At 9 a.m. Sept. 25, a group of students sat in the School of International Service chatting, eating bagels, drinking coffee and trying to solve one of the world’s most pressing international conflicts: the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The American University Negotiation Project held a negotiation simulation of the conflict in the SIS Founder’s Room.
Ferdaouis Bagga, a graduate student in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program and president of AUNP, picked the topic because it is a current, controversial issue that many students have strong opinions about.
“We try to give people the opportunity to practice negotiating in tough situations,” Bagga said.
As participants arrived, they were given a nametag and information about the real-life Israeli or Palestinian public figure they would play that day. All roles were assigned randomly.
AUNP staff did, however, ask participants if they had any political biases on the Israel-Palestine issue. If they did, they were given a role that went against their bias, Bagga said.
The event began with a speech from Anthony Wanis-St. John, the event’s faculty advisor and author of the original version of the simulation, explaining his expectations of the participants.
“We ask you to take on some of the attitudes of reality without pushing them too far,” he said, “Explore some of the dynamics here without having to face the consequences.”
Due to the large number of participants, the simulation was divided into two sections. All public figure roles from both sides were included in each section.
Before beginning the negotiations, individuals were allowed to meet with the person playing their same role in the other section to strategize.
The groups were then separated and players were given an opportunity to discuss plans with other members of their country’s government within their delegation. Once all the preparations were done, the simulation commenced.
It soon became clear that the two groups had very different negotiation styles. The first group gathered together in small groups, quietly discussing the issues, while others traveled between these groups proposing solutions and compromises that could be made.
The other group remained seated in a large circle, and participants addressed the entire group each time they spoke.
After three hours of negotiations, the groups reached their final conclusions, which they presented at the closing ceremony in the form of a press statement.
While both groups made steps toward solving the problem, the solutions they came up with were diverse. One group decided that Israel would remove its forces from one settlement, a multinational force would be put into the region, Hamas would call a ceasefire and some Palestinian families would be reunited within Israel.
The other group called for UN forces to be placed in the region, for Israel to keep its 1967 borders and for Jerusalem to be a shared neutral space.
After the simulation, Wanis-St. John spoke to the participants again and reinforced the program’s goals.
“What we’re trying to do here is give ourselves the permission to explore,” he said.
After the event, the participants were treated to lunch and a chance to mingle with their fellow delegates.
“I thought it was great,” George Washington University graduate student Sam Khazai said. “I thought it was productive and illuminated a lot of the problems that people on the ground have to deal with.”