Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Israel And Palestinians Agree To Disagree

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators currently are meeting in Jordan at the behest of Jordanian FM Nasser Judeh. The meeting is largely a move by Jordan to increase its legitimacy among the international community, and perhaps with its Palestinian majority as well.  

Both Israel and the Palestinians have extremely low expectations for the meeting.  Israel today approved the construction of over 300 new housing units in the West Bank, while the Palestinians threatened to take unilateral steps should the talks fail.

The meeting is entirely an exercise in futility, and similar meetings are likely to result in a similar lack of progress in the near future.  Here's why: 

Israel and the Palestinians both have bargaining ranges.  For a peace deal to be possible, these ranges would have to overlap.  However, over the past year or so, Israel and the Palestinians have been careful to hold the lowest extreme of their bargaining range just outside the high extreme of the other side.  The two sides are involved in a sort of reverse bargaining game, where the objective is to avoid, rather than create, disagreement.  Their issue of choice is the settlements, which have become a toxic issue politically despite having only secondary importance on the ground.  When the Palestinians refuse to take Israel seriously while settlement building is ongoing, and Israel refuses to freeze settlements, it creates an equilibrium of disagreement.  This equilibrium prevents either side from having to actually make changes on the ground.

Since negotiations are designed to identify a specific agreement point within overlapping bargaining ranges, they are highly unlikely to be successful at the present time.  International actors should avoid pushing for negotiations if they will be ineffective.  Rather, they should work to push the incentive structures of the two governments closer together.  Given the non-sustainability of the status quo, this pushing is largely a matter of altering perceptions.  However, until both Israel and the Palestinians operationalize the understanding that peace is a strategic security interest, face-to-face negotiations will have little real-world effect.

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