A Report from the Harvard Conference 2014 “The Transformation of Intractable Conflicts”

From 27th to 29th March 2014, the conference on “The Transformation of Intractable Conflicts. Perspectives and Challenges for Interactive Problem Solving” was held at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at the Harvard University. The Centre for Peace Research and Peace Education (ZFF) and the Herbert C. Kelman Institute for Interactive Conflict Transformation Vienna/Jerusalem were the joint organizer of this conference. The conference was held in honor of Professor Herbert C. Kelman, emeritus professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University, with Viennese roots. The full conference report is available here. Kelman has conducted research and engaged in conflict resolution in practice extensively, especially between Israel and Palestine. He has developed a method known as “Interactive Problem Solving Workshops” on a Track 2 level. His method involves representatives who are influential, but not directly integrated into policy making and therefore enjoy greater flexiblity to deal with each other and develop new ideas and concepts. Kelman’s method of caring, active and impartial mediation between the conflict parties has been highly recognized at the international level and he is the recipient of numerous awards and honors.

Over 35 senior scientists, NGO representatives and diplomats from Belgium, England, Israel, Austria, Palestine, Switzerland and the United States attended the conference. Institutions such as Swiss Peace or the Oxford Research Group were represented, as well as a former Israeli Minister of Education. The event was largely founded by the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, whose director, Ambassador emeritus Dr. Wolfgang Petritsch, is a Joseph A. Schumpeter Fellow at the Weatherhead Center.

The programme for the conference was designed by Dr. Wilfried Graf (Kelman Institute and Kelman Programme at the ZFF). Ambassador Petritsch emphasized in his opening speech the scientific importance of Herbert Kelman and the topicality of the subject. He also quoted the great message of Rector Oliver Vitouch to the participants. The first panel, “Reframing Negotiations: New Approaches to a Two State Solution Israeli-Palestinian Conflict for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” discussed the “One country, two states” option by Herbert Kelman. The attempt is to relax the identity conflict in a more creative way, because both parties claim the whole country “between the river and the sea” for themselves. At the evening reception, the Austrian Culture Minister Josef Ostermayer, talked about experiences with conflict management in Austria by the example of the Carinthian village sign conflict. Other panels focused on various aspects of the Middle East conflict, as well as methods and strategies of conflict resolution. Werner Wintersteiner (ZFF) was also present at the final panel, which dealt with “The Contribution of Interactive Problem Solving to Peace Research”.

The conference was generally regarded as a great success and has contributed significantly to the networking of the scientific community of Conflict Resolution researchers. The direct collaboration between the University of Klagenfurt and Prof. Kelman will continue as well. The publication of an anthology of writings from Herbert C. Kelman, as well as Wilfried Graf and Werner Wintersteiner, is planned for 2015.