Friday, July 19, 2013

If John Kerry Is Serious About Israel - Palestinian Peace, He Should "Get Game"

Even if John Kerry is right that after 6 visits to the Middle East he has been able to narrow the differences between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, at best all that means is that he is close to getting the two sides to where they were before Obama gave Abbas the idea of insisting on the freezing of settlements as a pre-condition to sitting down and talking with Israel.

Instead, if he really is serious about accomplishing something here -- Kerry should get wise to the game Abbas is playing and just go home. Because that is what this is all about: a game.

Three years ago, Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann wrote about the "Blackmailer's Paradox" and Israel's Conflict as Game Theory:

Two men—let us call them Reuben and Simon—are put in a small room containing a suitcase filled with bills totaling $100,000. The owner of the suitcase announces the following:
“ I will give you the money in the suitcase under one condition…you have to negotiate an agreement on how to divide it. That is the only way I will agree to give you the money.”
Reuben is a rational person and realizes the golden opportunity that has fallen his way. He turns to Simon with the obvious suggestion: “You take half and I’ll take half, that way each of us will have $50,000.”

To his surprise, Simon frowns at him and says, in a tone that leaves no room for doubt: “Look here, I don’t know what your plans are for the money, but I don’t intend to leave this room with less than $90,000. If you accept that, fine. If not, we can both go home without any of the money.”
In the end, seeing no other option, Reuben decides he has no choice and, rather than getting nothing, accedes to Simon's demands.

Israel has a history of giving in to the demands of the "Palestinian" Arabs, and now we see Kerry doing the same thing. The Arabs present impossible demands and stand firm, sure of themselves and in what they are demanding. They make it clear to Israel that they are not going to back down.

Kerry's 6 trips with nothing to show for it but his assurances that he is getting closer to a solution is not fooling anybody.

Instead, Professor Aumann presents a solution that requires changing basic perceptions in order to win in the long term:

  1. Willingness to forego agreements:

    Kerry has made it clear that he places a high priority on Israel - Palestinian peace, and that Middle East peace rests on the resolution of this issue.
    In the Blackmailer’s Paradox, Reuben’s behavior is the result of his feeling that he must leave the room with some money, no matter how little. Because Reuben cannot imagine himself leaving the room with empty hands, he is easy prey for Simon, and ends up leaving with a certain amount of money, but in the role of the humiliated loser.
    One can argue that Kerry is doing even less -- leaving with nothing, and thus having to claim that there is movement.

  2. Taking repetition into account:

    Aumann writes:
    Game theory relates to onetime situations differently than to situations that repeat themselves. A situation that repeats itself over any length of time, creates, paradoxically, strategic parity that leads to cooperation between the opposing sides. This cooperation occurs when both sides realize that the game is going to repeat itself, and that since they must weigh the influence present moves will have on future games, there is a balancing factor at play.
    Clearly Kerry has the repetition side of this into account, but what he has not done is impress upon Abbas that he will not forego Abbas sitting down with Netanyahu.

    As Aumann notes:
    It is probably true that he would still have left the game empty handed, but at the next meeting with Simon, the latter would remember Reuben’s original suggestion and would try to reach a compromise.
    This way by looking at the long term, it is possible to improve the position in future negotiations, even if it means continuing a state of tension and foregoing faux announcements of progress.

  3. Faith in your opinions:

    To counter the Abbas's apparently unwavering belief that pre-conditions must be met. The only solution, according to Aumann, is for Kerry, in this case, to really believe in the righteousness of his cause that Abbas must sit down with Israel -- and thus convince Abbas into taking Kerry's claim seriously.
Read the whole thing.

Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann
Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann can teach Kerry
how the game should be played. Credit: Wiki Commons

One thing is for sure, Kerry is currently failing to impress anybody -- least of all Abbas.

Of course, there is one major difference between Reuben and Simon and our case here: Kerry and the US has leverage, both in terms of funds and political pressure.

It is one thing for Kerry to be kept waiting for hours to meet with Putin.
Unless Kerry is content to wait indefinitely for Abbas, it is time to make clear to Abbas that the US is not playing a game.


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