If Israel and the Palestinians get back on track toward peace and the
resolution of this round of their on-going conflict, we may look back on
a simple lunch meeting as the crucial beginning point of the process.
Obviously, the complexity of the political realities driving events in
the Middle East defy any single-page analysis by someone as unschooled
as I am.
Still, no matter what I have read or heard during the last
tension-filled week, I cant seem to erase from my memory the picture of
Israels Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat preparing to share a meal in the library at the White House. The
two men dined alone and talked for about three hours. Their aides
negotiated through the night before the unrehearsed summit ended with
plans to continue high level talks elsewhere. The New York Times
compared this meeting to Ronald Reagans surprise meeting with Mikhail
Gorbachev ten years ago in Iceland which resulted in a significant
breakthrough on nuclear disarmament.
Netanyahu and Arafat disagree on most issues affecting life and
community in Israel and the entire region. Because of their conflicting
views, getting the parties back to work on fulfilling the Oslo Accords
seemed impossible before last week's meeting. Chances of a new
agreement remain slim to most observers.
One simple fact remains. These two powerful men dont like each other.
The fact made their willingness to meet even more significant. Reports
following their historic luncheon indicated they at least got better
acquainted. They shared personal memories of their own experiences in
the bloody conflict that bitterly divides them and their people. They
spent time alone over a meal. They left knowing each other better.
Call me simple-minded and naive, if you will. I plead guilty on both
counts. Nevertheless, I believe the meeting did no harm and may mark
the beginning of something very positive. Even if my hopeful point of
view proves terribly wrong headed an important lesson remains. Powerful
things transpire when people agree to invest the time necessary to talk
over a meal.
You name the context: business, school, neighborhood, church, family,
international diplomacy, or politics. When people decide to drop their
defenses and come to the table to talk, positive things often result.
The fact is, there can be real power in a lunch!
So, dont take your social capital for granted! Nurture friendships you
count dear. Extend yourself to an advisory, a competitor or someone
with whom youve experienced conflict. Learn the real benefits of
sitting down to talk, no matter how difficult or absurd it seems. The
level of your discomfort may indicate the potential power of your next
lunch meeting and its possibilities.