Copeland: Should U.S. diplomats meet with Hamas leaders when conducting ‘shuttle diplomacy’ in the Middle East?

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23 November, 2012
By: Daryl Copeland

Former diplomat; research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Diplomacy privileges talking over fighting.

War is its antithesis, testament to its failure.

Yet diplomacy is widely misunderstood, not only by the public and the press, but by governments and, not least, by many serving diplomats.

What is it? As a non-violent approach to the management of international relations, diplomacy is characterized by dialogue, negotiation and compromise. Complex balancing and knowledge-based problem-solving are key contemporary elements.

Diplomacy’s comparative advantage over other policy instruments – through active listening and nuanced understanding – resides in its potential to change behavior at both ends of the conversation. When the diplomatic exchange is meaningful, which is to say when the communication is genuinely two-way and effective, differences can be reconciled and bargains struck.

In short, diplomacy works, and is much less less costly than the use of armed force, but it is rarely allowed to perform up to its potential.

So… should American diplomats meet with Hamas leaders?

Of course, and for many of the same reasons that they are now talking to the Taliban.

It is not necessary to approve of your interlocutor, or the positions and policies they represent, in order to engage in real international political communication.

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