Seeking an Israel Palestine solution via rational-choice theory

Triggered by the desire to calibrate the value of the game theory research of Bruce Bueno De Mesquita (BDM) I found a useful review of his work by Michael Lerner. Following is a sample from the article — of BDM’s thoughts on more effective approaches to the Middle East conflict:

Recently, he’s applied his science to come up with some novel ideas on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In my view, it is a mistake to look for strategies that build mutual trust because it ain’t going to happen. Neither side has any reason to trust the other, for good reason,” he says. “Land for peace is an inherently flawed concept because it has a fundamental commitment problem. If I give you land on your promise of peace in the future, after you have the land, as the Israelis well know, it is very costly to take it back if you renege. You have an incentive to say, “˜You made a good step, it’s a gesture in the right direction, but I thought you were giving me more than this. I can’t give you peace just for this, it’s not enough.’ Conversely, if we have peace for land–you disarm, put down your weapons, and get rid of the threats to me and I will then give you the land–the reverse is true: I have no commitment to follow through. Once you’ve laid down your weapons, you have no threat.

Bueno de Mesquita’s answer to this dilemma, which he discussed with the former Israeli prime minister and recently elected Labor leader Ehud Barak, is a formula that guarantees mutual incentives to cooperate. “In a peaceful world, what do the Palestinians anticipate will be their main source of economic viability? Tourism. This is what their own documents say. And, of course, the Israelis make a lot of money from tourism, and that revenue is very easy to track. As a starting point requiring no trust, no mutual cooperation, I would suggest that all tourist revenue be [divided by] a fixed formula based on the current population of the region, which is roughly 40 percent Palestinian, 60 percent Israeli. The money would go automatically to each side. Now, when there is violence, tourists don’t come. So the tourist revenue is automatically responsive to the level of violence on either side for both sides. You have an accounting firm that both sides agree to, you let the U.N. do it, whatever. It’s completely self-enforcing, it requires no cooperation except the initial agreement by the Israelis that they are going to turn this part of the revenue over, on a fixed formula based on population, to some international agency, and that’s that.”

As we have learned, “incentives matter”, in foreign policy just as in economics. Surely BDM’s proposal would at least improve the possibility of future cooperation. Will it take two generations of such policies to wash away enough of the Palestinian indoctrination of their young?

BDM founded Decision Insights Incorporated in 1981 and the New York consulting firm Mesquita & Roundell in 2003, but has been consulting independently for years for clients in the private sector and for a long list of governments:

…As one of the foremost scholars of game theory–or “rational choice,” as its political-science practitioners prefer to call it–Bueno de Mesquita is at the center of a raging hullabaloo that has taken over some of the most prestigious halls of learning in this country. Exclusive, highly complex mathematically, and messianic in its certainty of universal truths, rational-choice theory is not only changing the way political science is taught, but the way it’s defined.

To verify the accuracy of his model, the CIA set up a kind of forecasting face-off that pit predictions from his model against those of Langley’s more traditional in-house intelligence analysts and area specialists. “We tested Bueno de Mesquita’s model on scores of issues that were conducted in real time–that is, the forecasts were made before the events actually happened,” says Stanley Feder, a former high-level CIA analyst. “We found the model to be accurate 90 percent of the time,” he wrote. Another study evaluating Bueno de Mesquita’s real-time forecasts of 21 policy decisions in the European community concluded that “the probability that the predicted outcome was what indeed occurred was an astounding 97 percent.” What’s more, Bueno de Mesquita’s forecasts were much more detailed than those of the more traditional analysts. “The real issue is the specificity of the accuracy,” says Feder. “We found that DI (Directorate of National Intelligence) analyses, even when they were right, were vague compared to the model’s forecasts. To use an archery metaphor, if you hit the target, that’s great. But if you hit the bull’s eye–that’s amazing.”

Lerner closes with “A sample of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s wilder–and most accurate–predictions”

Forecasted the second Intifada and the death of the Mideast peace process, two years before it happened.

Defied Russia specialists by predicting who would succeed Brezhnev. “The model identified Andropov, who nobody at the time even considered a possibility,” he says.

Predicted that Daniel Ortega and the Sandanistas would be voted out of office in Nicaragua, two years before it happened.

Four months before Tiananmen Square, said China’s hardliners would crack down harshly on dissidents.

Predicted France’s hair’s-breadth passage of the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty.

Predicted the exact implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Britain and the IRA.

Predicted China’s reclaiming of Hong Kong and the exact manner the handover would take place, 12 years before it happened.

For readers interested in a deeper assessment of Bueno de Mesquita’s work, see his 17-page CV at NYU [PDF].

1 thought on “Seeking an Israel Palestine solution via rational-choice theory

  1. So much has been written about the Arab-Israel conflicts. It is almost universally accepted that this small piece of the Land on the meeting point of the two continents of Asia and Africa is the greatest flash-point in the world- the most violent, volatile and dangerous one. While at the basic level, it is a dispute between Israel and Palestinians, on a broader level it can be extended and linked to the so-called “Clash of the Civilizations” as enunciated by Huntington.
    The current ongoing violence is only one more example in this long and uninterrupted series of violence, death and destruction. While it is very difficult for any definite and final stating of facts in any matter related with the Palestine-Israel conflicts because of the distortion of facts, figures and the accompanied truth in the process, what is generally accepted is that this time it was Israel which attacked the Gaza strip which has been given to the Palestinian population as a result of the Oslo agreements. It is also being believed that the Israeli army and Air force have made many brutal and damaging attacks on the Palestinian civilian population in this region in which many innocent people including even hapless women and children have lost their lives or have been severely injured. Israel, on the other hand, blames the Palestinians, particularly the Hamas for propagating incessant violence and openly proclaims that whatever Israel is doing is only in its self-defence.
    As far as the world reaction is concerned, there is a extreme polarization between the two groups. There is no doubt that both Israel and Palestine have their own traditional friends and foes. Then there are others who are seen shifting their positions as per the context and circumstances. USA is the staunchest Israeli ally and the Arab world is generally pro-Palestine. As far as their condemning or protecting either of these two sides is concerned, it generally depends on the siding with two parties.
    If one talks to a Palestinian, one will come to believe that there is no one worse than an Israeli in this world. He will present himself as the epitome of all the virtues and pious intentions and will call Israelis with all sorts of names. To them, the entire burden of the conflict will shift on Israel for having committed all sorts of atrocities on Palestine and its people, including taking away their land and displacing them from their beloved homeland. If, at all, Palestine is resorting to any violence, it is only as a last resort- simply to save itself. An Israeli’s opinion will be exactly the same. For him, a Palestinian will be a cheater, a thief, a mercenary, a hateful creature, a most unscrupulous person, a thug, a rogue and a spiteful chap. Again, he will present himself as a gentle, sublime, decent, ethical, aesthetic, simple and law-abiding person who has been condemned, persecuted, prosecuted and harmed for centuries.
    So, which of these two groups is true- the Israeli or the Palestinians? To me it seems that the truth, like so many such cases, lies somewhere in between. In fact a general overview of the situation would let people understand that the real guilt lies in the extraneous situations and the circumstances and not with these two affected parties. While this does not mean that both these parties are holier-than-thou or have nothing to do with the hateful violence but it can be easily said that much more than their fault, it is the fault of the third parties, the external ones which has today resulted in such an anomalous and difficult situation having crept in where there is one baby with two fathers. The only practical and feasible solution is a two-nation solution, as and when it gets mutually accepted and practically implemented. It might be in the form of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for Palestinians and the rest to Israel or in any other suitable form.
    But why the conflict? The conflict arises from competing Jewish and Arab national aspirations for the same region which one of them calls and believes to be Palestine (a the land they had been living for the last thousand years or so) and the other as Israel (the mythical promised homeland of the world-wide Jews). And the real culprit are the powerful and self-seeking European Nations, Britain being in lead, who left behind so many artificial and non-ending disputes all over the places they ruled and where they created so many irregular, unwarranted and illogical barriers and boundaries that suited them. In this particular case, the British played simultaneously with these two Nationalities making conflicting promises to both in the forms of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was only because of this two-mouthed British policy that tensions between Arab and Jewish groups in the region erupted into physical violence resulting in so many riots. And when the British thought that the heat being generated out of this was too much for it to handle, it left the place one fine morning leaving the place to simmer and burn with intermittent volcanic eruptions since then.
    In 1947, the U.N. did approve the partition of the land but the Arabs of that time underestimated Israelis resulting in the ill-fated Arab-Israel war of 1948.
    Without going into any further history, I would end this Article by saying that the Arab-Israel conflict is an extremely sad, ill fated and misfortunate saga of blood and gory. Thousands of innocent people on both the sides have died, giving rise to so many heroes and villains on both sides of border.
    But who is the real enemy- once it was Britain and today, it is both of them who are still behaving like the illegitimate fratricidal children of Britain. And what is the way out? The only way out is peaceful, mutual coexistence, without going into the detailed analysis of who did what and who is responsible for what putrid acts. Because getting down to that is like opening a Pandora’s box where there would be no ending to accusations and counter-accusations. So, peace would reign in this region, as and when it finally does, only when they both realize that they don’t have the capacity to exterminate the other and will go on to exist in each-other’s neighbourhood. So why not say enough is enough and accept the other side, even with complete distaste.

    Dr Nutan Thakur,
    Nutan Satta Pravah,

Comments are closed.