Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lessons Learned in Mediating Peace Between Israel and the Palestinians

I am reading The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story about the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process by Clayton Swisher. This is a modern history of the events in the Clinton administration from 1999 to 2000 concerning US attempts to mediate peace between Israel and Syria and Israel and the Palestinians. The conventional wisdom and media reported that the collapse of each of these mediations was due to the intransigence of Hafez al-Asad, the leader of Syria, and Yassar Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Authority. What Swisher portrays is something very different.

Swisher interviewed dozens of people on all sides of the mediation, including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and other high level officials in the US, Syria, Israel, and in the Palestinian Authority. As the story unfolds, we begin to see that the fundamental problems were not the intransigence of Asad and Arafat. Instead, the problems were caused by the unskilled, unprepared, biased, and incompetent team of mediators fielded by the United States. Any experienced commercial or family mediator reading this book will cringe at the rookie mistakes made time after time by the U.S. mediators, including the sitting President of the United States. The ethical mediation principal of impartiality and neutrality was completely abandoned as we learn how Dennis Ross, the chief mediator on the US team, was grossly biased in favor of Israel. President Clinton, desperate for an opportunity to end his administration on a high note in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky affair, essentially misrepresented offers and counter-offers to the representatives of Syria and the Palestinian Authority in the hope that he could force a deal. The mediators misread the parties time after time, ignoring cues and emotional data that any reasonably competent mediator would have seen. The utter lack of transparency, authenticity, and integrity of the mediation process is breathtaking when one considers the stakes of the negotiation.

We are led to believe that the people in charge are mediating and negotiating international disputes, conflicts, and wars because they are the best, the brightest, the most experienced, and the most knowledgeable. The Truth About Camp David is a chilling wake-up call that when those in power have little professional expertise, knowledge, or experience in mediating  deep and intractable conflicts, bad things happen. This is a great book of how not to conduct any mediation and especially how not to mediate deep, serious, and difficult international conflicts.

As the Obama Administration again attempts to mediate peace between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority, let us hope that it brings in skilled, experienced, competent mediators and not political hacks or diplomats using 18th century techniques and processes. What is needed is a modern mediation and negotiation approach based on best practices. Otherwise peace will be unattainable.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Clergy Sexual Abuse--Why Settlements Fail the Church, the Parishes, and the Victim-Survivors

In the September 6, 2007 issue of the Santa Barbara Independent, reporter Nick Welsh interviewed a victim-survivor of clergy sexual abuse who was to receive a portion of the $660 million settlement made by the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The settlement ends a four year lawsuit brought by victim-survivors who suffered from sexual abuse by diocesan priests in the 1950s and 1960s. The statements of victim-survivors to Mr. Welsh reflect the failure of the settlement to address the problem:

"...when it finally came down to the showdown, ...[the archdiocese] said, 'Here's some money. Take it. Just go away.'"

"What I really wanted was for people to look at me and say,'Robin, it's okay,'...'You were only a kid.'"

"For a mother to have a son who was molested by a priest, what do you say!...'We screwed up. We're sorry.' That would have been nice."

Welsh comments, "[U]nder the terms of the settlement, the archdiocese has never actually admitted that Father Kelly did anything wrong. What kind of an apology, [the victim-survivors] ask, is that?"

"The settlement means money, it means security. But does it make your pain go away?...No, I donn't think so. But talking about it has helped a lot."

This sad story has repeated itself in every dicocese facing abuse lawsuits. Instead of dealing with the claims consistent with its teachings, the Catholic Church has maintained an aggressive legal defense. The defense typically attempts to shred the credibility of victim-survivors, despite knowledge that there might be some truth to the claims. Victim-survivors may end up with some money, but after taxes and attorney's fees it's usually precious little to show for the effort. From the victim-survivors' perspective, the only bright part of the litigation is that it brought the issue into the light of day.

There is a better way to deal with these emotional, difficult, and challenging claims. The process is called restorative mediation. It arises from the philosophy of restorative justice, which entertains the remarkable idea that victims and offenders be able to sit down with a mediator to talk out the problem and make things right. Restorative justice has been extraordinarily successful at reducing crime, straightening out offenders, and allowing crime victims the opportunity to begin their healing journey. Applied to the clergy abuse cases, restorative mediation could do the same.

So, with this wonderful technology available to help, why isn't the Church jumping on board? The answer is not clear. Each archdiocese is a kingdom unto its own, and the archbishops call their own shots with respect the claims. Often, it's emotionally, politically, and financially easier to let the lawyers handle the problem. In addition, there appear to be unwritten doctrines that compel the Church leaders to protect the Church at all costs. If the prime directive is to protect the Church from scandal, engaging in a process that requires voluntary accountability and responsbility will be unacceptable. The teachings of Christ seem to have been subverted to the secular needs of the Church.

I have mediated several abuse cases using restorative mediation. The cases were not easy and the underlying facts pretty awful. However, the Church leadership involved in these cases walked their talk. While the process was challenging and emotional, the outcomes were significant for everyone involved. I have always felt that if the leaders involved in those cases were running things for the U.S. Catholic Church, the abuse scandal would have turned out much differently than it has.

Victim-survivors have found the process to be a helpful step on the path of their healing. These cases are not about the money. They are about respect, diginity, and dealing with a deep breach of trust. As in all difficult conflicts, collaborative cooperative engagement, not adversarial process, will usually be more productive for everyone. There is still opportunity as the remaining cases work their way through state courts and, in some cases, the bankruptcy courts. I remain hopeful that the tide will change.

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