Ambassador talks nude negotiating

Israel's Canadian Ambassador Alan Baker speaks at Western

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Israel's Canadian Ambassador Alan Baker

Photo courtesy of Noah Slepkov

Western was treated to a unique perspective on international issues this Monday when Israel’s Canadian Ambassador Alan Baker came to campus.

Baker has held the position of legal advisor and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

His career has taken him to the United Nations, where he served as Israel’s representative to the Legal Committee of the General Assembly.

Baker delivered a speech entitled “The Legal Challenges to Fighting Terror,” but after the speech he gave a lecture to an International Law class at the Faculty of Law building.

The second speech was much more informal as Baker discussed the “sexy things that crop up during negotiations.”

“There was this one time,” Baker recalled before a rapt audience, “where I found myself in a jacuzzi negotiating in the starkers with the Palestinian negotiator.”

Baker talked anecdotally about many of his negotiating experiences, some of which include hammering out Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty in 1979 and the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace in 1994.

Baker spoke about some of the difficulties in negotiating with other countries; for instance, he explained Egyptians had a very healthy sense of humour when negotiating, but tended to “forget” what they had agreed upon the day before.

He also attempted to clear up some of the misconceptions about negotiating.

“It’s not like business negotiation in America,” Baker explained. “You develop a relationship and a rapport.” In most cases, Baker said, the negotiators would spend at least a couple of weeks getting to know each other before anything was done.

“For a three week conference it was not uncommon for all work to be done in the last two days ... You have to trust the people you’re negotiating with.”

Baker also had some amusing tales of his days when he was with the UN. During the first Gulf War, the Iranian and Iraqi delegates had actually come to blows, which lead to the Israeli desk being placed between them to act as a buffer.

“It was very odd,” Baker recalled: “Neither of them would talk to us.”

In one instance the Iranian delegate was giving a speech attacking Iraq, but unfortunately the Iraqi delegate was asleep at the time and was not defending his country.

“I asked myself, what could I do?” Baker remembered. “I wanted the Iraqi to defend himself, so I leaned over and nudged him and said, ‘You’re being attacked!’”

It is evident Baker had a strong desire to return to the “old ways” of negotiating, giving the example of solving problems with the Russians over a beer in a smoky bar.

“I lost my head [negotiating] ... It was thrilling, interesting, sitting, arguing, philosophizing ... You feel as if you’re on an historical mission contributing to humanity.”

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