‘The Human Factor’ Review

It’s truly (and sadly) the never-ending story. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, or Jews and Arabs, has a history of more than one hundred years. Documentarian Dror Moreh was Oscar-nominated for his 2012 film The Gatekeepers, which told the story from the Israeli security perspective. In The Human Factor, he focuses on the U.S. negotiators’ viewpoint. He covers a 30-year time period, but a substantial portion is dedicated to the Clinton administration.

The list of familiar names from Israel includes Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak. From the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), there is the ever-present Yasser Arafat. And from the United States, we see Jim Baker, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright. But beyond the names and faces we know, Moreh interviews negotiators such as Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Daniel Kurtzer, Robert Malley, and diplomat Galal Hamel for their distinct insight into the years of meetings and attempts at agreement. These interviews blended with the extraordinary archival footage provide more information than an endless stream of newscasts over the last thirty years.

Elections, assassinations, wars, and culture clashes have combined to bring constant shifts to negotiations. We are told that even the language differences creates problems, as each side defines “history” and “future” in their own way. One of the most fascinating segments revolves around the infamous/iconic handshake at the 1993 Oslo Accords. The importance of the handshake was relayed to Rabin, and he was adamant that Arafat not be in uniform, not carry a gun, and that there be no cheek-kisses, which Arafat was known for. So the negotiators came up with “Safari suit” as a description, and the handshake occurred.

Numerous moments like this are discussed by the negotiators, and we realize that posturing and power plays have been the main reason nothing has really changed (hence, the film’s title). Peace seemed within grasp in 1995…right up until Rabin was assassinated. And the Clinton segment around the failed last gasp of the 2000 Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David is exceptional with its photographs and insight from the interviews.

Moreh has delivered the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at one of the most frustrating global situations, and the negotiators offer insight into the process – and the role played by manipulation, credibility, trust, and empathy. Mostly, we are left with what might have been, and are told “peace” is not even the right word when no solution exists.