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Mediation, Middle East And Multi-Track Diplomacy

Mediation, Middle East And Multi-Track Diplomacy

How do you apply the principles and process of mediation alongside knowledge in conflict dynamics to make a difference on a much bigger scale? This is what my guest, and the organisation she belongs to, is doing out in the Middle East. There are lessons in this interview for the seasoned pro as well anyone new coming into mediation. It’s certainly something a little different.

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Full Transcript

Aled: Hi everyone, my name is Aled Davis, founder of, home of the hungry and passionate mediator, and a place where new and aspiring mediators come and listen to experienced mediators share their knowledge, their expertise, and their strategies, all the things that have helped them become effective mediators and build a successful mediation practice.

You know how I feel about these interviews. I get very excited about them. I find them inspiring. I find them motivating. They encourage me to stretch my comfort zones, to think differently, to act differently, and I hope you’ll be inspired, too. Hope you’ll be motivated by what you see in this interview. To go out there into the world, stretch your comfort zones, build your own little success story, or big success story, and maybe come back here onto Mediator Academy and share your story with my audience.

Now I had an email recently from a Mediator Academy viewer who remarked that many of my interviewees were commercial mediators, and they thought it might be a good idea just to get a different perspective. By the way, if you’re watching this interview now, and think there’s a subject or a topic or angle that I haven’t covered that you’d like me to cover, just put your comments in the comments below this interview. Let me know what you think. Let me know if there’s anyone in particular you’d like me to interview. That’s how Mediator Academy continues to grow.

So most of my guests, and I guess you, the audience, can relate to mediating two party commercial, workplace, or family disputes. But how do you apply the principles, process and the knowledge to make a difference on a much bigger scale? This is what my guest, and the organisation she’s part of, is doing.

She’s the executive director of the Institute for Multi-track Diplomacy East, which is a non-profit organization based in Tel Aviv, Israel. A sister organisation to IMTD, which was founded by Ambassador John McDonald, and Dr. Louise Diamond. Their mission is to promote the systems-based approach to peace building and facilitate the transformation of deep rooted social conflict through education, conflict resolution training, and communication.

I’m delighted to welcome all the way from Tel Aviv, my guest today, Susan Maishlish. Susan, welcome.

Maishlish: Thank you.

Aled: Susan, we’ve exchanged a number of emails leading up to this interview, and you talked about multi-track diplomacy, and I said, ‘Look, I know a little bit about track two diplomacy. I’ve been tenuously involved in some track two diplomacy in the middle east in the past.’

And you came back to me and said, ‘Aled, there’s a lot more to it than just track one and track two diplomacy. It’s multi-track, there are seven other tracks that you’ve missed.’

So, tell me a little bit about, first of all, what the organisation does, IMTD. And we’ll get in to all the different tracks of diplomacy, and then I think what I’d like to do is rewind a little bit back to where it all started for you, because I think there’s an interesting story in there, that our viewers will definitely appreciate. So tell me a little bit about IMTD.

Susan: Okay, well IMTD was actually established in the US about 20 years ago by Ambassador McDonald and Louise Diamond, and it arose because of their own experiences in diplomacy over many years, in that track one and track two don’t really encompass all of the different factors or areas of society that contribute towards conflict and also towards solving conflict. So that’s why you have the nine tracks that they’ve identified. And basically theirs is a systemic model. So if you look at the model itself, you’ll see that all of the tracks are arranged into a circle.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: That’s deliberate, because no one track is considered to be more important than another in contributing towards addressing, or to resolvingthe conflict. So it actually adapted over the years. Louise Diamond and Ambassador McDonald worked together to sort of break down those tracks and to add in the different areas that they thought were relevant, to include when you’re assessing a conflict, and I’m just going to go over those really quickly with you.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: So aside from track one, which is government, and track two, which is professional conflict resolution.

Aled: Okay, just hold on a second, slow down a little bit. So track one, government. Now, I know what you mean by track one, and I’m sure some other viewers do, but some people may not. What do you mean by government?

Susan: Government being official representatives of government who traditionally come together to resolve the conflicts within the nation, for instance.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Or between nations. But what happened was, specifically in the 90s, the increase in intra-state conflict, which made that view point or that paradigm less… It wasn’t adequate in order to fully address the factors within a nation that are necessary to consider, that are contributing towards a conflict, that might help to resolve the conflict. So for instance, private business. Private citizens, which is track four. Research, training and education, which is just the academia that might contribute towards assessing the conflict, towards spreading the word internationally about the conflict. Peace activism. Religion and funding, and then there’s another attribute, which is also the media, which, you know, through their lens greatly influences public opinion. So all of these different factors are not being figured into the entire model of the track one, track two.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: These are all extremely important, especially for grass roots level, because if you don’t have these tracks in place to support…

Aled: Right.

Susan: …then there’s an issue of enforceability. So there’s one thing people… For diplomats to get together and discuss, but another thing for the actual resolution plan to be enforceable over a long term.

Aled: I guess because you need the buy in of more stake holders than you’ve got at the table, is that right?

Susan: Well, that’s exactly… You have the on the table developments, you have the off the table developments. In multi-party negotiations you often have people coming in with differing interests that aren’t immediately apparent to the negotiators. So it’s important to figure in the off the table influences that will contribute towards the resolution being enforceable.

Aled: Okay, so these off the table influences, this is where this multi-track model helps you identify those off the table influences, is that right?

Susan: That’s right.

Aled: Okay. All right.

Susan: It’s a question, also, of analyzing the conflict itself. So at first you’re going to look at the model as a means of analysing and understanding what are the different factors that are contributing to the conflict. And then when you’re working towards solutions, also seeing how these are going to affect the various areas of society. If they’re going to cooperate with these solutions. Again it’s quite one thing to have buy-in from the negotiators, a whole other thing to actually have it sustainable over the long term.

Aled: Okay, so to simplify it, I don’t want to simplify it, but to kind of translate it into an understanding for maybe some of the commercial mediators, you know when we’re mediating commercial disputes a question we often ask is, or we need to be curious about, is are there any other factors outside of this, you know, this room, this… We’re not sitting at the table, are any other factors that might influence the decision that you make today?

Now sometimes that is, ‘I need to, you know, whatever decision I make I need to run it by my wife because ultimately she will, you know, she wears the trousers in the relationship and if I come home with anything less than, then my life’s not worth living, you know?’ Now quite often they don’t disclose that up front, so, you know, being really curious about, and looking at, not just the conflict, but the outcome in a systemic way, what other factors might contribute to this outcome being successful and sustainable. Okay.

Susan: Well it’s exactly that. So, sorry, can you clarify the question?

Aled: Well I was asking, I wanted to clarify track one first of all, which is government. And I would just say track one is where the grown ups come and sit down and have a big discussion, Okay. Is that right?

Susan: That would be the official representation, yes.

Aled: Okay. The grown ups. The big guns. Okay. Track two, then, is a level below that, which, where you’ve got more stakeholders, members of the community, people from the business, media, other influences. Is that, have I captured that?

Susan: Track three is actually business. I would actually invite people watching this video today to also visit the website of IMTD East.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Which is

Aled: Okay, I’ll put that underneath. I’ll put a link underneath our interview so they can click on that. And they can see the model and get a bit more information about the model there.

Susan: That’s exactly it. So track two is non-government, but professional conflict resolution. So that’s actually where professional mediation would come in.

Aled: Right, Okay. Tell me, when, you know, in the press when we hear that so and so from, I don’t know, the United Nations is mediating between one head of state and another head of state, are they mediating, or is it… Would you consider that as mediation, or would you consider it as something else?

Susan: As long as it’s unbiased, I mean, the definition of being a mediator is a person who’s coming in and facilitating the discussion in an unbiased way and trying to lead towards sustainable outcomes.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: You know, you can… The multi-track model encourages seeking more factors than just official head of states into consideration, but it doesn’t mean that what’s happening on that level isn’t mediation.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: It’s just a question of whether or not it’s going to lead to sustainable outcomes.

Aled: Okay all right. Okay. I want to get into this in a bit more detail, and specifically want to find out, you know, how you get involved in this, how it works on the ground, how you intervene at the different levels, how, you know, where do mediators actually fit in in terms of the work that they do? Some specific examples of the work that you do, and maybe some of the challenges.

But before we go there, I’m really curious to find out where it all started for you. I’m curious because we had this conversation, the pre-interview, Susan, where I remarked on how young I thought you looked, and the relevance of that is I remember going to my very first commercial mediation when I was assisting a very experienced mediator. He came out of the mediation at the end of the day and we did some feedback to each other. I didn’t give him very much feedback other than say he was great, and he said something like, ‘Aled, I think you need a few more grey hairs, you know, before you get into this.’ And that stuck with me, and I remember, and again, you know, I would go to all these mediating networking events, and I’d be the youngest guy there.

Well I thought I was, anyway. Everyone looked a lot older. And certainly in the U.K., it just seems to be a generation, a huge generation gap. Not many young mediators coming through. Not many opportunities for young mediators. Which is why I asked you. You know, it’s unusual for me to meet someone young who’s really passionate and involved in this field. Where did it start for you? Have you always been interested in this, or did you fall in to it? Tell us a bit about that, Susan.

Susan: Sure. So my undergraduate degree was in business administration. I graduated back in 2004, and then six years after that I was working in Canada for a company that did the advertisements for Walmart. So I was a project manager internally, and an account manager externally. So I was dealing with Walmart Canada on a daily basis, with their marketing department, with their buying division, with multiple parties on that end. And then internally we also had an entire production staff. A team of creative people, a team of photographers, and basically each piece needed to fall in place at the right time. Often times with parallel projects going on. I did this for about six years. So that experience was just about as much about dealing with people as dealing with the work itself. And what I realised was that there’s a lot of competing interests that go on when you’re running a business. Especially when it comes to human resources. And if you have people working together properly and in agreement about what we were going to be doing, then you’ll have a smooth… It will run smoothly. But you can have the opposite as well, and it’s just a question of how do you communicate the needs so that people understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

About four years ago I decided that I wanted to pursue a masters degree. I had this dream of coming to Israel and studying here. So I started looking at what kind of masters programmes could you …

Aled: Hold on a second, hold on a second. So you can’t just go for, go from I had a dream, I wanted to go to Israel. I mean, tell me a little bit about that moment. I mean, what was it that sparked that thought, that idea?

Susan: Okay. Well I was working in this project manager role for about six years. And I started to think, Okay, where is my career going to go from here? Am I going to continue working in advertising? Am I going to move into the financial sector? Where do I see myself going from here? And I analysed what my academic background was at that point, what my professional background was, and decided that it would be a sensible move to go into further education that would contribute to my management skills, but not necessarily be the traditional MBA, where a lot of the courses are similar to the ones that you would do in a BBA, they pick up a lot of the same courses. So I wanted to actually have something that was a unique edge for a manager.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Especially since [inaudible 0:16:30] dealing with people. So I started researching. And I found a variety of conflict resolution degrees and mediation, which obviously includes a lot of negotiation skills.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: So when I read through the curriculum of what they were offering, and started to really learn more about the discipline, I realised that, you know, this is a skill that’s under-emphasised in business training.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: The emphasis in my undergrad was on collective bargaining. They gave us a very, you know, holistic curriculum, so touching on all the functional areas of business, but the actual dealing with people, that skill, in my opinion was under-emphasised.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: And I learned how important it was when I actually went out and worked with so many people who had different interests, there wasn’t always agreements, but when you get all the pieces to work together, what amazing things can be accomplished. So that’s why I chose to do a conflict resolution degree. It wasn’t in order to become a mediator. It wasn’t in order to move into any diplomatic field.

Aled: It was…

Susan: It was actually from a business perspective.

Aled: It was, to quote your words, it was to have an edge.

Susan: Yes, exactly.

Aled: Okay. And I think that’s highly relevant, particularly for people contemplating, you know, coming into this field. I do think it gives you an edge. I do think it’s an under-emphasised skill in business. I think people are very good at avoiding conflict or dealing with it, you know, unproductively, ineffectively. And there just seems to be no appetite to really get hold of it and get inside it and, you know, work at it. And I know that, because, you know, most of my work is with large, multi-national companies in the U.K. and abroad. And, you know, people don’t like talking about it. You know, they’ll say, ‘Oh, conflict resolution, can we call it something else like collaboration?’ I don’t think, you know, it’s just, people have an aversion to it.

Susan: It’s actually part of conflict resolution [sounds like 0:18:45] sort of approach.

Aled: Exactly. So I think it’s, you know, it’s something that’s going to give you the edge. And I’m guessing, then, it’s as if… This seems to me like this is a stepping stone onto somewhere else, this point, this junction in your career. Maybe not at a junction yet, but you see this as a stepping stone to taking another direction, is that right?

Susan: Do you mean pursuing the conflict resolution degree?

Aled: No, no, no. Just in terms of your career, moving forward, you know you talked about getting… Not choosing the course to become a mediator, but choosing it because of the application within business, and that it would give you an edge.

Susan: Well this is exactly it, because now in my role as executive director of an NGO that’s peace NGO, I get to work with all sorts of conflict resolution practitioners. Professionals, but it’s from a business perspective as well. So I’m combining both areas.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Actually the best mix of both worlds.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Yeah, I would say so.

Aled: All right, so tell me about the Tel Aviv dream, because you still haven’t got to that. You know, you said I dreamt of going-, I’m not seeing-, I’m assuming that was a figure of speech, but something happened, and tell me if I’m prying too much, but something happened to trigger that thought. Am I right?

Susan: I wouldn’t say it was anything in particular. Both my parents are Israeli.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: So I visited here a few times growing up.

Aled: Okay, all right.

Susan: And I always loved the experience that I had here. So when I finally decided, OK, I’m going to go take a year off and do a masters degree, maybe I’ll do something really out of my comfort zone and leave the country all together.

Aled: Fantastic.

Susan: So that was part of the dream, actually, of going to pursue further education in a really warm environment, because Canada is quite cold. I haven’t seen snow in about three and a half years, it’s very nice. And, you know, growing up when I would come to visit here I would always think to myself ‘What would it actually be like to live here?’ So to actually spend more than a three week stint in Israel, and to actually get to know the culture, to get to know the people, to learn the language, and not be a visitor.

Aled: Yes.

Susan: To actually immerse myself in the culture. And that’s what I did in that year.

Aled: Because you’re now a resident, am I right?

Susan: Yeah, exactly.

Aled: Domiciled in Israel.

Susan: Yep. Well, I’m a citizen of both Canada and of Israel.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: And I was, as I was explaining in the pre-interview, I decided at the end of my masters degree that I would try to stay here, because it was a point where I could decide to go back to Canada or I could pursue my future in Israel. It was an easy choice to make at that point. Once you go back, then it’s much harder to change your mind and move back again. So for me it was a very easy decision, actually.

Aled: Okay. So you did the masters there at University in Tel Aviv, in conflict resolution and mediation. Now I imagine it must be quite a special place to study a subject like that. And I say that because I know, you know, the U.K. has, you know, a handful of universities that do undergraduate and masters degrees in conflict resolution and mediation. One springs to mind which is Strathclyde University in Scotland. And I’m guessing the experience that you would get studying in Strathclyde, a degree like, a masters degree like conflict resolution and mediation, would be significantly different experience you would then have in Tel Aviv. Is that a fair assumption? And by the way, I’ve never been to Tel Aviv nor Strathclyde, but I just have a hunch that it would be different in Tel Aviv.

Susan: Well, the programme, because it was an international programme, was provided purely in English, and the class itself was an international class. So they intentionally bring people in from all around the world. You have Americans, you have a good deal of European students. In my year there was a lady from India, another lady from Kenya, and you know the idea is to actually bring people in from around the world to have this experience together, who are coming from other cultures, who are coming in with different ideas of the conflict. There were also a couple of Arab Israeli students in the class. It was a real mix, and we went through this very well planned conflict resolution curriculum, the point being to introduce us to the concepts and then also to give us opportunities to go out into these areas that you usually only have the opportunity to see in the news and see them with your own two eyes and have an opportunity to actually engage people who are living in the conflict.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: And the end conclusion that you draw when you go through such a curriculum is your own conclusion. So it’s not something that’s based purely on what you’ve read in the news or seen in the media or been exposed to on a college campus which is outside of Israel.

You’re the one who is making the assessments based upon academic models that are proven. So that’s the idea behind the programme, was to give people an opportunity to really come in and experience it first hand. They call it the Silicon Valley of conflict, of conflict resolution. That’s what Tel Aviv University calls it. And it was, I would say one of the better choices I’ve made, to come and spend a year, particularly the subject matter.

Aled: I imagine… I mean I did my undergraduate degree in construction, and my field visits were to cement factories and places like that. So yeah, I can imagine it was a different experience. So now you teach on that… Do you teach on that programme now?

Susan: Yeah, as part of the programme they have an annual mediation seminar.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: Which is based on role plays, and we teach the mediation theory.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: And then also we do simulations. Going through the different steps in the mediation process. So the opening statements, different types of questions that you would ask, developing an issue list. So it’s basically going through the agenda of mediation, understanding the role of the mediator, practising the responses, you know, what are the high risk responses, what are open ended questions, close ended questions. So really trying to give practical skills.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: For mediations as well. So that’s the idea behind that, and I’ll be doing that that for the second year now.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: I graduated two years ago, so that’s every summer. And it’s just coming up very soon, so I’m looking forward to it.

Aled: Okay. And so this masters is a year long programme, is it?

Susan: Yes. The international masters is a year long. There’s also a Hebrew language conflict resolution program which is a two year masters [inaudible 0:26:24].

Aled: Okay. All right. I read in your profile you talked about when you were working on this masters that you talk about the different approaches to mediation, you know, the usual suspects like facilitative, evaluative, transformative. You also talked about narrative mediation and also you said something about eclectic… Other eclectic forms of mediation. Does that ring any bells?

Susan: Yeah, because there’s also cultural forms of mediation. People will come in and they’ll mix in different styles of mediation, be it through the arts. You know, amongst different populations you also have your own cultural form of mediation that can come into play, so, that must be recognised, because sometimes bringing in traditional western style mediation isn’t going to satisfy the parties that you’re dealing with. So trying to cater your mediation style to the people that you’re dealing with, as well, is very important in order to sort of engage them and make them feel comfortable in the process.

Aled: I mean, do you have a specific example of a approach that would be agnostic to a particular region, country, culture?

Susan: Yes. I haven’t practiced this form of mediation myself, but I believe it’s called Sulka [sounds like 0:27:50] which is the traditional form of mediation that’s used by the Bedouin.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: And it’s more, again, I haven’t experienced it myself, this is something that we studied…

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: …but dialogue based, I believe. So, you know, you’re going in to, dealing with a cross cultural mediation, acquainting yourself with the traditional forms of mediation as well.

Aled: Okay, very interesting. And what is this called? Sulka, is it?

Susan: Sulka.

Aled: Sulka.

Susan: That’s what I believe it’s called.

Aled: Okay. But it’s the… I will look that up, that will be interesting. Maybe I could get a Beduoin on here, in to… I’m not sure the internet connection, what that will be like in the Sahara.

Susan: We actually have Bedouin Israeli’s, actually.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: That’s one of the populations in Israel that we deal with in IMTD. So that’s the whole idea of the multi-track approach, is you’re looking at the different areas of the population that are living within Israel and taking them into consideration, even when considering something as grand as restarting the peace process.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: All these things matter.

Aled: Where do you start with something like that?

Susan: With…

Aled: Restarting the peace process. I mean, where do you start?

Susan: Well, what we’re doing as IMTD right now is trying to provide education. So again, if you were to look at the website you would see that one of the main offerings that we have right now is training. So mediation training, active communication training, cross-cultural communication training. And all of these are intended to be offered to the various parties that are experiencing the conflict. The idea being to acquaint everybody with a common language of mediation.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: If you can adopt a certain skill set, and it’s unbiased. Our aim is not to influence view points or to tell people what to think, but it’s to give them a process that they can follow in order to engage one another. And learning how to move from those positions to interests. So asking the kind of questions that are really going to help you understand what’s driving a person’s behaviour, what are the motivators. And if you can get to the point that you can understand that, then you’re one step closer to coming to an agreement.

Aled: I mean I like what you said there, where you’re giving people the language of mediation. And it… I mean, the thought that occurred to me, sometimes – well quite often actually, when I’m mediating, I find myself in situations where I’m having to kind of explain the concept as I’m mediating, or in a conversation, explain the concept of exploring interests. Because, sometimes I don’t think that the parties have the, as you said, the kind of the language, the concept in their own minds. They may be able to articulate what they are, but they don’t… The can’t connect the relevance of why they’re important, or why this conversation is about… You know, having a conversation about interests and not positions.

Susan: Right. That fundamental, isn’t it? Like, if any negotiation that you’re going to be doing, whether it be in business or diplomatic, or with your spouse, having that framework to understand what are the drivers towards the conflict, what’s going on within that dynamic that’s causing it to occur, if you’re lacking that point of reference, then it makes it that much harder to have a discussion that’s going to be fruitful.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: So it’s trying to emphasize the skills, providing skills at the grass roots level across all of the nine tracks of society, be it to business, be it to advocacy groups, to people who work in the media, it’s providing another skill towards interpretation that, just as I felt it was under-emphasised in my business training, I feel that it’s under-emphasised across the board. It’s emotional intelligence skills.

Aled: Yes.

Susan: Tools that help people relate to one another, and to understand why I’m saying what I’m saying, because I think that when people to feel like they’re being attacked, they have a tendency to become more positional. Sort of, they withdraw, there starts to be a lot of blame. The strategies for confronting the situation, for dealing with the situation become more, again, they become more confrontational and collaboration, as you mentioned before is really, you know, you said a lot of this and people say don’t use the words conflict resolution, use the word collaboration. Well, isn’t that true? You’re always… You’re going to be able to reach more positive outcomes by working together towards common interests than by butting heads with one another.

Aled: Yeah. Okay, so education is the first place you start. Giving people a point of reference, giving people a language, giving them some skills at the grass roots level. And you’re working with all different elements of the community that have a stake in the outcome.

Susan: That’s exactly it.

Aled: I guess a question that’s going around in my mind is how do you… Do people want this? Do they come and approach you? How do you get people interested in this?

Susan: There are a lot of people who come to Israel, for instance, to study conflict resolution, are peace activists. Part of various NGOs, both within and outside of Israel who feel that they have a stake in the conflict. Many masters students, as well, like ITE [sounds like 0:34:06] in the US has had several hundreds of interns who actually design programmes that are facilitated by IMTD through funding and they work together in order to implement these across the world in various different international locations.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: So it’s a question of generating awareness, people who are interested in this area to begin with, in making a positive change, have oftentimes approached us about it. There’s many students of conflict resolution who are coming out who are interested in becoming involved in these types of activities. They want to have an avenue in which to work. Our aim is to provide them that opportunity, to give them the networking abilities, to give them the support that they need in order to launch their peace programs. So that’s what the purpose of IMTD is, to provide support to these types of initiatives that will encourage dialogue, that will encourage understanding of one another. And education is often times a key part of those programmes.

Aled: Okay, so I asked you earlier, where do you start with, you know, trying to reignite the peace process. I’m mixing my metaphors there, aren’t I? Restart the peace process. Oh dear. Okay. So you talked about education. What’s the next… I’m guessing that’s always running in the background, the education. Where do you go next? How do you engage people in the next part of this process?

Susan: The education is one element of what we’re doing. We’re also providing mediation services to private businesses and to communities.

Aled: Right.

Susan: And the other thing that we’re doing is obviously the core work is the peace programmes. And that’s the main way of actually engaging the environment, with the people in the various… Societies in the various tracks [sounds like 0:36:21]. So whether it be a programme that has to do with water management, environment, which is something that we’re going to be actively involved with, or whether it be a programme that tries to encourage understanding of the other, so using social media or other media platforms in order to create awareness of one another. So it’s going to be through various avenues, that will be communicating the messages.

Aled: Okay, so you have these vehicles that help engage people. So tell me a bit about the water programme. How that works, how that fits into your mission.

Susan: Right, so actually IMTD has been actively involved in water projects over the past 20 years, and there’s numerous issues to deal with water, especially in this region. For instance, the Bedouin communities who, some of them are unrecognised, and don’t have sufficient access to water. So trying to create the ability to mediate between them and the government, to help them to get the resources that they need. So it’s actually looking at the human need as well, to end contributing [sounds like 0:37:39], based upon the situation, solutions which will elevate their standard of living. Again, it’s case dependent. So that would be one example of water resource management. And then of course there, is actually one of the main issues within the peace process is water. The sharing of water in Israel. There’s a water shortage here. How to ensure that everyone has adequate access to drinking water. That there’s enough supply over the long term.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: And that’s actually been one of the areas of the Oslo process that was able to be sustained, was the cooperation over that resource. So it’s a question of economic cooperation, of resource cooperation, towards a common goal.

Aled: And why do you think that aspect of the Oslo peace accord was able to remain alive in this process? What was it about that?

Susan: Well they did establish two bodies that still meet, as far as I know, between Israel and the Palestinians discussing the ongoing water management issue. And it hasn’t gone 100% smoothly, but it’s still in each party’s best interest to figure out what portion of the drinking water is going to come from desalination. What portion of the drinking water is going to come from the aquifers. Water is life.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: So those essential things that you need to cooperate over, that’s a very basic need. A very basic need.

Aled: I mean, yeah, if we think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, other than air, the next thing up there is water. And three or four days without that and that’s it, it’s all over. Even shorter than that I think, actually. What is it, 72 hours without water and your chances are limited.

Susan: Right. So the question of… I think that that was… It wasn’t… That’s an unprotected value so much as some of the other issues of the… That are underlining the conflict. That’s something that’s more practical. How can we cooperate together to ensure that all of our needs are met. Because our water does not follow the borders, you know. The water that’s under the ground, it’s everyone’s water.

Aled: You’re also…

Susan: And having to dispose of our waste is also everyone’s communal issue. It’s not…. You know, it’s blind to political factors.

Aled: But you’re also dealing with something very tangible, aren’t you? And I think where conflicts become really challenging and messy is when you’re dealing with less tangible factors like, you know, the things that matter most to people, people’s values, people’s beliefs. Yeah, Okay.

I want to come back to… So I talked about the water program and…. If I understand this, you were using certain projects as ways of engaging different elements of the community to work together. It’s almost like greasing the cogs of the conversations between those parts of the community. Is that… I understood that right, or am I missing something?

Susan: Yeah, it’s… Ours is a mission of using multi-track diplomacy to address various social problems, not just in Israel but also in the Middle East. So again, it’s a framework that’s used to address these issues. So whether it be on a large scale, being the peace process, or conflict within nations, or whether it be teaching mediation skills. The idea is to advance the application of the model in various areas.

Aled: Okay. All right, I’m with you now. Give me an idea of how many mediators, you know, IMTD would use, deploy, employ, roughly in terms of numbers.

Susan: How many mediators in terms of programme managers, or…

Aled: How many mediators do you have working for you at IMTD, either on a voluntary basis or a paid basis.

Susan: On a full time basis we have about four.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: And then we’re also working in cooperation with quite a few as the need arises. So we’re providing mediation training right now.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: It’s relatively short, in English, and it’s… In Israel there’s a, it’s a two stage process, you need to do first theoretical mediation training, and then what’s called a practicum.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Which is actually going out and observing real live cases, and we’re partnered with an Israeli mediation firm, which is accredited by the Ministry of Justice, in order to provide these trainings. So that’s one thing that we’re doing. And we’re working with this other firm. We have access to mediators in various areas who have also graduated within Israel, and that we call upon if needed.

Aled: Okay. All right. And the mediations that you…. And the mediations they would do would be… What kind of disputes or conflicts would they be involved with?

Susan: Well they would be more typical, not typical, but, you know, business related, labor relations, community involvement.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: You know, not on the grander scale, but again it’s the mediation skills.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: And those are… Those can be carried throughout, not just as a professional, not… If you define yourself only as a professional mediator but also as a manager.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: It’s a set of skills that we’re providing people.

Aled: Okay. And do you get involved yourself in mediations, something you do in your role as executive director?

Susan: I don’t mediate as frequently as I deal with mediators. And those skills that come into play daily in everything that I do as a manager in dealing with people, in negotiating.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: So these are skills that oftentimes come into play as I intend them to, when I pursued the degree that I pursued.

Aled: Okay. I’m looking at my list of… I mean I scribbled down some questions. I guess I’m interested in finding out what the… Because I have an idea in my mind about the… What the risks might be of getting in… Of doing the work that some of your mediators do on the ground, in the field. Are they… Are my assumptions incorrect, are they… Is it… Are there risks that exist that maybe wouldn’t exist for mediators doing that kind of work elsewhere?

Susan: Risks. I think that before you enter into any situation that is new to you, that a degree of research is necessary before entering into the situation. The risk being to disrupt the community itself, you think that you’re going in to help, and really you might end up harming them, or being condescending to them or alienating them.

Aled: Do you have a specific example you can share with me?

Susan: So again, I choose to bring up this example of Bedouin communities, but they have their own specific methods of conflict resolution.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: And go in attempting to help them through western eyes. So what we view as being the correct way of intervening in a situation, when really it’s not necessary for them. According to their values, that’s something that is perfectly okay. So understanding when a bias is coming into play I think is most definitely relevant. Is this viewed as being a conflict or something that needs to change because it doesn’t agree with my cultural ideals, or is it in fact something that is ethically wrong. Is it any… In any conflict intervention, understanding where the limits are of what’s okay in my culture versus what’s okay in their culture. Some of the things that I might view might be unacceptable. So it’s delicate. And also understanding that you’re going to intervene, not intervene, but you’re going to assist in ways that they want to be assisted. Not to bring in your own ideas of right and wrong.

Aled: So the process of… The process isn’t simply, you would come in and meet the parties and tell them about the process that you’ll be advocating and the principles that will underpin your model of mediation, and how you’ll be intervening , and how they will… Or the process will work. It’s more about understanding how they go about, how they would typically approach this from their perspective, and try and… You try and create a, you know, a hybrid version.

Susan: Right, I mean what we’re talking about, if I’m understanding correctly, is going in with a peer mediation model in mind, and conducting a mediation, versus taking mediation skills into an environment, a conflict environment, and using that in order to help the population, which generally speaking isn’t something that could happen overnight, and it’s not a one shot deal.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: You’re dealing in peace programmes. You’re going in… It’s essential that program managers have a set skill, and an understanding of the different drivers that contribute towards conflict. But it would be naive to think that you can go in overnight and change a situation that’s ongoing for a certain population. That’s why the emphasis is really on education.

Aled: Okay all right. Tell me a bit about the program manager, the role of the program manager. Because they sound pretty important. Pretty crucial in all of this.

Susan: Right, so IMTD exists in order to, again, promote this multi-track framework, which we feel is optimal in order to create enforceable resolution.

Aled: Uh-huh.

Susan: But a programme manager is somebody who really comes with an idea, they’ve identified a need within a certain community, within a certain population, and actually is a manager of that project. So you create a plan. We assist in seeking funding, giving resources, be it networking resources, communication resources, in order to actually get that programme off the ground, involving the various tracks in society as needed in order to support that programme, and make sure that it’s something that has longevity, that it’s not… You can never, again, you can have… You need to make sure that something is sustainable, that it has legs. That it can exist for as long as it needs to, because it would be terrible to go into a community and then not have the resources to carry through with your plan.

Aled: Okay. So, I mean, how do you go about doing that? Because if you’re getting involved in a community where there is conflict, you don’t know whether it’s going to take a week, a month, five years. How do you manage expectations around the resources required?

Susan: Well, again, it depends on what you’re going in to do. There’s numerous types of conflicts in which you could be assisting, and you wouldn’t over-extend your abilities based upon your… You know, you wouldn’t overextend yourself based upon your abilities, so again that brings me back to the training element, or the observant [sounds like 0:50:25] element, where you provide the resources that are needed to the community itself for the solution to be sustainable.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Especially when it comes to learning the conflict resolution language. But it’s not truly a negotiation issue, it’s also issues that have to do with actual resources.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Helping them to mediate with different qualities that could assist them in their long term goals.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: So it’s really… You really need to do a good analysis of the situation before you enter in and come up with a solution that pulls from each of the tracks as needed.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: In order to make sure that the solution is going to be viable and sustainable.

Aled: Okay. All right. I think many people watching this are probably going to want to find out a bit more about the tracks, and they can do that on your website, because I think that whole idea of approaching a conflict systemically. I think it’s really important, not just for the, you know, the conflicts or disputes that on the surface seem quite straightforward, a two party dispute, but particularly anyone working in organisations, getting involved in workplace disputes for example. I’ve been involved in quite a few where there are so many other factors that have a bearing on whether the outcome is going to be sustainable or not. And so many factors outside of everyone’s control and I think so many organisations just want the short term sticky plaster solution. And, you know, and so I think that doesn’t do mediation any… I think it does mediation a disservice, actually, because without considering what all these systemic variables are and taking those into account and being transparent about that as well. Then I think we can create long term problems, you know, have a solution that works in the short term but isn’t sustainable.

Okay, I want to finish up just by understanding a bit more about the rewards of doing this kind of work. Because, again, in the pre-interview we talked a little bit about your interest in mediation. And you said something like, the more you stay in this industry, profession, field, the more you realise that it’s where you want to be, or the more you’ve realised it’s, you know, how it suits you, fits perfectly for you. Say a little bit about that, and what you personally get from, you know, being involved in this kind of work.

Susan: I think that this training has helped me every area of my life, both professionally and personally. Especially in the work that I’ve done here in Israel since immigrating here as well, it’s given me an opportunity to analyze conflicts and motivations in ways that I wouldn’t have had the framework to analyse in the past. So I think that by just viewing… I view conflict through a different lens right now.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: And when I look at media, at… When I hear people speaking about the way things are, or the way things aren’t, I know to ask the types of questions now that help me to arrive at more meat. Like the actual motivators, and that actually helps you to open other people’s eyes as well. So if somebody says that they feel a certain way, or they think a certain way in any situation, knowing how to ask the right kinds of questions to open their eyes has been very rewarding for me.

Aled: Okay. And what’s next for you? Where would you…. What direction would you like to head off in at some stage? Where do you see yourself in ten years time, say?

Susan: I would love to see IMTD East have a presence all over the region, not just in Israel.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: I would be very happy to see conflict resolution skills being taught in elementary school all the way through high school and in all university curriculums.

Aled: Mm-hmm.

Susan: And to know that our organization had a role in creating this curriculum, and making this possible.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: I essentially think that, you know, each conflict, each party in a conflict has a reason for the beliefs that they hold.

Aled: Yeah.

Susan: And people can learn to communicate a little bit more productively then a lot of the issues that we confront day to day can be avoided. So it might sound perhaps a little bit idealistic, but I think that education plays a very strong role.

Aled: I think…

Susan: In [inaudible 0:55:53] all of these issues.

Aled: I’d agree. And you say you think it sounds idealistic. I think, you know, we could do with some hope. And I think someone said once, mediators are brokers in hope. They deal hope. And you know I think if there’s any good work to be done out there, it’s giving people hope that there’s a way through any and every difficulty, conflict, dispute.

I’m really inspired. And I know that other people, and I’m really hoping that some of the people watching this people will be of your generation and will also be inspired by this interview.

Susan, I really appreciate you giving your time. It’s evening, it’s an evening there in Tel Aviv, unless you’ve got study, you’re probably out on the town. I don’t know.

Susan: Well it’s cooling down a little bit now.

Aled: All right. Thanks ever so much. And if people want to reach out to you, find out a bit more about the organisation, I’ll put the link on the website. If they want to reach out and say thank you, which I know they’ll want to, how can they do that? How can they contact you?

Susan: Well, on our website there’s a contact page. And you can see that there’s several email addresses. One is called education, one is called info, they can email straight to there, and if anything is addressed straight to me then I’ll see it.

Aled: Okay.

Susan: Feel free to email me.

Aled: Are you on twitter.

Susan: We are not yet on twitter, but we have plans to be on twitter.

Aled: Shame on you.

Susan: Well we’re on Facebook.

Aled: Okay, all right.

Susan: Find us there.

Aled: Alright, they can find you on Facebook. Alright, Susan, well let me be the first to say thank you, have a wonderful evening. And all the very best.

Susan: Thanks so much.

Aled: Okay, thank you, Susan.

About the mediator

Susan Maishlish Profile Pic

Susan Maishlish, MA, believes that the role of any great conflict resolution professional, as with any communication professional, is to facilitate understanding between parties. It is this belief that has guided her academic and professional pursuits. Susan holds Bachelor in Business Administration from Wilfrid Laurier University and an MA in Conflict Resolution and Mediation from Tel Aviv University, where she graduated as Valedictorian in 2... View Mediator