Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Hamas never lied about its intentions to destroy Israel, kill all Jews and create a new caliphate. Why can't the intelligentsia understand that?

Peter Coy is "a veteran business and economics columnist [who] unpacks the biggest headlines" at the New York Times.

Looking at world events through the prism of economics is usually a useful endeavor. But Coy, and the experts he consults, completely misread Hamas and its rationality. They are making the same mistakes that most analysts do.

In an influential article in 1995, James Fearon, a Stanford political scientist, then at the University of Chicago, showed that in most cases (not all), a rational leader should be able to clear up confusion and make decisions with sound information. Given how destructive and deadly wars are, political leaders have a strong incentive to use “diplomacy or other forms of communication to avoid such costly miscommunications,” Fearon wrote in “Rationalist Explanations for War,” which was published in the journal International Organization.

...Fearon specified three cases where leaders might miscalculate even while behaving rationally. One is where one side or the other has private information about its power or resolve and incentives to misrepresent such information to the other side. Bluffing, for example. Another is where one or both parties can’t reliably commit to an agreement to keep the peace because they have an incentive to renege on the terms. A third is where the parties can’t compromise by splitting the prize down the middle because the prize is indivisible — say, a throne that two princes are vying to occupy.

The second of the problems that Fearon highlighted, the commitment problem, comes up again and again in diplomacy, [Eli] Berman [an economist who studies war at UCSD] told me. Combatants do battle for years because neither trusts the other to abide by a peace agreement — and there’s no third party that has the power or motivation to force them to do so. The United Nations is too weak. The United States has lost interest in serving as the world’s policeman.

The decades-long failure to reach a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine is a classic example of a commitment problem. Israel resists the formation of Palestine as an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza out of fear that it would become a base for attacking and destroying Israel. And to many, attacks like the one by Hamas on Oct. 7 justify those concerns, pushing the prospect for peace even further into the distance. Each side believes that the other understands only force.
No, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not "a classic example of a commitment problem." It is a classic example of the "indivisible prize" problem, the third situation Fearson mentions, not the second. 

The "prize" - Israel's existence - is what the conflict is about.

Hamas leaders have described their desire to eradicate Israel consistently and virtually daily since it was founded in 1987. There is no ambiguity there. They aren't trying to hide it. Hamas wants to destroy Israel and Israel doesn't want to be destroyed. There can be no compromise between the two. 

Yet these very smart people like Coy and Berman simply cannot wrap their heads around this concept. They want to look at the conflict as a "commitment problem," hoping that if only Israel would give up more, then the goodwill would be reciprocated. There is literally zero evidence that this is true - Israel already gave the Palestinians Gaza with no strings attached! -  but these academics want it to be true so badly that they ignore all the evidence.

(Fearon's article also downplays the possibility of a true indivisibility problem in real life: "the issues over which states bargain typically are complex and multidimensional; side-payments or linkages with other issues typically are possible; and in principle states could alternate or randomize among a fixed number of possible solutions to a dispute. War-prone international issues may often be effectively indivisible, but the cause of this indivisibility lies in domestic political and other mechanisms rather than in the nature of the issues themselves." That is probably true in most of the world, but certainly not with Hamas or the other Palestinian terror groups.)

Moreover, Hamas is also explicit in its other goals: to murder all the Jews in the world, and to create not a Palestinian state but a pan-Islamic 'ummah that is ruled by Islamic law. 

Given Hamas' stated aims, its leaders are indeed acting rationally. 

From an economist's perspective, Hamas miscalculated - if you assume that Hamas cares about the two million people living under its control. On October 6, the Gaza economy was the best it had been since Hamas took over the territory. There were more imports and exports from Gaza than there had been in decades. Thousands of Gazans had well-paying jobs in Israel, an experiment that appeared to be doing quite well. The "siege" was over by any objective measure. 
But Hamas is indeed rational in its irrational goal to destroy Israel and murder all Jews. Hamas never cared about its own people. Just as with Nazi Germany, murdering Jews is a higher priority than the wellbeing of its own population. Once you understand that about Hamas, everything that seems crazy makes sense. 

But doesn't Hamas at least want to survive?  Of course it does - and the hostages are its life insurance policy. Israel cannot destroy Hamas while ensuring the safety of its own people. This is all supremely rational once you understand Hamas is truly evil. 

Anyone who bothered to read its charter that is still in force would know that. 

The real question is how intelligent people can be so self-delusional as to not believe Hamas when Hamas has stated its goals and its jihadist strategy as clearly as possible for 36 years.

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