Review essay: Understanding the methodology and applicability of the Track Two study on Israel Palestine by Maoz, Kellen and Bekerman

(This was part of a paper I was working on, and I write about why and how the track two diplomacy exercises are essentially flawed and lacks validity and reliability.

Citation: Maitra, S. “Review essay: Understanding the methodology and applicability of the Track Two study on Israel Palestine by Maoz, Kellen and Bekerman”, University of Nottingham, 2016)


 

Israeli Palestinian conflict has been judged through the prism of classical IR and diplomatic theoretical framework. While Israel Palestinian peace research has been dealt critically, with case studies featuring the 1993-2000 Oslo peace process, and literature regarding the causes and nature of Israeli Palestinian conflict, methods to establish peace, impact of the peacemaking methods on the conflict, and the role played by outsiders; there has been huge literature devoted to methodological barriers in peace process between the two conflict groups. In this essay I particularly focus on a specific single indepth case study which deals with a recent track two diplomacy exercise in a participant observation framework.[1] It is difficult within the scope, size or ambit of this piece to deal with the details of the entire literature of Israeli Palestinian peace process, but hereinafter I would focus on the track two diplomacy paper by Maoz, Kellen, Bekerman where I would review, analyse and discuss the structural and methodological rigor and debate of track two diplomacy between Israel and Palestine and if it could be applicable to other conflict management processes across the globe.

The study highlighted here[2] takes an unorthodox alternative qualitative approach which utilized systemic transcript analysis of unstructured discussion process in a participant observation situation. Incidentally the study claims to form a linear deductive model, unusual for standardized, qualitative methodology, as it attempts to corroborate a hypothesis. The study concluded that the hypothesis was corroborated as the conflicting groups formed a superordinate identity during the course of the workshop.[3] The study went on to claim that the Jewish Israelis and Palestinians in this workshop “mutually identified with the peace camp”, which is a collective of people and organizations wedded to the peace process and promoting dialogue and conflict resolution efforts. The participants, as per the hypothesis demonstrated cooperative, and counter-ethonocentric interactions, which from a social identity paradigm, proved counter to the narrative as the group formed a superordinate peacecamp identity. The study claimed to prove that by forming such a superordinate identity, the observed participants are left less able and willing to act in interest of their nationalistic identities and represent their national and social grouping, and as a result are less able to produce ideas acceptable to their respective publics, therefore providing practical and empirical corroboration to the field of track two diplomacy.

 

Track Two diplomacy and Israeli Palestinian conflict : Methodology

The authors highlight specific examples of previous track two diplomacies and charts the methodological groundwork. Track two diplomacy, is also known as ‘‘interactive problem solving’’ and ‘‘interactive conflict resolution,’’ which is a is a social–psychological approach to conflict resolution that has been widely used in some second tier ethnic conflicts, including Northern Ireland and Lebanon to name a couple. Track two diplomacy in this context is defined as ‘‘discussions held by non-officials of conflicting parties in an attempt to clarify outstanding disputes and to explore options for resolving them in settings or circumstances that are less sensitive than those associated with official negotiations’’ (Agha et al. 2003, 1)[4]. The most notable example with regards to this particular case, of such track two diplomacy is Herbart Kelman’s study of the pre Oslo Israel Palestine peace process workshop, itself referred in this study.[5] The accepted methodology is relatively straight forward, mixing unstructured discussion between different participants which are observed with the consent of the participants. The discussion process is free flowing from a specific vantage point. The aim is to have different participants of the conflicting communities in a workshop under the auspices of academics, usually following Chatham house rules where participants under the observation of these said academics can discuss and share their needs and political considerations.[6] The idea is to provide a space for interactive approach, to provide a template of joint thinking, under the supervision and observation of academics that are knowledgeable of the conflict being discussed. The workshops are extended over a period of a couple of days usually during weekends, and are divided into equal groups of Israelis and Palestinians and internationals. The workshop, according to Kelman’s original study, acknowledges he concern of the imbalance of the power structure between participants in real life, and therefore makes sure that the lesser powerful party at any given context is “empowered” during the discussion process preferably by the international parties.

The authors of the study approached the workshop using ethnographic methods and discourse analysis).[7] The primary focus was on the verbal practices and resources gathered. The participants gave signed permission of the recording of their transcripts, “allowing the meeting discussions to be recorded and transcribed”, as well as used for further academic endeavors. Facial expressions and gestures as well as other “non-audible communications” were noted as well. Transcription symbols which were deemed indecipherable were then removed.

All participants were also guaranteed anonymity within the transcript. The data includes recording and transcripts of all negotiations and meetings held within and under the observation of the academics. The analysis is conducted based on a methodological approach known as the “grounded theory” by Corbin and Strauss,[8] which involves gathering the said data, and then analyzing it qualitatively and then theorizing it; “…analytical techniques that facilitate the inductive origination of concepts and theory from data itself”, is how the authors described the data analyzing and theorizing approach.[9] Special importance is paid in the difference of the two sides and the significant differences in the narrative of each side, and reducing it actively and guiding them towards active understanding of each other. The participants are observed herein, and the main ideas and the broad categories included the main talking points and themes and are supported by the data gathered.[10] Structured intergroup workshops are formed and used a device in this methodological approach. The second stage is the collection of the full transcripts and the third stage is where the findings and data is analysed.

Contextualization and critique

The contextualization of the methods is important in this regard. The group consists of elites, Jewish Israeli participants as well as Palestinians. The Jewish group was mostly male, and only one participant was a female academic. The authors of the study acknowledged the factor that women are underrepresented in the study, and that’s an endemic case not only in this study but in any social science endeavors. [11]The authors noted that the Jewish academics were all affiliated to Labour or left of center Kadima. On the other hand, it was mentioned that none of the Palestinians were affiliated or supportive of Hamas. The organization that was holding the workshop was an organization with proven track two diplomacy records who were responsible for countless track two processes and were committed to the solution of the Israeli and Palestinian problems through the lens of a two state solution. [12]

The study concludes with a primary hypothesis of how counter ethnocentric narrative won and was formulated by the four ascriptions cited below. [13]The first was a nonascription of the blame to Palestinians by the jewish-israelis, the second was the jewish Israelis blaming their own government, and the third was the jewish-israeli acceptance of blame following the peace camp identity. The authors come to the conclusion that these track two workshops reflect that in such a methodological approach the conflicting parties come to form a peacecamp identity which goes to counter ethnocentric identities and forms a superordinate group.

Limitations of the study and conclusion

Reflecting upon the essay, one can conclude that it is a fine academic exercise which reflects a non-traditional way of diplomatic initiative which is different from an elite track one diplomacy generally deemed achievable in traditional situations. However, one can also come to some specific critiques, some of which the authors themselves highlights in the paper. First of all, the authors acknowledge the limitation of a single case study. In this regard the results are subjective and cannot be easily corroborated given the change in variables. The studies are authors claim, verified on the “author’s” experiences of past thirty years of conducting similar track two diplomacy, which is a classic case of the circular logic, although to the credit of the authors they are open to further investigation and corroboration of the methods with the evidence of further similar research. The authors also mention that the study is not a generalizable finding, as the “sample excludes participants with extreme political viewpoints, our findings may not be generalizable to the more militant factions of populations, who would not participate in track two diplomacy workshops”. The author glanced over it stating that that is a flaw which can be attributed to any studies in this field, which relies on ethnographic participant observation. I would tend to argue that that is a fatal flaw in the validity of studies which deals with track two diplomacy. The conclusions that is drawn from this study is not only not generalizable but not even repeatable other than the same given set of variables. A primary argument that can be against the study is that it suffers from a selection bias.[14] The authors themselves noted the lack of diversity in the group, and the small number, which doesn’t reflect the population mindset, and the political wind in any reasonable way. It is highly stretched to call a sample of size 11 to be representative of two diverse and antagonistic ethno centric group. Moreover the choices for the representatives are curious as evident below.

The people from the Israeli Jewish side are mostly Israeli Labour and Kadima, both from the left and left of center spectrum of Israeli politics, who are mostly receptive and positive about the two state solution than the right wing Likud, which has been the ruling majority of the population and are the ruling coalition government, and are logically deemed to be more representative, none of whom are in the aforementioned group. Similarly, among the Palestinians there are no members of Hamas, or other extreme anti-Israeli groups, who are also part of the ruling majority in Gaza, who, in lack of better word, can carry the torch for the Palestinians. The group is entirely committed to finding a two state solution for the Israeli Palestinian crisis, thereby committed to an ideological lens and narrative prior to the exercise itself. The fact that an entire group, which comes in an exercise for peace building, in a peace camp organized by an organization committed to a peaceful two state solution, with members committed to the process prior to the exercise suffers from a hint of confirmation and selection bias to put it mildly. Another flaw that the authors pointed out then bafflingly discarded is the choice of elites in this process, a choice which in their own words, is “risk is amplified in the context of track two diplomacy, which utilizes elite participants who are often highly sensitive to public or institutional support”. That is a subjective judgment.

All this criticism aside, the study is not completely an exercise in futility, but a fine academic endeavor which gives us a glimpse of a methodology to conduct further research and investigation. The critique of this study comes from a positivist perspective, which might reflect my own epistemological bias as well. To put it in a scientific and deductive model, if this study is done, with a more varied sample, which is more representative of the population and mindset of the two ethno-centric antagonistic groups, and getting rid of the selection and confirmation biases evident in the sampling, then the results from that case study might be helpful in finding alternative ways of conflict resolution. But that is as mentioned before strictly not within the scope and size of this essay.

 

 

[1] Kellen Bekerman Maoz et all. “An Easy Coalition: The Peacecamp Identity and Israeli–Palestinian Track Two Diplomacy” Journal of Conflict Resolution 57(4) 543-569, 2013.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid p 545.

[4] Maoz et all claims these studies, which are not independently corroborated as it won’t fall within the ambit of this essay, but is accepted as a part of the current literature on track two diplomacy. For further study on this, read Kelman’s seminal thesis.

[5] Kelman HC. Some determinants of the Oslo breakthrough. International Negotiation. 1997;2 (2) :183-194.

 

[6] Maoz et all.

[7] Maoz et all.

[8] Grounded theory methodology A Strauss, J Corbin – Handbook of qualitative research, 1994

[9] Maoz, Kellen et all don’t go into excessive methodological rigor, but assumes the reader is familiar with the “grounded theory” approach. For the sake of brevity in this essay, I presume the same.

[10] Grounded Theory Generation: A Tool for Transparent Concept Development, Todd Tucker, University of Cambridge

[11] Maoz et all p 548

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid p 551.

[14] Geddes, B. (1990) ‘How the cases you choose affect the answers you get: selection bias in comparative politics’, Political Analysis 2(1), pp. 131-150. (Geddes explained it in a paper as roughly where sample taken is not representative or random.)


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