, it becomes possible (with good facilitation) to start finding areas of less conflict (though perhaps not common ground, at least yet) to work on.


  2. Fair enough and I don’t disagree with anything you say. Discovering those differences is part of the dialogic process best followed by deliberation based on understanding of those differences.

    • Terry Steichen

      I suggest that the normal dialogic process is pretty poor at crisply identifying the differences (without getting into a right-wrong discussion). People end up shouting at each other without a full context of precisely what separates them. Deliberation is a great help, but only once the differences are defined and acknowledged. IMHO, of course.

  3. In the case of Hamas-Israel, it seems to me that the basic differences have to do with the ultimate legitimacy of Israel. Issues such as whether Hamas is or is not a terrorist group or freedom fighter or whether Israel is colonialist or not, or whether this or that bombing or rocket is or is not justified–it seems to me–boil down to the legitimacy question. I am not sure this is the best way to put it; perhaps it should be whether the national aspirations of the Jewish people are legitimate or whether Jews can or do form a nation.

    In the case of Arabs of Palestine as a whole, the situation is much more complicated, and talking about basic differences seems to me to hold out the prospect of being more productive.

    I am not primarily a political scientist. Don, Terry and anyone else: I wonder whether you have ideas about the utility of the defining and acknowledging discussed in this post, with different types of differences? Or whether different types of ultimate differences correlate with the degree to which the application of military force play or have played a role in the resolution of situations that have involved violence?

  4. Just a note that the slogan “it won’t stop until we talk” is the slogan of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum: They are doing wonderful work at this terrible time, especially their “Peace Sqaure” and their video: “We dont’ want you here.”

  5. Hi Don,

    Fifty-one years ago, Valentin Chu, a refugee from Red China as I recall, wrote a book entitled, “Ta Ta, Tan Tan”. That means “Talk Talk; Fight Fight”, a strategy employed skillfully during the Korean War. That can imply that getting two parties to the table simply to talk only serves the aggressor. Moreover, the aggressor will generally talk only when losing on the battlefield. That describes the actions of Hamas and others all too well.

    Israel has gone many “extra miles” in its search for peace. The other side, not just Hamas, has generally followed the ancient Chinese dictum quoted above.

    The operative “term” in the following quote from your blog,

    “If Hamas or Israel insists that the other side must be destroyed OR their incompatibilities are irreversible and there’s nothing to talk about”

    is “OR”. Hamas has never retreated from or modified its stance on destroying Israel. This week, ISIS repeated the hate-filled Hadith about trees and rocks summoning Muslims to kill hiding Jews.

    Hamas calls Israel “The Zionist Entity” and does not show ANY territory it would consider calling Israel on its maps. Until all Palestinian “representatives” present a map of Israel that they would unconditionally recognize, I do not see much to talk, compromise, about.

    The idea of President Obama of using the 1967 borders as a “starting point” is critically flawed as well.
    * The war in 1967 came about because Nasser believed he could win.
    * None of the enemies of Israel has presented a map that would grant even the indefensible borders of 1967 as a place to start negotiating.
    * If Israel STARTS at 1967, then “negotiating theory”, for want of a better term, implies Israel will end up with LESS than they began bargaining with.

    Before this observer would sit down at the table with them, Hamas has a long way to go in proving that any of its overtures are not simply an exercise in “Ta Ta, Tan Tan”.


  6. I can not thank you enough for your post. It is exactly the message we need to spread. I am actually in the midst of forming an organization focused on being publicly unbiased and unpolarized to bring people from either side of the argument together to realize that to ‘choose’ a side in protest, no matter the legitimacy of your personal feelings, is only perpetuating the hostility between these two warring groups of people. I would love to have you involved. If you can, check out my blog manifesto.

    Kindest Regards,


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