Represented by Ole Spies
Carrying my Laptop and important documents under my left arm while holding a paper cup filled with steaming hot coffee in my right hand, I was trying to maneuver through the conference room. Stumbling over the feet of the Honorable Representative from Turkey, I almost spilled the entire content of my cup over his suitcase. Finally, after having to climb over some more feet and suitcases, I somehow made it to my seat. I took a deep breath and wiped two drops of coffee off my freshly dry-cleaned tie. This was the first of a number of difficult tasks I had to face during the next couple of days. It was the first day of the meeting of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and I was here to represent the interests of the Kingdom of Morocco.
The Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was established by the General Assembly in 1975. It was created to help realizing the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence, sovereignty and the right to return to their homes. The main work of the Committee has become to frequently draw attention to the current situation in the Palestinian Territories. The Committee has 22 Member States; mainly Asian, African and Latin American countries. Core issues of debate for the Committee are the 3.6 million Palestinian refugees, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the allocation of water resources, and the question of Jerusalem. Morocco serves as an observer on the committee and is known to hold a rather moderate position on the committee topics.
I briefly ran through these facts in my head, while I was sipping my coffee waiting for the meeting to begin. I had prepared for this day all semester. I had read books on the Middle East Conflict, I had studied Moroccan foreign policy and I had learned how to hold speeches and how to negotiate most effectively. I was a little nervous but I felt well prepared.
After some small talk and handshakes the official session began. The Chair briefly explained the Rules of Procedure to the committee, then we began with the formal debate. First we had to set the agenda. Only after a few minutes of debate concerning the agenda order, the meeting was already interrupted for one of the many informal meetings. I was still sorting through my documents trying to get organized when my cup of coffee was at high risk for the second time of the day: The moment the chair declared that the committee was now in informal session, the person next to me jumped up from his seat and started shouting. By throwing his arms in the air and calling country names he was trying to get the attention of his regional partners. Many others followed his example. Soon the room was filled with the voices of delegates trying to summon their partner countries and regional organizations. After I had recovered from the small shock and had brought my coffee into safety from my neighbor’s waving arms, I found my way to a group of Arab States standing in a corner of the room.
I was still looking amazed at the shouting and waving people when someone asked me about Morocco’s points of view. Before I could gather my thoughts, he was already off to the next person. It took me quite a while to adapt to the speed and liveliness of negotiations. But after some time I got hold of it and found several delegations with which I had interesting discussions. By the end of the day and after quite a lot of debating and voting, we actually managed to set the agenda. The topics before the Committee were
- The Impact of the Separation Barrier on Palestinian Livelihoods,
- The Right to Basic Human Rights of Palestinian Children, and
- Palestinian Women in Public Life and Decision Making.
During the following days we discussed two of the three topics on the agenda. We started by discussing the Israeli barrier. Speeches were held on the illegal nature of the barrier and its impact on the daily lives of Palestinians, and many ideas were discussed.
Looking at the composition of the committee before the conference, I had not expected much disagreement among the Committee members. Usually, the Committee is known for speaking with one voice and for its critical position towards Israel. But very much to my surprise, this was not the case during our meeting. I guess that every meeting has its own dynamics and one has to be prepared for everything. I noticed that some countries usually known for their strong criticism towards Israel used all their precious speaking time to especially draw attention to the Israeli victims of recent military conflicts. Other delegations openly dissented with their government’s position by officially recognizing the State of Israel and some countries that usually are strong supporters of the Palestinian People proposed a questionable system of identity cards for all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Despite these unexpected developments, I engaged in a number of working groups and managed to get across some of Morocco’s ideas.
In the end, we decided on a number of concrete measures, such as the need for the destruction of large parts of the barrier. After we had successfully dealt with the first topic, we still had some time to talk about the Human Rights situation of Palestinian Children. After a vivid debate the Committee decided on a number of programs to improve education and healthcare for the children.
I learned quite a lot during the ongoing debates and discussion. I learned that in order to be successful in negotiations, one has to be able to adapt rapidly to new situations. I learned that bilateral talks are many times more fruitful than large group discussions. And I also learned that a good understanding on a personal level many times seems to be the best prerequisite for constructive cooperation. That is one reason why I ended up working quite closely with some rather not natural partners of Morocco such as Cyprus and Bulgaria.
Speaking from all these experiences, I came to the conclusion that it is true what they say about conference diplomacy: The real decisions are not made during the actual conference, but during face to face talks over a cup of coffee. I can also add another astonishing insight: Some major political differences can easily be set aside over a glass of beer and some mozzarella sticks – I guess, on some level, that is how politics in real life work, too. Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you another important thing I realized during the session: Always watch your cup of coffee!