Michelle Maiese

July 2004

Often disputants think that the most extreme individuals on the opposing side are, in fact, representative of all the members of the opposing group. However, there is usually considerable divergence in views among the members of groups, organizations, and nation-states. While some individuals might be characterized as hardliners, others tend to hold views that are far less extreme. In some cases, the more moderate members of the group include the leadership, although conflict dynamics often tend to select people with more extreme positions to be leaders, as they tend to speak out more and take a strong stance.


Some have suggested that moderates have an important role to play in the Middle East peace process. They can support cease-fires, develop joint initiative and cross-ethnic projects, and promote human rights standards that strengthen public participation and marginalize extremists.

"Moderates can assert themselves by initiating actions on a person-to-person level, rising up against radical leaders and those who preach that killing the other is a way to survive. Moderates must reframe the conflict from a holy war against Israelis or a war for survival against Palestinians and Muslims, into a political conflict over self-determination and viable statehood for Palestinians and security for Israelis." -- Mohammed Abu-Nimer[3]

Leaders or not, the more moderate stakeholders tend to play an integral role in peacemaking. Because they are able to see valid aspects of each perspective, moderates often demonstrate more flexibility in negotiation. [1] They are often willing to consider a variety of options and show concern for others? Needs as well as their own. Unlike extremists, who tend to narrowly define negotiation agendas and maintain rigid positions, moderates are open to persuasion and willing to make concessions. Such moderates form what Louis Kriesberg calls "constituencies for de-escalation."[2] These people are often better reached with conciliatory gestures or confidence-building measures rather than confrontational tactics. Because they can provide an important foundation for productive peace processes, third parties intervening in multi-party disputes must ensure that moderates' voices are heard.

Moderates often play an important role in limiting the damage caused by the actions of hard-line members of their group. When extremists do something particularly escalatory and harmful, such as engaging in terrorist activity, moderates sometimes publicly condemn the actions of their fellow group members. This can help to limit the level of hostility and escalation that results from such actions. If, on the other hand, moderates stay quiet or defend the actions of extremists, this is likely to convince the opposing side that the group as a whole holds radical views.

Problems arise in cases where moderates become marginalized. As highly confrontational tactics begin to replace more cooperative approaches, conflicts escalate and more extreme persons become leaders of the conflict groups. Once political violence becomes widespread, this may serve to discredit those who hold intermediate political positions. This is evident in the Israeli Palestinian conflict as the Al Aska Intifada grew between 2001 and 2004. Israeli Prime Minister Barak was replaced with hardliner Ariel Sharon, and moderate Palestinians became harder and harder to find. As in the Palestinian situation, in highly escalated conflicts moderates are often forced out of the discussion as extreme factions label moderates as "collaborators" or traitors. Moderates may be driven into exile, intimidated into political silence, or even murdered by members of their own ethnic groups, as we have seen in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and Kashmir as well as Palestine and Israel (where the moderate leader Yitzak Rabin was murdered by one of his own extremist citizens.)

When those who take intermediate or moderate positions are marginalized or excluded, conflicts tend to become highly polarized. This marginalization of the "negotiating middle" tends to result in stalled negotiations and increased intractability. One means of breaking the negotiation impasse in intractable conflicts is to assist moderate individuals to gain political cohesion as a group and to understand their strategic significance in the negotiation process. [4] Outside parties might help to set up training programs and support networks for moderates who wish to employ cooperative and nonviolent conflict strategies. They can also bring moderates together in informal track II processes such as problem-solving workshops, which may help establish personal relationships and develop innovative ideas which might be pursued later when more moderate views once again become acceptable.

[1] "Guidelines for Mediating Multi-party Disputes"

[2] Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflict, Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefiled. 2012. p. 273-274 <>. Original citation to page 294 of 2003 version

[3] Mohammed Abu-Nimer. "Nonviolent Voices in Israel and Palestine"

[4] Michael Salla. "Private Peacemaking: USIP-Assisted Peacemaking Projects of Nonprofit Organizations" <>.

Use the following to cite this article:
Maiese, Michelle. "Moderates." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2004 <>.

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