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 is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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