Mediation is defined as a conflict resolution process in which a mutually acceptable third party, who has no authority to make binding decisions for disputants, intervenes in a conflict or dispute to assist involved parties to improve their relationships. The procedure followed is an extension of the negotiations. Hence, mediation is commonly initiated when the disputing parties on their own are not able to start productive talks or have begun discussions and reached an impasse. The fact that mediators do not have decision–making authority, presents mediation much more attractive to many parties in dispute because they retain ultimate control of the outcome.
However, mediators are not without authority. The Mediator’s authority resides in his or her personality, personal credibility and trustworthiness, expertise in enhancing the negotiation process, experience in handling similar issues, ability to bring parties together on the basis of their own interests, past performance, or reputation as a resource person, and (in some cultures) his or her relationship with the parties.
Although, the first thing that young candidates mediators are taught during the education process is that mediation “is not a science but an art” based on both individual physical talents, tasks, and well-known techniques, which are being supported by different sciences, the main and fundamental core in Mediation remains its principles.
Each mediator, in order to be successful, has to follow the same fundamental principles for each and every mediation procedure, even if the conflict is between a fisherman and a ship-owner, even if the conflict is between a shepherd and a businessman buying wholesale shepherd’s products. Moreover, even if the participants are citizens or states.
Neutrality, impartiality and confidentiality are the three fundamental principles followed in a Mediation procedure.
Neutrality is derived from the Latin “neuter”, meaning “neither of them”, a condition in which attitude and action reflect a refusal to take sides in a dispute. When claiming neutrality towards the parties and impartiality towards issues, the mediator should disclose any relationship with or more disputants that might bias his or her behavior or raise a question in the minds of the disputants as to whether the mediator can remain impartial while assisting in discussions of the issues at hand.
His main concern has to be the achievement of a successful mediation procedure. And in order to be successful such a procedure should produce a wise agreement (if an agreement is possible), should be efficient, and should improve or at least not damage the relationship between the parties. The achievement of a wise agreement means that the agreement meets the legitimate interests of each side to the extended ones, resolves conflicting interests fairly, is durable and finally, it takes community interests into account.
For a wise solution, the mediator has to reconcile interests, not positions. And the main reason for that is that interests define the problem. The basic problem usually lies not in conflicting positions, but in the conflict between each side’s needs, desires, concerns, and fears. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty blocked out at the Camp David summit in 1978 demonstrates the usefulness of looking behind positions.
Israel had occupied the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula since the six-day War of 1967. When Egypt and Israel sat down together in 1978 to negotiate for a peace process, their positions were incompatible. Israel insisted on keeping some part of the Sinai. Israel, on the other hand, insisted that every inch of the Sinai has to be returned to Egyptian sovereignty.
Maps with possible boundary lines that would divide the Sinai between Egypt and Israel had been presented to both parties but compromising through this way was wholly unacceptable to Egypt and respectively unacceptable to Israel since the proposed compromise referred to the situation as it prevailed in 1967. Looking to their interests though, instead of their positions, making it much more possible to develop a solution. Israel’s interest lays in security while Egypt’s interest lays in sovereignty.
Finally, at Camp David in 1978, President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister of Israel agreed to a plan that would return the Sinai to complete Egyptian sovereignty and by demilitarizing large areas would still assure Israeli security. The Egyptian flag would fly everywhere, but Egyptian tanks would be nowhere near Israel territory.
This case between states and its final resolution is absolutely representative in proving that reconciling interests rather than positions works for two reasons. Firstly because for every interest there are usually several possible positions, which exist and could satisfy it, and secondly because reconciling interests rather than compromising positions give the mediator the great opportunity to see much more interests than conflicting ones. Mediator has no authority for the final agreement or not of the parties. His authority always remains the accurate management and overall facilitation of the discussions between the parties and the institutional achievement of a principled Mediation procedure.