When do Conflicts Get Resolved?

In every case where I have consulted with folks in a conflict situation, the first question is how will this work out? How can we resolve the problem? It is just human nature. Unfortunately, dealing with conflict means accepting that you cannot control when the conflict will reach a stage where it can be worked out.

Conflicts have a logic all their own. So, for example, you can ask why Hamas is shooting off tons of missiles at Israel when it knows that the missiles have zero effect and the certain Israeli counter strikes will kill hundreds? The Atlantic poses this question, and answers

There is no doubt that Hamas could protect Palestinian lives by ceasing its current campaign to end Israeli lives. The decision is Hamas’s. As the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said earlier this week, “We face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable—and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing.”

So, one might conclude that Hamas wants to protect its own population less than something else. What? Perhaps the thing they want more is the destruction of Israel itself. Perhaps it is to stay in power. We can only speculate. But what is clear is that Israel cannot stop the conflict itself. And perhaps Hamas as well cannot act in a way that from the outside would appear to be rational. The conflict has a logic of its own.

BTW, the US found this out in two major conflict management projects – the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases, the use of force by the US, coupled with intensive investments in institution and infrastructure re-building have (at least so far) failed to resolve underlying conflicts within the state. Ooops. It all looked so simple before the troops went in. But these conflicts had and have a logic of their own, and the US cannot on its own accord decide when they are over.

So how do we manage conflict if we cannot resolve it on our own? We have to know what we are fighting for in order to know when we can stop fighting. Asking and answering this is at the heart of any effective conflict management strategy.

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