ADR and Activism

I attended recently a conference in honor of Herb Kelman, a Harvard social psychologist well known for decades for his many accomplishments. My respect for him is of the highest because he is one of the few thoughtful academics in conflict resolution who is not only a practitioner but an activist. Since the 1970’s, when it was both illegal and dangerous, he has brought together young Palestinians and Israelis in what he calls problem-solving workshops. These workshops have influenced the attendees, many of whom have gone on to positions of influence on both sides, and many scholars and practitioners who have used Herb’s model as the starting point for theirs.
Two of the presenters stood out. Shibley Telhami (U of Maryland) used his polling results to make many intriguing points. For example, when the big picture goes sour. e.g. when the second intifada occurred, Arabs and Jews who have gone through various dialog programs  together suffer deeper and sharper falls into cynicism and apathy than do Arabs and Jews who have not gone through such programs. An equally engaging speaker, Ilja Sichrovsky, a young Austrian, has created an annual ten day gathering of young Jews and Muslims from around the world. Now in its fifth year, Sichrovsky reports on a veritable flood of applicants, attesting to a surprising hunger to make contact. (Lots of “I’ve never met a Jew/Moslem before.”) The result of these contacts seems to be something like an explosion of epiphanies. But how does one put together Telhami’s findings with Sichrovsky’s work?
A number of academics presented models for new ways the Israelis and Palestinians can think about their conflict, each model solving an existing problem. (We should focus on “homelands” rather than “states.”)  In hallway chats I found several others who shared with me a dissatisfaction with these models as they all by-passed the many and shifting power relationships in the region. I cannot fathom the value of a model aimed at large-scale political conflict that defines politics out of the picture. It was reassuring to find that Yuli Tamir, former education minister in Israel, concurred when she said she preferred to work around abstractions, like the right of return or the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, and to focus instead on negotiating things and numbers: e.g. how many Palestinian refugees can come to live in Israel, and when?