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How different understandings of contracts frustrate Middle East peace efforts

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In Shakespear's immortal play "The Merchant of Venice" one of the main characters, Shylock, is relentless in his insistence on his 'pound of flesh' from Antonio pledged as a bond to secure a business loan to Bassanio.  This is because in the Judea/Christian tradition trading relationships often take place within the framework of the contract with the expectation that the courts will enforce the contract.  

This insistence of strict performance would be incomprehensible to Muslims.  With Islam contracts are verbal; they take place within relationship and with an expectation that terms and conditions are modified to reflect changes in the needs and aspirations of the parties over time.  Performance is enforced by concepts of honour and relationship.

The disadvantage of the Islamic practice is that much time must be spent on relationship building and maintenance before business can be done. The advantage is that such contracts once formed they are more likely to be repeated and managed in such a way as to be mutually beneficial (similar to Western concepts such as relationship marketing). 

Indeed it has been stated that at times Muslims will enter into contracts to 'get into relationship' and may not expect or intend to comply or expect to be required to perform in accordance with the exact terms of the contract. 

The significance of these different approaches to contracts was made plain to me when I was reading about negotiations between President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel.  It was stated that at the time Sadat seemed remarkably disinterested in the terms of the agreement.  It seems to me that in keeping with Islamic tradition that having established a relationship he then thought that the Israelis would operate in accordance with 'his' understanding of relationships and contracts and would work through any issues in a mutually beneficial way regardless of the terms of the contract.  Sadat was doomed to face disappointment as Israel delivered the bare minimum as specified in the terms of the signed agreement. 

The Israeli tradition is completely different.  The Jewish tradition is that the Jewish people have a covenant or contract with God which requires strict performance.  This means that strict performance of the covenant or contract then becomes a religious imperative.  I stand to be corrected but I'm not sure that there is a Jewish equivalent of the doctrine of Estoppels' which has developed in Western law where the strict application of contract construction is modified by some appeal to public or moral good.

If we are to achieve a settlement in the Middle East then it is imperative that both sides to the agreement are aware that any agreement will be coloured by the different public legal traditions and interpreted differently in the Islamic world as to how it will be interpreted in Judea/Christian world.

A failure to appreciate the very real differences in legal interpretation will doom any such agreement to failure.

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Kevin Walsh Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I am a Sixty One year old Academic Specializing in International Management (Cultural Differences), Corporate Governance, Risk Management, Accounting and Finance. An inactive Major Australian Army Reserve I am Interested in Middle Eastern (more...)

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