Students in Conflict Resolution Class Attempt to Solve Gaza Crisis

January 16, 2009
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

Harvard Kennedy School students in a conflict resolution class tackled a significant negotiation challenge Thursday (Jan. 15), applying their professional skills and frameworks to the current crisis unfolding in Gaza.

With only six hours to negotiate a ceasefire and humanitarian aid agreement, the classroom simulation began with students undertaking intense research and strategic preparation for their assigned role. Playing representatives from the United States, Egypt, Syria, Israel, Fatah, Hamas and French mediators, students were encouraged to prioritize the interests of their home constituency when thinking critically about the sustainability of their actions.

“This exercise raises the bar and you are to be congratulated for wrestling with it,” instructor Brian Mandell, senior lecturer in public policy, told his class. “Without diminishing or simplifying the tragedy of events in Gaza, the goal of this exercise was to have HKS students engage in a serious way with possible solutions to an urgent international public policy problem.”

Very much reflective of real life negotiations, some groups sat at the same table to discuss, others refused to sit together, and some met in small caucuses. Also true to real life, there were secret meetings, side agreements and dissent within some groups.

Some of the suggested solutions included slowly increasing the levels of humanitarian aid based on hours of maintained ceasefire; providing U.S. recognition of Hamas political leadership; reevaluating the U.S. relationship with Israel; loosening border restrictions around Gaza; forming a temporary government comprised of multiple parties until the next election; acknowledging both sides’ rights to defense; and forming a combined Hamas-Fatah government.

“The exercise may have been a simulation, but the challenges of managing escalating emotions, complexity and live information were very real,” said Mandell.

Three of the eight groups reached potential agreements (though the class voted each of them down as unsustainable), one reached a partial agreement, and the remaining four groups did not come to an agreement either because of time constraints, trust issues or disagreements over contract language.

This simulated crisis solving task reflects the goals in Dean David T. Ellwood’s Acting in Time initiative. Acting in Time aims to find solutions to unaddressed problems through the skills and knowledge at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard University.

Ihab Khatib presents his group's solution to the Gaza crisis. Photo credit Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University News Office.

Ihab Khatib presents his group's solution to the Gaza crisis. Photo credit Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University News Office.

Brian Mandell's winter negotiations during a session in Land Hall, Belfer Building. (left and right) Paul Adrian and Ajita Talwalker present their group's solution. Photo credit Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University News Office.

Brian Mandell's winter negotiations during a session in Land Hall, Belfer Building. (left and right) Paul Adrian and Ajita Talwalker present their group's solution. Photo credit Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University News Office.


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