Negotiation has been called both an art and a science. But as with most negotiations, the definition of the concept lies somewhere in the middle. To achieve peace with one’s adversaries or rivals requires technical knowledge, but also adaptiveness and courage – an increasingly rare combination.
There is little question that the idea of negotiation has been spurned for much of the past year. Leaders in many spheres now rely on populism over expertise, or the sheer force of personality. And as COVID-19 spread across the globe, fear and suspicion turned countries and peoples inward. Speaking to friends has become a challenge, let alone business partners or political rivals.
It is in this context that UNITAR, ADN Group, and the Global Citizen Forum came together to organize World Negotiation Day. The event, now in its second edition, aimed to redirect the world’s attention to the potential of negotiation. As the pandemic begins to slow, World Negotiation Day demonstrated how this concept (at the very heart of our work) can solve some of the world’s most intractable conflicts.
In two roundtable panels, UNITAR engaged with some of the foremost minds in negotiation – negotiators from Israel and the UAE, former UN officials, and executives from the private sector. In the first panel, the negotiators from Israel and the UAE recounted the steps that led to the landmark Abraham Accords, and in the second panel, former diplomats, UN officials and private sector executives shed light on how they address contemporary challenges, such as 5G, denuclearization and climate change.
The first panel zeroed in on the Middle East, where UAE-Israeli relations have previously been a source of contention. For the past decades, diplomatic finesse on all sides has maintained a precarious détente in the region, but it was evident to both parties that the situation could not be sustained forever. It took courage from negotiators on both sides to pursue a bold new vision for their relationship – one defined not by the failures of the past, but by the possibilities for the future. Already, Israeli and Emirati tourists and business leaders are visiting each other and forming new personal contacts, laying the foundation for a vibrant relationship. None of this would have been possible without courage and planning, as the two leaders cited. To date, the Abraham Accords remain the world’s most recent and prominent example of how negotiation can solve a conflict mired by history, and set it on a new course.
The second panel looked to the future, as diplomats, UN officials, and private sector executives shared their career experiences, and discussed how negotiations could solve some of the world’s challenges beyond COVID-19. On the agenda were climate change, 5G, and arms control – the panelists illustrated that a grasp of detail in these technical subjects was crucial, but so was flexibility. The connecting thread between these issues were that expertise and adaptation were necessary – a mastery of one’s brief, but also of how the other side views the same issue.
With the discussions complete, the event proceeded to honour two diplomats with the prize of Best Negotiators of the Year – H.E. Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani of the State of Qatar and Ms. Anne Keah of the Republic of Kenya. The two winners shared their experiences in negotiating solutions to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the development of the Global Compact on Refugees. In the midst of COVID-19’s impact on their work, they highlighted adaptiveness, empathy, and patience as key to their success in negotiating resolutions to two of the world’s longest-running crises.
While the tenor of this year’s World Negotiation Day is different, it has demonstrated the enduring relevance of meeting and speaking at the same table. It is telling that these success stories in negotiation emerged in a year of crisis. They serve as a reminder that negotiating isn’t about showmanship, but about helping others see that empathy and agreement can be the best way forward.
Featured Image: From left to right, clockwise: H.E. Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani (State of Qatar), Mr. Armand Arton (Global Citizen Forum), Mr. Nikhil Seth (UNITAR), H.E. Elayne Whyte Gomez (Republic of Costa Rica), Mr. Marwan Mery (ADN Group), Ms. Anne Keah (Republic of Kenya)
Sources: UNITAR, ADN