New Delhi, India -- The problem before our - brave? foolish? foolhardy? - mediator is the impasse: one man's terrorist is another man's Prime Minister.
One elected leader is enraged because "terrorists" have kidnapped his soldier. The other elected leader is outraged because that soldier is the weapon of "state terrorism" that has inflicted death and devastation upon a militarily-weak but morally-strong people. The hostages, a soldier on one side, 60 MPs and a clutch of ministers on the other, are in fact only part of the problem. The Palestinians and Israelis have finally blocked themselves in parallel cul de sacs. They are raging against their own walls.
Task Number One: To open a side street that can connect the parallels.
Task Number Two: Find credible alter egos (for both sides) who can negotiate on behalf of the principals, with our foolhardly mediator turning into an honest facilitor.
Task Number Three: To patch an initial deniable deal, which can be rejected by the principals.
Task Number Four: To effect compromises on both sides, so that both can claim victory: this is now a battle of face, rather than people or territory.
Task Number Five: To ensure that a tactical exchange of prisoners is the beginning of a strategic 5-way conversation between Palestinians, Israelis, their surrogates and the mediator (who should, by now, have evolved from foolhardy to hardy: if he has travelled in the other direction, stop the game and return to first base of snakes-and-ladders).
Task Number Six: The most difficult part - ensure that this engagement becomes an institutionalised means of communication. It is the side street that is missing.
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