“When the battle will come to an end?” has warranted the attention of many geopolitical experts since the unprecedented outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza based ‘Hamas’ this week. Israeli troops have gathered near the border of the Hamas-controlled area, where they appear to be getting ready to invade Gaza on foot. After Hamas’ surprising attack on Israel over the weekend, Israel already blockaded the region, denying its 2.3 million civilians access to food, water, and electricity. Middle East specialists think the war’s result is unknown and that it is likely to reach a more catastrophic phase. There is a general lack of optimism on the likelihood of a short-term de-escalation in the hostilities between Israel and Hamas, with civilians predicted to suffer the most losses.
Background of the Palestinian Crisis
Ever since the establishment of a De facto state ‘Israel’ in 1948, the Middle East and the Arab region have experienced extreme sadness, misery and turmoil. Israel illegally declared itself an independent state in the Palestinian territories. This announcement was made by expelling the local Palestinians from their homes. Since that announcement, Israel has been involved in multiple wars with the Arab world and the Palestinians. The most gruesome of these wars was the 1967 war, known in history as the ‘Six Day War’. Through this war, Israel not only occupied the Palestinian territory, they occupied the Sinai Valley of Egypt, some areas of Jordan and some areas of Lebanon. Israel is a state that continues to perpetrate brutal aggression in the name of security and power-building activities, and the state has not followed any UN resolutions, and sometimes even US requests.
Arabs and Palestinians have been living in a state of war for centuries. Arab-Israeli wars took place in 1948, 1952, 1967, 1973 and 1982. Israel has always been brutal in these wars. Still their brutality continues. They continue to occupy the West Bank and Gaza. In such a situation, the Intifada, the revival movement of the Palestinians, began, and at one stage of that movement, a historic peace agreement between Israel and Palestine was brokered by the United States in 1993. Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), made an unprecedented concession in this regard. He accepted the existence of the State of Israel in this peace treaty. Israel accepted the idea of peace in exchange for land and recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians. As a result, an autonomous territory was formed in the West Bank and Gaza under the leadership of the PLO.
The Israel-Palestine protracted conflict has persisted for decades, bringing with it a seemingly endless cycle of violence and sufferings. Attempts at peace have been made, and countless lives have been lost, yet a lasting resolution remains elusive. This protracted dispute necessitates a fresh perspective. In this op-ed, I offer an analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict through the lens of game theory, specifically using a payoff matrix to examine the strategic choices available to Palestine. The objective is to illuminate potential strategies that could lead to a more stable and peaceful future for both sides.
The Israel-Palestine War in the Lens of Game Theory
To construct a simplified payoff matrix, let’s assume two fundamental strategies for both parties: cooperation or defeat. The possible outcomes of each choice are as follows:
De-escalation & Peace
Figure: The Payoff Matrix of the Israel and Palestine (Hamas)
In this matrix, the upper-left cell represents the ideal outcome: “Mutual Cooperation” leading to de-escalation of the violent conflict and peace. The bottom-right cell (D,D) signifies the worst-case scenario- “Mutual Defeat”, resulting in escalating conflict. ‘DD’ is the present context of Israel-Palestine war and it is likely about to enter a ‘hot’ phase, despite of several calls for peace, where a cease-fire looks nigh-on impossible.
It is crucial to recognize that the Israel-Palestine conflict is far more intricate and emotionally charged than any mathematical model can encapsulate. Historical grievances, cultural ties, political ambitions, and the deep-seated suffering on both sides make negotiations and cooperation exceedingly challenging. Nevertheless, the utility of this game theory perspective lies in its capacity to offer valuable insights into rational choices available to Palestine and potential outcomes stemming from these choices.
The decision Palestine faces is both convoluted and consequential. To choose a course of action that maximizes its utility and serves the best interests of its people, Palestine must weigh a couple of considerations, such as: (a) examining its long-term goals carefully, and (b) the evolving geopolitical landscape, including the interests of neighboring states and international powers, should factor into Palestine’s strategic calculus.
It is far harder to forecast whether Israel’s neighbors, many of whom are subtly or blatantly hostile to the Israeli state, would get engaged in the present conflict. For instance, Hamas has sympathizers in Lebanon and Syria, while Iran serves as its de facto patron. Israeli troops have already fired missiles into southern Lebanon, allegedly targeting Hezbollah strongholds there. Like Hamas, Hezbollah has vowed to destroy Israel. On Israel’s northern border, Syria is likewise a volatile force, but there is optimism that Russia, with which Israel has cordial (kind of) relations, can keep it mostly under control. The crisis has left some other surrounding nations, notably Saudi Arabia, in a difficult situation. Prior to the Hamas attack, Saudi Arabia and Israel were considering a closer relationship. However, Riyadh is now under pressure from its Muslim populace to assist the Palestinian people. In any event, Israel expects and has already received an outpouring of solidarity from Western countries, with its friends declaring their readiness to offer the state both moral and material help. A cargo of firearms has already left the United States.
Aamid the resentment and tragedy that have followed days of violent conflict in Israel and Gaza, the next strategic moves of both of the conflicting parties (P1 and P2) should be taken with much consideration. They should not forget that “violence begets violence”. Cooperation may entail difficult compromises and demands, but it opens the path to a more sustainable and lasting peace, which can ultimately benefit both Palestinians and Israelis. In addition, emphasizing the value of international mediation in the Israel-Palestine conflict is essential. Even if the main players may be firmly established in their positions, engagement from a third party can aid in ending the vicious cycle of mistrust and hostility. In order to facilitate discussions, foster confidence, and advance a just and long-lasting conclusion, the United Nations, the United States, and other international players should take a more active role. They can use their diplomatic connections and clout to nudge both sides away from conflict and toward collaboration.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.