Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s game theory and the Israel-Palestine conflict

Professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a political scientist – specifically a mathematician specialising in game theory and rational theory. He produced a computer-based model that predicts the outcome of any international conflict, providing the initial input is accurate.  Unsurprisingly – because he works as if most things can be expressed in numbers – he’s a controversial figure, but he has a track record of accurate and – riskily for him – very specific predictions. He believes in being specific because, among other work, he advises the Pentagon.

Here is an excerpt on the Israel-Palestine conflict from a wider ranging and dramatically-titled piece The New Nostradamus in GOOD Magazine (I got to this via Marginal Revolution which was a click from the front page of Pickled Politics at the time).

“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.”

Just makes me think again about how I wish I was good at maths, I wish I understood game theory better and I wish more of this kind of conflict resolution was going on.


35 thoughts on “Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s game theory and the Israel-Palestine conflict

  1. It’s not a very good quiz, is it Morris? You might as well have asked, in 1930s Austria, who was the Jew and who the Aryan.

    My only point being that looks don’t amount to a hill of beans when some Palestinian leaders and clerics – not all, certainly, but not a marginal fringe either – are pumping out hatred of Jews.

    We should be really worried about Palestinians and their society, but there are enough people shoving Palporn like Mohamed Al Dura in our faces. It is nothing to do with bringing about answers. News for you – not thinking about it enough is not the problem here. The problem is that there are are no easy answers – certainly not for armchair idiots like you and me.

  2. One of the most common errors that expert economists make it to equate financial gain with utility. How does de Mesquita explain Egyptian radicals targeting tourists?
    His base analysis may be solid, to an extent, but his proposed solution is absurd. I hope no one in Washington takes him seriously.

    (p.s. believe me, I know these guys – I did a MSc in game theory).

  3. I didn’t know that!

    They do take him seriously – he’d made a lot of accurate predictions according to the article.

    To be fair, all tourist spots in London are heavily surveyed for terror not least from home grown bombers. I think Mesquitas was proposing to explicitly tie Israeli and Palestinian financial interests so that combatants and terrorists can’t bomb one without also hurting the other. Considering (take the IRA) that for many terrorists the act of terror is not fanaticism but involves a huge sacrifice of conscience (I can’t provide a source sorry) this might work – there will always be fringe fanatics this won’t work for, but for your common or garden tactical bomber… It will also provide a reason – if there is any room for Israel to think twice about an incursion – to think do just that.

    I hope that doesn’t sound too glib – not meant to.

  4. How does Mesquita’s application of game theory to the Israel/Palestinian conflict compare to Robert Auman’s? Around the time Auman won his Nobel (2005), he posited that the conflict would continue for another 90 years, but can’t recall why or what alternatives he saw or didn’t see to the “land for peace” thing that most people see as key.

  5. As for Beuno de Mesquito’s proposal itself, I’m not sure a fixed ratio division of tourism revenue works a whole lot better than land for peace. The Islamists not only damage Israel’s tourism economy by raining rockets on it and deploying suicide bombers, they have also wrecked tourism in the territories, notably the Christmas tourism in Bethleheim, never mind the havoc the Muslim Bros have inflicted on tourism in Egypt and Jordan. A true Islamist spits on material betterment — money is only for jihad — whereas Israeli incursions and closures are invariable reactions to acts of violence.

  6. “A true Islamist spits on material betterment”

    That sounds right.

    I suppose (putting my impression of a Mesquitas hat on, in my ignorance) you then have to go back and study each instance of terror, who was behind it, the rationale (e.g. resistance to the occupation or Islamist extremist strikes against the kuffar?), whom it affected, who supported it.

    Assuming there’s a pure resistance unrelated to Islamist extremism, although maybe associated with it for strategic reasons, and that pure resistance cares about the Palestinian economy, then it ceases acts of terror, combine with Israel in security efforts, isolating the Islamist extremists who lose all but the obsessive core of support – dangerous but possible to defend against.

    That’s bound to be way too noddy, but still.

    Auman I’d have to look into.

    Land for peace is complicated by the conflicting interests of the settler members of Olmert’s coalition, who are actually inhabiting some of the land in question (am I right?) having different interests from the peacemakers. Those settlers, I understand, wield a lot of power over the coalition – witness the resumption of settlement activity after the Mercaz Harev seminary suicide bombing.

  7. I hope that by “pure resistance” you mean a political movement that seeks good governance for the Palestinians through normal political processes and not through violence and intimidation. Maybe that mentality exists among the non-Jewish particpants in One Voice. However, it would be quite a leap to go from hosting cultural events that are rallies against violence and in support of normalized relations to actually fielding candidates in the next elections in the PA and I fear that if they did, the candidates’ life expectancy would be very, very short.

    Worse than continuing the building of settlements after the suicide attack on the Mercaz, is the continued building of settlements after having to build the security barrier, after evacuating Gaza and the on-going extortion that sees the release of prisoners with blood on their hands. It can only be construed as Israel acting in bad faith.

  8. “I hope that by “pure resistance” you mean a political movement…”

    By “pure resistance” I meant resistance – with or without violence – to the occupation, in the absence of resistance to the existence of Israel as a state for Jews. No matter that violence is totally counterproductive for Palestinians, there is a difference between that and totalitarian jihad for waqf. It’s very hard to negotiate with the latter, even harder if you aren’t Muslim, and you’re right they don’t give two damns about tourism.

    So maybe the tourism game theory would work with Fatah. Al Aqsa Martyrs but it would only work as intended if the Islamists could be contained.

    The route of the security barrier is an insult to peace.

    • The PA / Israeli conflict is a misdirection to hide the real purpose of the creation of an Islam only world free from Infidels.

      There is no compromise with Islam. Read the Koran and see for yourself !!
      “Either you are a Muslim or you don’t deserve to be on this Earth”


      This is global not local !!!

      Islam is using the tiny state of Israel as a focal point to keep the Muslim states
      focused .

      This false conflict is not about territory.

      Look at a map and see the vast territories occupied by the Arabs and compare it to the tiny state of Israel.

      • The Koran is a random collection of verses, without any historical or other sequence.

        It is written in very evocative language

        It sells fear and greed like a high pressure salesman selling insurance door to door.

        Mohammed changed the ‘perfect word of Allah’ from time to time to suit himself..

        The history of Mohammed shows him to be a psychopathic murderer who made his wealth by abducting people for ransom.

        His legacy lives on !!!

  9. The whole idea of game theory based on responses by rational people goes out the window when one is considering the responses of crazies such as suicide bombers and the islamic leaders who incite them, and who want the US and Israel destroyed at all costs. I’m not sure the responses of such leaders to economic and social conditions and events can be mathematically modeled.

  10. “I’m not sure the responses of such leaders to economic and social conditions and events can be mathematically modeled.”

    Thanks JLester – I think you’re right there – but neither can it be accurately predicted by international relations people, terrorists, Islamists, politicians or sociologists. I’d expect a broad church approach to this conflict resolution and I don’t have any problem with modelling – so long as it has something to offer and so long as it doesn’t become a hubristic orthodoxy. The current financial crisis probably gives rise to some comment on modelling – damned if I know what it is.

    In many ways humans are predictable. We are not above being mathematically predicted ourselves with respect to collective behaviour and responses. Certainly I don’t get the impression that Islamist terrorists are chaotic crazy, anyway – they are usually strategic and thought out.

  11. World should be more concern about Zionist and fanatic Jesus-ist (christian) terrorists who are praying for armageddon to destroy the world. These are the real threat to the world.

  12. I wonder if Mr. Bueno de Mesquita was able to predict this (exposing myself to the world) and trying to unite mankind in a peaceful way. I left a message for all to read on the MySpace website. Search, I AM THE SECOND SON. Life will be reestablished as it was intended. Count on this to happen very soon.

    For the past two years I’ve been trying to establish Peace and bring about a new understanding of Life that has been overlooked (hidden) from the populous. The situation of this World is becoming extremely dangerous and unstable. The future is never known for factors can still be changed to establish an outcome of events. That is, those who wish to make a change.

    Let it be known that after two years of trying to get the governments of this world to work together for a common Peace, I must now fulfill that which has been foretold throughout history. I really didn’t want to become a warrior but it seems I have been given little choice. You should not fear the war I wage for it is going to be non-terminal conflicts. I bring about war without killing. I mean to capture and control all those who do not appreciate Life as it was established on this planet long ago. Those I have contacted should have taken some time to talk to me. Now, I must do what everyone has feared. The Greek writer Homer stated; “For Whom the Gods would make power for would first destroy.” It is not with the bombs or weapons currently on this planet I can assure you. I am not here to disrupt your lives violently, but I will destroy the society that has been created making one being more important than another. ALL are equal and have their own personal input to Life but it seems that there are those you would be named ‘King’, or ‘Queen’ and want to rule over those who appear less important. Slavery still exists but it has taken on a more modern term, ‘employee’. Just ask yourselves; “Why do some work the hardest only to be paid the least?” The CEO’s and the monarchy chain have people working the typical 40 hours a week so the upper echelon can achieve the bonuses and enjoy life. Why can’t everyone enjoy Life? Also, “Why would the people of this world allow those that cause violent conflicts (wars), to be allowed safe haven (bomb shelters/ NORAD/asylum) while the majority of the populous is left on their own to face possible death? I bring a war that will be as violent as those who oppose me. I am here and I am going to establish Peace and a New Passage of Life for All or this World will be consumed by the greed and the arrogance that is predominant to its society. Just remember, I wanted a Peaceful resolution only to be ignored. So here’s my prediction: By the end of 2009, I will have damaged the world economy greatly making world trade unprofitable. Greed is your enemy, not I.

  13. It’s good isn’t it. There were around a thousand hits on this post the other day so I guess he thought I’d make a good noticeboard. I removed the web address before I approved it.

  14. Pingback: Yet Another Armageddon Scenario « Minority Attention Deficit Disorder

  15. Just a quick note on this to JLester and fleshisgrass, the word rational in game theory is not what it means in social interaction. a more accurate phrase would be “rational self interest”. Put in that context, a man incited to religious fervor and strapping a bomb to his chest to take out a perceived enemy in hopes of earning a place in heaven (and those delicious virgins) begins to make predictable sense (though not social rational sense). They have been taught a certain “way” and that way has certain prescriptions. Ignore the suicide bombers as soldiers, and think of them as walking grenades dispensed by their Terrorist masters. Knowing this tactic, you can predict it as an act by focusing on the people calling the shots and their goals in the terrorist organization.

    One important thing that Game Theory and that Bruce teach is that diplomacy/negotiations aren’t between organizations and nations (a mistake in current political science thought), but between their respective talking heads. Thus in the Iran situation you focus on Amhadinejad (sp?) but in reference to his political survival in the face of the Ayatollah, not on the rank and file of Iranians (I know this may sound sad).

    Finally, I should note that a lot of people falsely believe that there is no pattern to irrationality. Any mathematician worth his salt will tell you that randomness has a pattern or a formula or however you want to see it. Random is not the same as chaos. And irrationality is mathematical randomness (linguistically chaos), so it can be accounted for.

    The only time we cannot predict what a crazy person will do, is when we don’t know he is crazy.

    One more note. Bruce Buena De Mesquita requires the most detailed input from specialists. his and all game theory’s solutions are only as good as the data input. So his test against CIA analysts actually required him to ask them question so that he can understand the temperament and goals of the target in order to assign numerical values. Game Theory still requires an immense understanding of people and their psychology. Most of the resistance to game theory stems from people not wanting to believe that they can be so easily quantified, not to mention that game theory requires a lot of knowledge that they (opposing political scientists) lack and cannot learn quickly. Thier mumbo jumbo guessing ways are at risk of being found to be obsolete. But I still respect their work and research though. Under game theory everyone is NOT in fact a raving dirt bag, it’s just that even at man’s most altruistic, self interest governs all.

  16. Pingback: Squawking Tech » Blog Archive » Solving the Israeli / Palestinian Crisis Using Game Theory

  17. there is an important element missing, which is endogneous violence. Indeed a system maximizing shared tourism revenue under exogeneous violence constraints seems a good idea, yet endegenous violence may lead to what will seem as an unfair repartition.
    This type of internal violence can only be regulated through real democratic instances (alternating bipartite governance is a good example of such democratic regulation). This is something incompatible with religious based fragmentation, leading to internal oppositions and extremisms, available both sides.

    • There is some endogenous violence, from a minority of the settler movement and from a negligible number of Arab or Palestinian citizens of Israel. Is this what you mean? But isn’t it negligible? Can you explain what “bipartite” means here?

      • bipartite means with 2 major parties governing in alternance.
        I also tought of internal palestinian fights (hamas and fatah), and ultra orthodoxe israeliens hosile to a palestinian land.
        Minorities in term of numbers (tough this may change in futture), but whose actions are emphasized by Medias in rich countries (countries at the source of tourists revenues).

  18. Unfortunately it only takes one rational Muslim fanatic suicide bomber to alter the flow.

    Of the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world +- 10% are Jihadist. that is +-150,000,000 world wide. No small number in anyone’s book. These are no minority.
    Don’t forget that the rest are strategic support.

    The Jihadists are kept in focus by the Israeli ” PA conflict.
    This is very important for those Islamists engineering the world wide Jihad.

    The reason for the Jihad is to rid the world of ‘Infidels’. Non believers in Islam.
    The Koran states that ‘Any person that does not believe that the Koran is the word of Allah and that Mohammed is his last prophet . Does not deserve to be on this earth’.
    It also states that it is the duty of the Muslim to cut the throat of the unbeliever who is unclean and evil.

    Please not that The Koran is a random collection of verses without any sequence. Chronological or otherwise .

    It is not possible to quote it out of context.

    The suicide murderers are brainwashed, conditioned Muslim children, with a hive mentality .

    The funding money trail, for Muslim world wide terrorism leads back to the oil rich Gulf states and the oligarchs who don’t want to lose their power when the oil is gone.

    They will have a ready made army to do their bidding.
    They are the Queens of the hive

    • Tony, as part of hoping that Jihadism is irradicated, I’m also concerned to draw a distinction between Jihadis and all the other Muslims who would refuse to harm or kill in the name of Islam. And in fact, moral support for Jihadism you’re counting here is very different from actually being prepared to go out and kill in the name of Islam. And as you point out, most Muslims would not even support Jihadism, let alone become active.

      Arie Kruglanski who spoke at the LSE not so long ago about terrorism as a self-love story gives me to believe that, far from being motivated by Islam, Jihadism is associated with ‘loss of personal significance’ – feelings of humiliation which hinder the quest for personal significance which in turn is critical to having meaning, being somebody – according to your culture. Self-love.

      Obviously it’s not that simple. I’ve been watching the Danish political drama Borgen and the last episode was on the collapse of personal significance among the Greenlanders (Denmark’s former colony) and how it has engendered self-harm – suicide, domestic violence, and substance abuse. So maybe religion does have a role – but as something that channels the harm once the damage is done.

      • I agree with most of what you say , but when I say strategic support . You know that I mean that Muslims around the world will support the Jihadist Islamic view when when push comes to shove. After all as the Koran states we Infidels have no right to be on this earth..

        I don’t agree with your attempt to divert the direction of the militants motivation to be something justifiable.

        Each individual must take responsibility for their choices. Only the individual can know their thoughts and feelings. therefore only they must be ultimately responsible for their actions.

        It is not complicated at all.

        If you want to know who is responsible.

        Find out who’s choice it was.

        As to your last point. I did say that +- 10 % and not 100%

        We infidels want to see the other 90 % doing something tangible to bring their religion into the 21st century. Instead of being stuck the 6th century

        Being the silent majority doesn’t cut the mustard. it only strengthens the militants.

        By the way the funding for the Jihad is still oil money !!!

  19. The Israeli- PA conflict is only a gambit to keep the Jihadists world wide focused .

    You must admit that tiny Israel is perfectly placed for this purpose.

    Remember that Israel is an insignificantly small area of land 21671 Square Kilometers. with little or no intrinsic mineral resources.

    Saudi Arabia alone is 2149690 km2 with 25% of the world’s oil

    So it is not about land or more significantly land for peace.

    Ask yourself. What else can it be?

    I suggest that it is all about the oil oligarchs wanting to maintain their power when the oil looses it’s significance and about Islam’s declared intention to rule the world without unbeleivers .

    They will have an indoctrinated, brainwashed army of poorer Arab
    Muslim nations willing to die for Allah and to do the bidding of the Queens of the hive.

    Now that makes sense because all the historical bits fit this big picture !!!

    A word of advise.

    Always look for the biggest picture first and see how the historical bits fit

    Never concentrate on the small bits and then try to make the big picture, because there are an infinite number of combinations and you will never know if you have the correct path or picture.

    This technique is a well tried and tested .

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