Innovative Diplomacy Strives to Resolve Conflicts Reply

When diplomats are unable to end or prevent conflict, other parties may take the initiative, launching cross-border sports or cultural exchanges. In a five-part series, Samantha Adler analyzes informal and unusual types of diplomacy to see which hold the most promise. 

The separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, near Jenin, under construction in 2005. Photo by Barbara Borst

The separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, near Jenin, under construction in 2005. Photo by Barbara Borst



The history of negotiations to reduce the threat of inter-state war stretches over many centuries, with most of the attention given to formal diplomacy until recently. Today, with traditional diplomacy stymied on many fronts and leaders more concerned than previously with human rights and the opinion of their people, new methods of diplomacy are gaining attention.

This series, which examines case studies of non-traditional diplomacy in four categories, will strive to answer the following question:  What elements of unusual forms of diplomacy have been effective in conflict resolution? These articles have been adapted from a master’s thesis that involved additional case studies.

The case studies examine unusual forms of conflict resolution that fall outside of traditional diplomacy and non-traditional diplomacy. The unusual forms of diplomacy attempt to resolve an international or national conflict, using informal, unofficial or official representatives, aided by civil society, the parties involved or a party not involved in the conflict.

This form of conflict resolution would still aim, as peace-building expert Jeffrey Mapendere says, “to influence attitudinal changes between the parties with the objective of changing the political power structures that caused the conflict.” Additionally, the method used in the case study must be considered what Stuart Murray, assistant professor of international relations at Bond University in Australia, calls “new, radical, or innovative.” This study will analyze the effectiveness of each diplomatic effort, whether or not it brought the end of a conflict or eased tensions post-conflict.

The case study for the first category centers on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a deep-rooted international conflict dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, when thousands of Jews from Europe migrated to Palestine.  Thus far, attempts at formal peace agreements have failed, as has any effort for a two-state solution.

Many workshops and programs have focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have attempted to bridge the gap between these two sides. One program that attempts this in an unusual way is the Palestinian-Israeli Emerging Leaders Program run by the Outward Bound organization. This form of conflict resolution is one that Shawn Dunning, leadership and training director at Search for Common Ground, a conflict resolution nonprofit, refers to as “adventure-based conflict resolution.” Outward Bound says that participants in this program, which is now in its fourth year, have called it “unique,” “amazing and powerful,” “unparalleled” and “a life changing process.” This program involves leaders from Palestine and from Israel, aged 25-45, from political, private, and civil society sectors, with Outward Bound members as facilitators. The hope is to change the attitudes of participants towards each other and towards the ongoing conflict and to encourage participants to launch their own local community initiatives to bridge the divide.

The yearlong program begins with a 10-day wilderness expedition at a neutral location overseas.  The experience is supposed to build mutual trust and leadership skills.  The idea, as Dunning says, is that when participants are in survival mode, they will learn to lean on one another through all the challenges they encounter, regardless of previously held prejudices.  Outward Bound says that, throughout the year, the program continues with workshops in the region and two four-day retreats. Alumni from previous programs attend the retreats to help integrate the new participants into a broader network of all former and current participants.

This network is the Palestinian-Israeli Leaders Network, which is designed to foster leaders who strive to resolve Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Outward Bound aims to make it self-sustaining.  Those in the network use their intergroup relationships to work together for change.  The network is based in Jerusalem, as part of Search for Common Ground, a program that will be discussed in the next article in this series.

Fadi Rabieh, a 2008 alumnus of the program, oversees the network and strives continually to strengthen it, according to Andrew Jenner, a writer for the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. According to Jenner, Rabieh hopes the network will reach across many societal sectors, such as business, education, religion, and politics, and allow “creative, engaged young leaders to help untangle the problems facing Israelis and Palestinians.” One strategy is to pair young leaders from each side according to sector, giving them something in common that transcends their borders. Jenner quotes Rabieh as saying, “They have a group culture-profession that binds them together. That kind of identity, in my opinion, is sometimes stronger than ethnic identity.”

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