UN Resolution, Settlements, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Essentially, there are two schools of thought about almost everything, so why not about the Middle East?

One group believes in military force, as a solution for controlling aggression and for keeping order, while the other group believes in appeasement, where moderation is more likely to ensure that people change and restrain their behavior.

This disagreement has no resolution, not only because there is no way to test these theories, but also because, even if there were, it would be rendered inapplicable by different times, locales, circumstances and cultures.

We know that different cultures comprise different temperaments and dynamics. Some utilize more peaceful conflict resolution methods, while for others, aggression is the only solution. Thus, it is not only the human condition that is at play, but one that is subject to the society on which we focus.

The challenge arises, as to which approach to take in the Middle East, where the international community has been trying to apply pressure on Israel for decades and is demanding that it moderate its military responses to Palestinian aggression, in order to give peace a chance.

However, after all these years it appears that those who are inflicting pressure on Israel may have their own motives, starting with anti-Zionist attitudes by some, to others projecting their own liberal western values. They do so in total ignorance of the nature of the Middle East culture, where Manhood is the top value, earned primarily through aggression. Just as in ancient Sparta, where a boy would be sent into the wilderness to survive or die as a test to prove his worth to be considered a man, so it is in the Arab society, where aggression and retribution, are the only ways of life.

If your sister dishonored the family, you must kill her. Poisoning your adversary or knifing him, even as a guest in your own home, is an honored tradition. Possession of arms is a must and these are but few of the many customs that are passed along in the public square, as well as in the home, where they are diffused via every mother’s milk.

What we do have plenty of are opinions, ideologies and politicians who say much to project their ego or their ideology, which are often one and the same, but who prove little or nothing in the way of presenting a correlation between their mantra and reality.

One person who does have something important to say about the subject is Donald Kagan, a celebrated historian at Yale University, who specializes in analyzing war. His 1995 book, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, presents a brilliant analysis of why states go to war, and it helps to project some light onto our own conflict.

Kagan reveals an undeniable correlation between willingness to fight and the unfolding of war. He argues for clear messages and strong positions. His most relevant conclusion is that appeasement is responsible for more wars than strong positions had ever been.

Or we can say it in Latin: Si vis pacem, para bellum. “If You Want Peace, Prepare for War”.

One could argue that whenever Israel reached out in peace to the Palestinians, it ended up in the escalation of the conflict which had cost a great loss of life on both sides. There were many grand peace offerings, such as withdrawal from most of the West Bank in the 1990s and from Gaza in 2005. Instead of producing peace, they were perceived by the Palestinians as appeasement efforts forced on Israel, which emboldened them further and bolstered their commitment to fight. This is a fact which the Anti-Israel parties like to disregard or minimize.

This reality is what Israel’s representatives mean when they warn that the new UN resolution is more likely to incite war than to bring about peace.

Still, we are not looking for excuses but earnestly searching for a path to resolution.

The original view of appeasement was articulated by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and American Journalist Thomas L. Friedman in his famous 1989 memoir From Beirut to Jerusalem. Friedman argues that then, as now, Israel cannot fight their way out of the conflict and that its military option is running out. Friedman foresees the possibility of Israel going the way of Lebanon:

If forced to confront the real and passionate ideological differences in their country [Israelis] could end up like the Lebanese: arguing first in the parliament and then in the streets. Palestinians, must adopt a two-pronged tactic, combining the stick of non-lethal civil disobedience and the carrot of explicit recognition.

While it was received to great acclaim in the US, after suffering a terrible blow in the Lebanon War when close to 200 of its soldiers were killed in a terror attack, we know that none of Friedman’s views have materialized. While Israel has had its inner conflicts, it survived a bitterly fought campaign of withdrawal from Gaza and it is still a true democracy, where even Israel’s enemies have safe representation in its parliament. As for the Palestinians, civil disobedience is as far from Arab culture as is their willingness to recognize Israel. And Israel’s army is still strong and in control of the arena, despite Iran’s effort to destabilize it.

The Oslo Accord that took place only a few years later, opened the path for Israel’s withdrawal from most of the territories – even after Rabin’s assassination. But instead of promoting peace, the withdrawal sparked a new wave of terror. This forced Israel to recapture the same land from which they had withdrawn – suffering high casualties while taking great care to minimize collateral damage to civilians. This background is as factual and impartial as it is critical for understanding the dynamics of the conflict.

So much for facts! But we cannot move on without sliding into some of the prevailing theories about the conflict:

  • There is reason to believe that the flow of money into the corrupt leadership of Fatah, that rules the PA in the West Bank and the murderous Hamas in Gaza, has kept these terror organizations from being pressured to change. These are the same organizations that take pride in murdering innocent civilians, while the world confuses them with freedom fighters. They continue to celebrate martyrdom in the public square, and force their biased educational material upon children from an early age to become martyrs.
  • The Palestinians see themselves as the front line of fundamentalist militant Islam’s fight against the West and is supported by Iran to advance its interest in destabilizing the region and pushing the US out of the Middle East. Thus, they are not acting in their own self-interest but are ultimately just pawns in the Muslim’s struggle for Jihad.
  • As long as the conflict is internationalized, the Palestinians believe that they have no reason to negotiate. Hence they continue daydreaming that Israel will be somehow dissolved by the international community, if only they continue the BDS campaign, and UN resolutions that condemn Israel.
  • And then comes the Prisoner’s dilemma, which is a game theory paradigm that promises a prize, freedom or incarceration, contingent upon two sides’ cooperation. It shows why two completely “rational” individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so.

A game show called Golden Balls, which was built around this concept, aired in Britain in 2008. Its outcome demonstrated that almost 50% of its finalists were willing to risk losing everything in a gamble to defeat the other and seize the entire prize for themselves. The ‘game’ presented little evidence that the participant’s propensity to cooperate depends on the likelihood that their opponent will cooperate.

Israel’s tactics follows the same premise as it tries to communicate to the Palestinian people that it is interested in peaceful coexistence; but, at the same time, it asserts the consequences to their continuous terrorist acts and their delusion of wiping Israel off the map.

It is obvious by now that the Palestinians have never intended to honor any of the agreements that they have signed. Arafat wasted precious opportunities in pursuing the Islamic strategy of deception – also known as ‘taqiyya’, where one may be untruthful in an agreement in order to defeat an enemy. Abbas doesn’t even bother to negotiate and is gambling on the international community’s forcing Israel to its knees.

Following the withdrawal from Gaza, the election of Hamas, and thousands of casualties, time and again Israel demonstrated its willingness to make sacrifices for peace. Unfortunately, the international community doesn’t understand the situation, and in their rush to judge Israel and impose a solution, they are only perpetuating the stalemate.

Recent conviction of an Israeli soldier who killed a terrorist while he was already down and injured, even though that terrorist had tried to kill Israelis, reminded the world that Israel is committed to high moral values. It mocks the condemnation of Israel for its ‘human rights violations’ in the face of the brutal slaughters of tens of thousands of civilians in neighboring Syria, without denunciation at any of the UN’s agencies.

We need to remember that, although later facilitated by the US, the only successful Israeli-Arab conflict resolutions have been the two that were arrived at originally by the parties themselves. In both instances, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin made peace directly, as did Jordan’s King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhack Rabin

All other initiatives pushed upon Israel by eager international parties are doomed to fail. If only they would all leave the Israelis and Palestinians to find their way, without parading them on, front and center, in the five-ring circus of the international media, the two sides may find a realistic and practical way of ending the conflict.

Israel cannot be expected to commit suicide by repeating the mistakes of the past and rely on the Palestinians to cooperate after they have breached every agreement. They are trying to pursue the only tested outcome in this predicament – by following Kagan’s historical conclusions and in asserting the price Palestinians must pay if they keep their fantasies that Israel is forced to capitulate. For now, Israel continues to demonstrate to the Palestinians that their dreams of destroying Israel are costing them by having Jewish settlements growing and expanding in their midst – fighting destruction with construction.

Anwar Sadat said in an interview, following his historical trip to Jerusalem, that the impetus for his decision to follow the path for peace was his realization after the Arab loss in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, that they had exhausted their options for war and that Israel could not be defeated.

Accordingly, it may be the very settlements the world considers the obstacle to peace, that will one day convince the Palestinians that the price they are paying for their fantasies is too great.

People tend to identify with the victim, but in the case of the Palestinians, this is a perception – mostly perpetuated by the media. Palestinians live better than their neighboring brethren in the region and their victimhood has been debunked time and again, yet it is repeated by the manipulation of journalists (who are often collaborators) and indiscriminate editors, who bring to the public images that have been staged or claims that have been proven wrong. Nevertheless, the public mindset has been impacted with the narrative of a Palestinian David fighting an Israeli Goliath. This flawed chronicle, plus old fashion anti-Semitism, creates the backwind that is pushing anti-Israel resolutions at the UN and leads towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. This will cause further escalation of hostilities and will encourage the emergence of extreme parties in Israel who’ll try to do away with Israel’s democratic institutions or worse, turn it into a police state. This is the real problem, where an ill-informed ignorant world is forcing Israel to commit suicide. Will it be a surprise when the world finds out that it has blown up in its face?

Politicians have no right to sacrifice Israel in order to test the limits of their imagination.

Maybe there should be a Hippocratic Oath administrated for statesmen and politicians.

First rule – Do no Harm!

About the Author
Soli now lives in the US, but he was born in Romania and later lived in Israeli boarding school Hadasim, as part of the Aliyat Hanoar. He served in the Israeli Air Force, and graduated with a degree in architecture from the Technion. After settling in Jaffa, he moved to the US and had several businesses. He has been married for 37+ years, and is the father of 4 and grandfather of 4.
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