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When Agendas Clash, as in the Middle East.

July 31, 2014

We mediators search within a dispute for common ground. What if there is none?

Today the newspapers and even my news feed on facebook are full of stories about the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.

One side complains that Israel is raining missiles on defenseless children; the other side suggests that maybe it’s because the children have been placed at a site (UN School or other) being used as a weapons depot by Hamas.

Or there is some other spin about the war.

In any event, the destruction, the bloodshed, the strong words, are all over the news.

I don’t have to repeat any more of it here.

But what are the underlying agendas? Terrorism for terrorism’s sake? Religious conviction? Economics? Self-defense? Something else?

People smarter than I am are working on the problem, desperately looking for the solution.

Maybe the agendas are simply irreconcilable and there is no easy, or any, solution.

As I write this, I am thinking about a fascinating presentation I attended last March at the UCLA School of Law’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Colloquium.

There, Professor Peter T. Coleman, Director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, at Columbia University, spoke about finding solutions to seemingly impossible conflicts.

He didn’t have all the answers either but suggested many interesting theories.

My own take-away from the lecture included the following quote, attributed to H. L. Mencken:

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

(H. L. Mencken. (n.d.). Retrieved July 31, 2014, from Web site: )

This quote may acknowledge why, in my view, a simple cease-fire in Israel and Gaza may not be the solution.

It may be that a cease-fire just does not serve the underlying needs and priorities, or agendas, of either side.

Not when Hamas apparently wants to obliterate Israel and the Jewish People. Not when Israel must defend itself vigorously from such an outcome.

In mediations, sometimes there are similar clashes of agenda. I see them from time to time.

Looking for underlying motives in a recent dispute, I thought I saw hate in the eyes of one of the disputants.

The hostility was palpable.

I thought to myself: “For whatever reason [which I tried but could not uncover from this very difficult individual], I think this person’s goal/priority is simply to destroy the other via the lawsuit and the litigation process.”

Not every case settles and this one did not settle.

Why?  Because, as in the Israeli/Gazan conflict, I think it did not suit this person’s underlying agenda of destruction.

Among other things Professor Coleman suggests that, in these complex, seemingly impossible conflicts, we should look for “islands of agreement.”

I like that phrase, but I will tell you that sometimes those islands are really hard to find, if at all – just look to Israel and Gaza and the whole Middle East for example.


David I. Karp is a full time mediator of real estate and business disputes in Southern California who hopes for world peace as well. His website is at .


From → Mediation

  1. Paul M Stafford permalink

    I really enjoy your posts and this is one that intellectually I can agree with but emotionally I convince myself it must be wrong. It needs dramatic and immediate attention as the wider situation in the mid-east is changing so rapidly beyond the authority of the established concerned governments there. What is necessary is the rise of credible statesmen on both sides to establish links which are in the common good.

    • I do hope there are credible statesmen that will rise to the occasion. The statesmen must work on this from the inside; external forces might be ineffective. Your statesmen need to come from within…and I hope they arrive on the scene soon!

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