Joint Environmental Mediation Training in the Middle East

CBI co-founds the Joint Environmental Mediation Service; trains Israelis and Palestinians in mediation and negotiation; and supervises trainees as they mediate active disputes, such as a dispute regarding the establishment of the Tzalmon National Park in Galilee.  

Background and Challenges

Israelis and Palestinians share a region scarce in natural resources, and will continue to do so, whatever political solutions may be reached. The area’s stability is threatened by ongoing tensions over infrastructure development and the management of water and waste. Successful joint environmental problem solving would not only help to improve communities’ quality of life, but also to reduce the risk that larger conflicts are rekindled.

CBI partnered with the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a Middle East think-tank, to create the Joint Environmental Mediation Service (JEMS). The goal of JEMS is to introduce and institutionalize alternative conflict resolution practices within Israel and the Palestinian Territories that will help produce innovative, comprehensive and durable solutions to shared environmental problems. In particular, JEMS’ mission is to:

  • Train a corps of environmental mediation professionals in Israel and the Palestinian Territories through training in the Mutual Gains Approach to negotiation
  • Employ teams of these professional neutrals to intervene in ongoing, small- and large-scale environmental and resource management disputes
  • Develop an institution that can provide mediation services on an ongoing basis to Israelis and Palestinians engaged in environment-related disputes

The CBI Approach

CBI trains Israeli and Palestinian environmental professionals in negotiation and mediation, and supervises teams of mediators as they conduct conflict assessments and mediate live disputes.

With funding from the V. Kann Rasmussen foundation in Scandinavia and other grants, JEMS established an office in the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, a Vatican-owned facility on the border between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. JEMS has its own Board of Advisors, and management and administrative staff who have devoted much of their professional lives to peace-building and environmental concerns, and who have deep roots in and extensive knowledge of the Israeli or Palestinian communities.

Since JEMS’ inception, CBI has helped the organization accomplish two major goals:

Training environmental professionals in negotiation and mediation
CBI has held ten major training workshops for a group of twenty competitively selected, capable, and dynamic Israeli and Palestinian environmental professionals. At each of these events, attendance rates have far exceeded expectations, considering insistent calls for boycotting joint activities issued from many quarters and the very real psychological and physical pressures on participants. The trainings covered all theoretical and practical aspects of the mediation process, training in mutual gains negotiation, and include time for non-academic team-building activities. The participants’ professional backgrounds are mostly in areas of engineering, research, and policy-making (including affiliations with government ministries).

Deploying trainees to mediate active disputes
At the invitation of concerned parties, mediation teams are assembled and deployed to help resolve active environmental disputes. Trainees have undertaken conflict assessments in various cases, including: a dispute over the refurbishment of the road leading from Jerusalem to Ramallah; solid waste disposal problems in the Ramallah-El-Bireh; and the development of a plan for managing for the Tzalmon National Park in the Galilee.

In the case of the Tzalmon Park, CBI supervised three of the most advanced trainees (two Jewish and one Arab Israeli) to become the principals of a mediation team working on conflicts related to the establishment of the park. The mediation focused on complicated land ownership issues. Particularly contentious were the rights for the Bedouin, Muslim Arab, and Christian communities living along the riverbank and the rights to the river’s water resources.

Results

JEMS graduates help produce a mediated agreement about the future of Tzalmon Park in Galilee.

After a two-year effort, the Tzalmon Park mediation resulted in a proposed settlement that nearly all parties agreed to. The agreement allows residents to remain on their land, and includes incentives such as park employment to ensure they help preserve the natural environment. The state is currently determining whether to ratify plans based on this agreement, though several implementation challenges have yet to be resolved.

CBI also completed an in-depth case study on this project, which highlighted the importance of using a mediation team that is knowledgeable about local cultural norms; the difficulties of ensuring appropriate representation in the absence of strong civic culture and organized advocacy groups; and the need for ensuring that all parties thoroughly understand the process of consensus building in relation to the established bureaucratic procedures.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/DavidJones