Greatest Negotiations in History: The Israeli Armistice Agreement

Fredrik Stanton: After Israel declared independence in 1948, it was immediately invaded by all of its neighbors led by Egypt. Israel had great battlefield successes, but needed to secure its position through diplomacy and to consolidate its battlefield gains with a negotiated settlement. And it also wanted and needed peace.

The negotiation, which was a formative event for the U.N., was led by a young man named Ralph Bunch, who was a Black American who had grown up under segregation. He was able to talk to both the Israelis and the Egyptians by saying, "Look, everyone in this room can talk about prejudice, but let’s put that aside and focus on the matter at hand.” And it was a very effective approach.

It was a very difficult negotiation. It was possibly as hard as they come. In the beginning neither side would look at, shake hands with, or speak to each other. And over the period of several months, he broke down the complications of settlement into very small bite sized pieces so that they were manageable and could be worked on individually. He started with the easier parts so that they could build momentum, develop trust and get accustomed to reaching agreement with each other; even if it was an inconsequential point. He would have them sign to it if they came to an agreement so that they got in the habit of signing things with each other. So that by the time they got to the really hairy, sticky issues, they were on better terms with each other, they had developed momentum, they had built trust and they were able to bridge the last gap together.

For his efforts, Ralph Bunch, in 1950, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; he was the youngest person ever and the first Black American to win the award.

During difficult negotiations, it is often important to start small and build up to the more intractable sticking points, as evidenced by the successful 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbors.

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