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Why Israel Surrenders: The Blackmailer’s Paradox

Why Israel Surrenders: The Blackmailer’s Paradox

Associate Editor

Prof. Robert (Yisrael) Aumann, the 2005 Nobel Prize winner in economics for his work on "game theory" analysis (see his excellent accceptance speech here), was born in Germany only to have emigrated two weeks before Kristallnacht. He has often applied game theory to the Israel-Arab conflict, exploring the reasons why Israel seems to be negotiating its surrender rather than a serious and lasting peace. Here’s Aumann’s most recent (and brilliant) analysis.

Too often we hear that Israel’s crisis can be solved through public relations. That presumes that the "other side" is open to the persuasion similar to what might convince a Pepsi drinker to be drinking Coke, instead, or what can persuade an independent voter to vote for one candidate instead of another. The essential premise is the conflict is just a matter of habit, or a misunderstanding, and that if the open-minded consumer is presented with a slick enough campaign, he or she can be convinced to drink Bud instead of Coors, because we can be so clever on behalf of our client that our cleverness is all that counts. The Lakers fan can be turned into a Clippers fan, if only the Clippers used our p.r. guys. That’s all it would take.

Of course, the real Lakers fan would never become a Clippers fan just because of an ad campaign, and the real Palestinian fan isn’t going to become an Israel fan, especially when all the popular kids and "mean girls" in the global high school are in the Palestinian clique.

Aumann’s game theory attacks the problem from an entirely different direction. The idea isn’t convincing the other guys to like you, or to even be civil to you. The idea is to convince them that you’re prepared to walk; that you’re thinking long-term, not just Obama’s term; that you convince yourself that you’re playing for keeps, that you have the winning hand, that you’re the meanest dog in the junk yard — showing your teeth, even as you smile — and in the process you convince your opponent, too.

It’s not that different from the game theory of dating or relationships, where the person who makes it clear that he or she "has a life" and is less available, therefore becomes more desireable than the person who lets it be known he or she has no life or options other than waiting for the desired person to call, the relationship version of "peace now," all your cards on the table, no mystery, no threat of ever walking away.

Everyone — Jews on the left and right — agree on the goal: an end to hostility. The end goal for everyone — and Israel — is a real and honest love (peace). The way to get there is cold, calculated strategy, or game theory.

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