During President Obama’s tenure at the White House, the U.S. lost much of its global stature, mostly in the Middle East. Thus far, Obama failed to realize any objectives earmarked as foreign-policy priorities. He is perceived, by enemies and friends alike, as a weak, inexperienced leader who does not know how and where to lead America. The doubts regarding his conduct grew in recent months, following his zigzags, contradictory attitude, and inexplicable evasions in respect to the massive unrest and demonstrations in the Arab world.
Now, the assassination of Osama bin Laden may grant Barack Obama an opportunity to restore America’s global and regional status and regain its leadership position. However, the jury is still out concerning Obama’s intentions regarding Israel should he be reelected for a second term, free of political constraints. In case Obama has not noticed, the “peace process” that he advocates at every opportunity is not a game. It is more of a war process, with the aim being Israel’s destruction. When Prime Minister Netanyahu appears before both houses of Congress in May, he should state unequivocally that Israel is done playing games.
Professor Robert Aumann, an Israeli-American who was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 2005 for his work on conflict and cooperation through game theory analysis, suggests that Israel has fallen into the trap of the “blackmailer’s paradox.”
Aumann uses the analogy of two players who have been given a suitcase full of money, which they can keep only if they reach an agreement as to how much each player gets. One player declares unreasonably and without compromise that he will agree to nothing less than nine-tenths of the money. “Take it or leave it,” he says, “but you are not getting more than one-tenth.” The rational player is forced to agree to this injustice just to avoid ending up with no money at all.
The present Israeli approach is based on precisely this blackmailer’s paradox. Israel believes that some kind of agreement with the Arabs must be reached at all costs because the present situation is intolerable. But, at every negotiation, the Palestinian Arabs adopt positions that are totally unacceptable, such as the demand for the “right of return,” or even the blatantly anti-Semitic demand that while Palestinian Arabs have the right to live within Israel, yet no Jew can live within areas controlled by the Palestinian Arabs. So Israel is forced to yield to this blackmail and play along, otherwise Israel will be blamed by Obama and the Europeans for leaving the negotiating table with nothing to show and wrecking the “peace process.”
The solution, says Aumann, is for Israel to correctly employ the principles of game theory. This means first accepting that in the immediate future it may well leave the negotiating table with nothing, and that this is better than accepting any compromise on Israel’s security.
Second, it should realize that repeating a game many times changes the calculation made by each player. Israel’s refusal to play along endlessly and make compromises along the way would thus alter the balance of power, because the Palestinian Arabs would realize that they might end up with nothing unless they compromise.
Third, what is crucial is the player’s unshakable stance. This not only strengthens him in his conviction that he is right, but it even manages to convince his opponent, too. It thus totally undermines that opponent, forcing him to act irrationally against his own interests in order to reach a compromise.
This is exactly what has happened to Israel. Faced with Palestinian Arab intransigence and unwillingness to compromise on any issue, Israel has fallen for the blackmailer paradox over the years and responded by compromising, while the Palestinian Arabs have broken every agreement that they have signed. The most recent example of this is the newfound unity between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which is in direct violation of the Oslo agreement.
President Obama is demanding a new “peace initiative” for Israel, but the wisdom of such a move will be similar to all of Obama’s failures in the Middle East. Moreover, it will propagate the fallacy of a two-state solution. The fact that the Palestinian Authority leadership refuses to sit and negotiate with Israel leaves much of the world unperturbed, evoking Pavlovian responses about the need to pursue peace negotiations while there is a “window of opportunity” (whatever that means). A large part of the world deludes itself in believing that an understanding between Israel and the PA is within easy reach.
Nevertheless, the bad news is that the differences between Israelis and Palestinians are unbridgeable in this generation, and that Palestinian Arab society rather than being prepared to compromise for peace is indoctrinated with messages praising and admiring terrorists and suicide bombers who have murdered Israelis. Peace for generations can only be made with democratic regimes that honor human rights, and this is not the case as far as the Palestinian Arabs are concerned.
Prime Minister Netanyahu may be well advised to try, for once, telling Israel’s friends that while peace with the Palestinian Arabs is not a realistic goal, and unattainable at this time, Israel can still take certain measures to ameliorate the situation. Therefore, what Israel needs is not to pursue an illusive peace but to develop a coherent “game” strategy that will minimize the suffering on both sides of the Israel–Palestinian Arab divide. Only by adopting this strategy can Israel convey to the world that it’s time to stop playing games.