When a Deal is Not Possible

When a Deal is Not Possible

Mobus Creative Negotiating teaches you how to size up the negotiating situation you are facing, because you should approach haggling with someone you will never see again entirely differently from building a strategic relationship. One of the alternatives you have to consider is that a deal may just not be possible.

An unfortunate example of this, at least so far, has been the 25 years of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Despite many summits and repeated interim deals, despite the two sides both accepting parameters for a comprehensive solution (the “Clinton parameters” repeated by “the Quartet” of the United States, EU, UN, and Russia), the conflict is not going to be resolved any time soon. The main reason is “BATNA.” That is negotiation-speak for the “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” The point of BATNA is that the chances for making a deal depends on what will happen if no deal is reached. If the two parties think that they are well off without a deal, then they have little reason to make the tough sacrifices necessary to reach an agreement.

Precisely because the Israelis and Palestinians both know what are the parameters that a deal would entail, they can accurately size up what a deal would mean: what they would gain and what they would have to give up. A significant proportion of each population has concluded that as unpleasant as the current situation may be, the sacrifices required to reach a deal are not worth the benefits it would bring. In other words, for these people, the current situation is a better alternative than a negotiated agreement.

israeli-palestinian-conflictThe optimists about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict refer to another negotiating term, much beloved by diplomats: “ripeness.” The concept is that a deal can be reached when conditions are “ripe.” That can come when the two sides are exhausted, or when each side has leaders determined to reach a settlement, or when outside powers apply effective and overwhelming pressure, or whatever. The point is that conditions change: a dispute which is for now not resolvable may at some point in the future become “ripe” for a deal. This insight teaches us that we should periodically reevaluate the situation surrounding a stalemate, because we want to seize the time when things make possible breaking the deadlock.

In the Israeli-Palestinian case, a big part of the problem has been that neither side trusts the other. Each party thinks that the other has no intention of delivering, no matter what they promise. Obviously that is a big disincentive. Were that situation to change, the chances of a deal would go way up. However, so far, the international community has not found a way to convince either side that the world would ensure that a deal is carried through. Plus, despite all the hopes about what can be accomplished by “confidence-building measures” (another diplomatic buzz-word), neither Israelis nor Palestinians have found ways to create trust by the other side. Perhaps another generation of leaders on each side could change that.