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18 April 2019

Palestine is not for sale and baseball arbitration will not work

By: Daoud Kuttab
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One of the biggest problems that US President Donald Trump’s administration has faced is that it constantly looks for solutions from the business world, with the idea that money can solve any problem. Trump wants to apply real estate answers to complication problems, such as America’s immigration problem. Ban Muslims, build a wall and stop foreign aid to central American governments and the problem will go away.

Trump’s team of real estate and bankruptcy lawyers think the same way in trying to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict simply by throwing money at the problem and expecting it to be resolved.

Realising that many have tried and failed to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the team, headed by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has apparently came up with a creative plan, again taken from the world of American business, namely baseball arbitration.

Baseball arbitration is defined as “a type of arbitration in which each party to the arbitration submits a proposed monetary award to the arbitrator. After a final hearing, the arbitrator will choose one award from the submitted awards without modification”.

The idea behind baseball arbitration came as a result of the constant fights between players and owners about the salary, especially of superstar players. Not wanting the players to enter a costly strike, the idea behind this arbitration is that it forces both sides to make reasonable suggestions of the dollar amount that they can live with, knowing full well that they are dealing with a totally neutral arbitrator that will chose the most reasonable offer.

The idea reminds me of a childhood principle we used to apply when were children and had to divide between ourselves a banana or a piece of cake. To ensure that the division is fair, the principle was that one side divides and the other side chooses. So, the side dividing has to be careful that the division is so fair that it would not matter which part our sibling chose to take.

Demanding, even forcing, both sides to come to the table with a compromise offer that does not accomplish all their goals, yet at the same time is reasonable, is a great idea that must be pursued. It makes sense that a compromise offer made by any party will have a much bigger opportunity to be implemented than one forced down the party’s throat.

While the need for a formula to unlock the decades-long jam is badly needed, one has to wonder how the US suggestion of using baseball arbitration that lacks mutual agreement, and, most important, includes a biased arbitrator, would work. If compromises are to be offered, both parties must first agree on the process, and secondly agree on the arbitrator.

It is true that the Palestinian leadership held numerous meetings with the Trump administration in its first months, but ever since the unilateral American decision of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was announced, and later implemented, Washington and the Trump administration lost even the appearance of neutrality in trying to find an acceptable solution.

The public has not been privy to what went on in the Palestinian meetings with the Trump team, but it is safe to assume that no agreement on a process, such as baseball arbitration, or any other kind of logjam-breaking idea, has been agreed upon.

Ever since the US embassy’s move and the Palestinian decision to boycott the Americans, what the public has seen has been a set of punitive acts that has caused real hardships to the Palestinian people. Defunding UNRWA, stopping aid to Jerusalem hospitals that treat pediatric cancer patients, ending all USAID support for Palestinian infrastructure, closing the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and passing legislation that makes the Palestinian government vulnerable to American courts have removed any effort to try and present American diplomacy as an honest broker.

Baseball arbitration might work fine in deciding how much to pay star players in America, but is not a formula that can work in a struggle involving people, land and a long history of conflict and bloodshed.

Palestinians and Israelis must have the courage to offer reasonable compromises that they can live with, but this can only happen in an environment that welcomes such compromises and ensures that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. For Israelis, or for that matter Palestinians, to pocket a compromise made by the other side and use that as a starting point for talks is the opposite of a reasonable negotiating process.

If the team of Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman are serious about trying to resolve the conflict, they need to shed aside any bias seen or acted upon, bring with them other international partners and roll up their sleeves and work with both sides to find that elusive compromise solution that no one likes but that both sides can live with.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict cannot be solved by throwing money at it. Palestine is not for sale. 

The conflict will also not be solved using business processes like baseball arbitration, especially when one team and the umpire appear to be on the same side.

Baseball and other sports succeed when both teams and the public trust that the umpires are neutral, act in a fair way and are seen to be acting fairly. This is not the case with the present Trump negotiating team.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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