Whatever the rights and wrongs of the call for Catalan independence there are lessons to be learnt about how seemingly intractable disputes should be approached.
Escalation and displays of power often heighten the problem. Spain have the constitution and support of the wider public, Catalan believes they have widespread support within the region. There is also a difficult historical backdrop. Where each side believe they have a strong mandate and compelling argument, power games simply entrench positions, especially when one side has more power than the other.
Often external independent assistance can help, certainly to begin to engage in dialogue. But this only works when both sides are seeking such help. It is clear that EU and UN for example will not intervene until Spain agrees to it; that is probably wise. Timing of the right sort of intervention is crucial.
What is needed to unblock an impasse is the intention to understand the other side’s point of view. If you aim to win an argument, power and authority alone won’t achieve that. For a solution, understanding and open dialogue are essential. Best is to seek a solution which meets the core needs of both sides; not necessarily a compromise but a mutual position. Rolling back from declarations of intent and red lines, you can concentrate on the real issues at stake in detail and find positions that are not of polar opposites; this was the success of the Camp David accords in 1978, finding the key issues which mattered most to each side.
To achieve any reasonable outcome to any dispute mutual respect for each sides position is a must, dialogue must be maintained in spite of the rhetoric and the will to find a solution a golden thread throughout. Rarely though does it result in a Nobel Peace prize!
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