In 1974 US newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Over the course of the next three months she warmed to their cause and embraced it; she slung an M1 carbine over her shoulder and pulled a bank robbery for them.

Hearst may be the classic example of the Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which hostages eventually identify with their captors.

I bumped into a professional negotiator in the street in Hobart this week. We discussed the interminable Tasmanian forest peace talks that have gone on for something like two years now. “It’s a mess, a blend of the Stockholm syndrome and the Abilene paradox,” he mused.

If you have never heard of it, you will soon comprehend the Abilene paradox and appreciate how common it is. A family member suggests that they all drive 53 miles to Abilene that night for dinner. One by one they agree. Great idea. They drive to Abilene; the meal sucks. And on the way home they all confide they actually didn’t want to go to Abilene in the first place.

So do we have the Tasmanian forest negotiators stuck somewhere between Stockholm and Abilene?

Last night, they revealed the detail of an interim agreement to end the 30-year war in the Tasmanian forests, the war between an industry that goes back to European settlement and an environmental movement that goes back to the battle to stop the Hydro Electric Commission flooding Lake Pedder and that then evolved into the battle to save the Franklin River and then the forests.

The forest negotiators, representing the industry, contractors, unions and conservationists, own no trees but lay claim to the public forest estate for their own ends. At stake is 572,000 hectares, purportedly the latest holy grail for conservationists (though Bob Brown reckons it should be 585,000 hectares and all protected as World Heritage or in national parks).

As the negotiators pore over the maps to share the spoils and run their calculators over compensation to sawmillers and contractors for lost opportunities, Deputy Premier Bryan Green and federal forests minister Tony Burke shout the pizzas.

Meanwhile, the private forest industry, mainly farmers responsible for 26% of the total forest cover here, don’t get a look in, don’t figure in the calculations as the infrastructure of a key component of their industry (fellers, trucks, sawmills) is decimated.

The interim agreement revealed yesterday does not expose how much land the industry has been prepared to cede to the conservationists, nor where, nor their protection status. Nor do we know where the industry will source sufficient timber to maintain viability.

It is understood that they have agreed to lock up about 525,000 hectares, most of it in the original ambit claim and that the sawlog target is down to 130,000-140,000 cubic metres a year. (In 1997 Tasmania’s Regional Forest Agreement had provided for a minimum 300,000 cubic metres.) The latest proposition has been sent off to Forestry Tasmania to do yet more modelling to determine if it can work. We wait another four to six weeks for the response. The previous modelling work does not provide any confidence that the targets can be matched.

Devoid of that detail, the interim agreement is a collection of motherhood statements. While it talks about government compensation to those leaving the industry, we are not told of the guarantees the conservation groups — the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society and Environment Tasmania — are able to give that will rein in the opposition to, and the market sabotage of, the Tasmanian forest industry. Today these three groups are the moderates in a field of campaigners.

So, we look at the faces of the principal negotiators, Terry Edwards of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania and Phill Pullinger of Environment Tasmania, to try to glean whether they are in Stockholm, Abilene or really going nowhere.

*Bruce Montgomery is a former political correspondent with The Australian and former communications manager with the Forests and Forest Industry Council.