Diplomatic Protocol – The Well-Placed Couch!
In 1993, during the Bush administration, talks between Israel and Jordan were initiated in Washington D.C. Palestinians were included as members of the Jordanian delegation, but due to the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, this was not acceptable to either party. The situation reached an impasse, and the interim solution was that the heads of the delegations would hold talks in the hotel lobby, as in “couch diplomacy.”
As the talks dragged on (between the heads of the delegations) downstairs, the remaining delegates waited upstairs for some sign of progress. Meanwhile, the members of both delegations regularly crossed paths in the hotel lobby, filling their coffee cups and studiously avoiding each other.
One day, Israeli representative Zalman Shoval went down to the lobby as usual, poured himself a cup of coffee, and took a sip. The experience was apparently so awful that he lost his composure and blurted out to the person standing near him (who, incidentally, was Dr. Salam al-Majali, the head of the Jordanian delegation) “Wouldn’t you agree that this coffee is awful?” and Dr. al-Majali agreed wholeheartedly: “It’s terrible!” Suddenly they were on the same emotional wavelength; the two participants were in “complete accord about the superiority of the Middle Eastern version of the drink.” This action broke the ice that had stymied the proceedings,resulting in the hosts exiting the lobby and both delegations sitting down in a proper meeting room to begin negotiations (Keys, 2019).
The protocol officer’s duty is not just about chairs, tables and cocktails, he/she must first be aware of the goals, policies and politics involved in the negotiations, thereby setting the stage for possible roadblocks!
Indeed, this is the essence of DIPLOMATIC PROTOCOL!