Problem-Solving 101- Israel’s Deep Rooted Crises

The deepest-rooted challenges tend to take the form of a zero-sum problem.

It means the more one side wins, the other side loses. A total victory for one side is a total loss for the other, and vice versa. A 75% win for one side, is a 75% loss for the other. And so on.

The key to complex problem-solving is to transform zero-sum challenges into positive-sum outcomes. It means that both sides win – the more one side wins, the more the other wins as well.

Rabbi Moshe Taragin gives a good example in a recent dvar Torah I heard. Israel was about to sign the Declaration of Independence. The secular signatories refused to sign if G-d was acknowledged. The religious signatories refused to sign if He wasn’t.

A typical zero sum problem – either G-d is acknowledged, the religious signatories win and the secular signatories lose; or G-d is not acknowledged, the secular signatories win and the religious signatories lose.

The solution – a reference to the ‘Rock of Israel’, which the religious could understand as acknowledgement of G-d, but the secular could understand as a reference to the Land itself. Both sides win – the Declaration of Independence is signed.

The key to positive-sum outcomes is to find a formulation which breaks down the either/or and transforms it into both.

Our most deep-rooted challenges today are expressed as zero-sum questions:

  1. Religious versus secular – either the country is religious, and the secular lose; or the country is secular and the religious lose. Transformation from negative-sum to positive-sum means, how to make the country religious and secular at the same time.
  2. Jews versus Arabs – either the Land is Jewish, and the Arabs lose; or the Land is Arab and the Jews lose. Transforming from negative-sum to positive-sum means, how to make the Land both Jewish and Arab at the same time.

Of course, some people do not want a positive-sum outcome. They want a total victory. But at what cost?

Alexander the Great famously asked the Sages of the South (Tamid 32), “who is a wise man?” They replied, “one who sees the consequences of his actions.”

Asks Avot d’Rabbi Natan (23), “who is a hero?”. The reply, “one who transforms an enemy into a friend”.

I believe, with due thought, there can be a way to convert both these problems from negative-sum to positive-sum in one integrated strategy that rethinks the classic Oslo two-state approach to peace. I will try to elaborate in the coming weeks. Shabbat shalom!

About the Author
Adam Gross, an Oxford-educated strategist, has over 20 years' experience solving complex problems in the international arena for United Nations agencies, international financial institutions, private sector, NGOs and social enterprises across Europe, Africa and Asia. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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