2. Without Pain There's No Deal
Ownership of tough decisions requires leadership. But even strong leaders won't move unless there's urgency. Without the threat of pain or the potential of gain, why would a leader -- even an extraordinary one -- want to risk decisions that could have existential consequences? (See: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.) They won't and they don't. That's why most successful Middle East diplomatic efforts were initially triggered by war and insurgency -- for example, the October 1973 war, the Gulf War, and the First Intifada.
At the same time, pain alone isn't enough. If it were, the Arab-Israeli conflict and any number of other global traumas would have been resolved long ago. Incentives are necessary too. It's the marriage of the two that makes the deal possible. Sadat traumatized the Israelis by crossing the Suez Canal and inflicting serious losses on their forces, but he was able to offer a historic gesture of reconciliation by visiting Jerusalem four years later. The First Intifada was followed by the Oslo agreements, while the Second Intifada brought plenty of pain but had no diplomatic counterpart.
There's an important caveat here. When one leader or side isn't as compelled as the other to reach a deal, it can be fatal for the negotiation. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was semi-desperate for a deal at the July 2000 Camp David summit; Arafat wasn't, sensed Barak's panic, and used it to see whether he could reach a better deal.
This isn't just a fact of life in the Middle East. Take a look at the recent crisis over Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who in April fled house arrest to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which appears to have negotiated a deal with the Chinese government to allow him to travel to the United States. The Americans wanted a deal quickly and lost leverage as a result. The Chinese, on their home turf, could afford to wait.