The Human Factor




An insight into negotiations over the Palestinian question as recalled by Americans who took part in them.

Human Factor, The 
Gamal Helal, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat


Dror Moreh's latest documentary is very much modelled on his earlier success from 2012, The Gatekeepers.  This new work takes as its subject the many years of negotiations related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict whereas its predecessor looked in detail at the workings of Shin Bet, Israel's International Security Service. But, if the subject matter is different, the tone is the same. Moreh makes serious films for serious people. Both pieces use archive footage but in each the prime focus is on fresh interviews in which those seen reflect on matters of historical significance in which they were personally involved. Consequently, talk is central and it's intelligent talk. Moreh refuses to worry about those who might accuse him of making a film in which talking heads dominate and there is no attempt to popularise the presentation to appeal to a wider audience.


It is probably by chance, but the similarities between The Gatekeepers and The Human Factor even extend to placing at the centre six individuals possessed of inside knowledge. Here those six comprise American negotiators who can speak with authority as they take a detailed look back with particular emphasis on the period between 1993 and 2000: these key figures are Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Daniel Kurtzer, Aaron David Miller, Gamal Helal and Robert Malley. They were the crucial figures acting on behalf of President Clinton whose efforts to find a settlement show him in a very positive light even though the Camp David negotiations in 2000 would end in failure.


While The Human Factor has won much praise, there have also been a few voices questioning its balance, but that seems unfair. A written statement at the outset confirms that the film has a very precise focus which is how the U.S.A. negotiators saw and played their role. That said, Moreh is ready to add a personal comment on occasion as when he questions possible bias arising from five out of six appointed to the team of negotiators being Jewish (Helal was the only one of Arab descent). In any case what we see and hear is no record of self-congratulation since several of the interviewees, not least Miller, are quite open in criticising what in retrospect was ineptly done.


But if success was elusive - and seems even more so today in the light of heightened current hostilities - The Human Factor lives up to its title through its insights into the importance of the personalities and character of all who came together in this way. That the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin should have been assassinated in 1995 was more than a personal tragedy since it was his outlook and his ability to make the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat overcome his feelings of mistrust that brought the possibility of peace nearer than it would be at any other time. This film has an advantage over The Gatekeepers in that it follows chronological order throughout and that makes it easier to follow for those on less than familiar terms with the subject matter. If there is any concession at all to softening up the material, it is to be found in the frequent use of a music score, but Eugene Levitas thankfully provides one that stays well in the background. As for the foreground, its great value lies in the intelligent and sometimes self-critical talk which will undoubtedly be a treasure trove for historians who come to study this conflict and wish to look at it from this angle.




Featuring  Dennis Ross, Gamal Helal, Aaron David Miller, Martin Indyk, Daniel Kurtzer, Robert Malley.


Dir Dror Moreh, Pro Dror Moreh and Teddy Leifer, Screenplay Oron Adar and Dror Moreh, Ph Kobi Zaig, Art Dir Niranjan Siva, Ed Oron Adar, Music Eugene Levitas.


Rise Films/DMP Films-Dogwoof.
106 mins. UK/Israel. 2019. Rel: 21 May 2021. Cert. 15.