I wish I could talk intelligently about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I took an honors class about the region back in college. I read Friedman’s book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, and I did some research and wrote my own paper.1 Since then, I have read about the region with curiosity and think I have a good grasp on the players.
But in the years since that class, I have also met people from both sides of the conflict. Actual displaced Palestinians, and Israelis of left and right political stripes have both been my friend. They talked to me about what they think is happening there and I am more confused than enlightened having talked to them.
My real confusion though comes from another class I took, long after the first one. I took a class on game theory. It was eye-opening and thought-provoking, plus it was one of the most challenging things I ever studied. I remember learning about the basics of the discipline including something called tit for tat theory. Without getting too much into any of it2 I was struck by the irrationality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when viewed through that lens.
The history of the conflict is not even agreeable between the sides. However, by looking at the general tone of events, from far above as it were, we can see a tit for tat pattern.3 The Palestinians, or the Israelis—it doesn’t matter who moves first—does something bad, unforgivable, or just mean to the other side, and then the other side retaliates, followed by umbrage and more retaliations, truly ad infinitum, or really, ad insaniam.4
Which brings me back to wishing I could talk intelligently about the conflict. I have what should be a well-developed toolkit for doing so. I have actual personal knowledge gained from talking to real people. And, I just can’t do it. I see too much right in theory on both sides, and far, far too much wrong on both sides.
I feel like the world needs to tell both of them to go to their corner and to work it out, quickly, among themselves, or we’ll work it out for them. Draw all new lines and tell them, either make this work or we won’t talk to either one of you. Of course, that won’t happen.
So, I can’t talk intelligently about it. That doesn’t mean I won’t try. I just really hope that I don’t have to talk about a war. Those are much easier to talk about—everyone loses.
- I don’t remember what it was about, and the file is in some long-dead format, but I did get an A in the class, so it must have been at least adequate for an honors course. ↩
- Although you should, it’s a really great way of looking at human problem solving. ↩
- In fact, it would be more accurate to call it a two tits for tat pattern. However, I can’t remember if that is an actual strategy that Axelrod looked at, it sounds reasonable. ↩
- I don’t know latin, I used Google Translate, so if it’s wrong, take it up with them; the point is that it’s nuts. ↩