Monday, March 15, 2010

A game-theoretic take on Middle East Peace


By my count, there have been at least 10 major outbursts of violence between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East since 1936.

Every one of these conflicts ended in a similar way. Either outside powers imposed a ceasefire -- or else Israel halted military operations just before a ceasefire could be imposed.

Every one of these conflicts began in a similar way, too: with a renewed attack by the Arab side, or else (as in 1956 or 1967) by Arab violations of the terms of the previous armistice or ceasefire.

Think for a minute how unusual this is. Wars usually end when one side or the other decides it cannot continue fighting. The losing side accepts terms it had formerly deemed unacceptable because the alternative -- continued fighting -- seems even worse."


And more:



Egypt lost the Sinai Peninsula in 1956, but got it back. It lost the Sinai again in 1967, and again recovered it (although this time the right way, after signing a formal peace).

Syria lost the Golan in 1967, attacked Israel in 1973, lost again -- and still demands the return of the territory.

Palestinians rejected the 1947 partition, resorted to war, lost, and to this day demand compensation for their losses.

It's like a game of roulette where the management stops the game whenever you begin losing too badly, with promises to refund your money as soon as it conveniently can. What gambler could resist returning to the tables?

I understand why Western governments have acted as they have. They have feared that unless they somehow smooth the situation, the world oil market will be upset and radical ideologies will spread through the Islamic world.

What they don't see is that their efforts to contain the problem have in fact aggravated it.

Imagine this alternative history:

Suppose that the Western world had not intervened in 1949. Suppose the Israeli war of independence had been fought to the bitter end: Arab armies breaking apart and fleeing, commanders laying down their arms, columns of refugees crossing the Jordan River.

The 1949 war would have ended not with an armistice, but with a surrender. Palestinian refugees would have had to settle in new homes, just as the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from their former homes in the Arab lands resettled in Israel.

The outcome would have squelched any hope that more fighting would have yielded a different result -- and the more decisive result might have dissuaded Arab governments from any further attempts to resort to force."



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