Rational Choice Theory and the Palestinian issue

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is one of the more interesting political scientists around today. de Mesquita essentially applies rational choice theory to model conflict and international politics — and with surprisingly accurate results. The latest GOOD Magazine features an interesting profile on de Mesquita and his work.

As the article notes, the CIA compared their models and intelligence against de Mesquita’s model and found that his model was accurate 90 percent of the time; and another study found his model predicted EU policy decisions with a remarkable 97 percent accuracy. It is therefore interesting to note de Mesquita’s proposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian 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.”


#1 James on 11.01.07 at 4:54 pm

Brilliant! Follow the money, that is the ticket. No peace, no geld that would get through both sides thick skulls quicker than a Teflon-coated bullet. A simple and elegant solution to a real Gordian knot of a problem. Instead of the UN have the Bundesbank or the Swiss handle the cash, they are much better in pinching the pennies and keeping overhead down. Don’t let Wolfowitz get within 500 miles of that money!

#2 Amir on 11.01.07 at 6:15 pm

It is a good idea though the devil is, of course, in the detail. I don’t know how the tourism revenue would be captured and then divided based on the agreed formula. Nonetheless, it’s a clever idea and provides some food for thought.

#3 UmmFarouq on 11.02.07 at 2:56 am

Indeed, it is a good idea on paper. I am thinking back to when I was in Jerusalem in 2000, watching the busloads of tourists pass by the area known as Mt. of Olives, which is home to the Church of the Ascension. While the (Western) tourists do visit the sites on the Arab side of Jerusalem, they really put their money into the hotels/bars/restaurants over on the Israeli side, which looks a lot like Southern California.

I don’t know; I think that the revenues would still come out quite lop-sided, in favor of the Israelis. Plus, the infrastructure on the Arab side is purposefully lacking, and unless it is improved, tourists are still going to prefer the land of milk & honey they see over ‘the wall.’

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