This Is What Happens When You Run Computer Simulations to Solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Apparently, monster computers deep in the bowels of universities are cooking up bizarre political solutions that have grotesque shapes and unlikely survival rates. Last week in the New York Times Ian Lustick of The University of Pennsylvania wrote an opinion piece arguing that the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead and based on false assumptions. You can read the article here. The essence of Lustick’s arguments are that Palestine is more likely to be Islamist and unreceptive to the two-state solution, as well as the end of Israel’s Zionist project, demographic threats, and cultural exhaustion. Lustick goes on to explain that the two-state solution has become a slogan kept alive only by the “peace process” industry.

Ian Lustick is a highly capable well-respected political scientist who is interested in state expansion and contraction. He has written cogently about Israel for decades and offers examples of sudden changes in nations and states that result from crossing certain thresholds of acceptability. He cites the sudden rise of revolts in Ireland leading to the establishment of an independent Ireland, the powerful French influence in Algeria which seemed to matter little as Algeria became independent and the Europeans disappeared, and the supposed stability of the Soviet Union that finally broke up and morphed into other arrangements. Ian Lustick is always worth reading.

But Professor Lustick often uses computer simulations to model political polities and institutions that lead to conclusions about what forces in society might expand or contract, or overwhelm other forces in society. These models include measurement of the forces that produce change in one institution caused by another. You can see an explanation of these computer simulations here. One can recognize the language of these simulations in the Lustick article when he says things like “when those thresholds are crossed, the impossible suddenly becomes probable, with revolutionary implications for governments and nations.” These models operate by establishing thresholds that resist change but are often “crossed” and result in new and sometimes creative combinations of unity. If the theory and the simulation are sound the model can generate predictions about shifts in power, new alliances between organizational entities, and the effects of such processes as argument and deliberation.

I fear that Professor Lustick’s computers have now taken on a “Hal” persona and begun saying things that make little sense. The new predicted alliance structures are certainly creative and could only have sprung forth from the mind of an iterating computer model, but that does not make them any less silly. Here are some alliances and new environments stated by Lustick – and predicted as possibilities by his computer, and described as potentially peaceful and secure environments. I quote from the New York Times article.

“Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global Village Israeli entrepreneurs.”

“Ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists.”

“Israel’s families that came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab.”

“Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or original formula that is more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.”

Predictions of new alliances such as these could only come from a machine modeling theoretical processes – a machine incapable of deep political and cultural understanding. Secular Tel Aviv citizens are going to form an alliance with foreign workers and non-Jewish Russians? How exactly does that work and what do these groups have in common other than secularism. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslim traditionalists make common cause just because both sides are sealed in their respective religious traditions! Are there any computer models that input the history, politics, and differences between these religions and see whether such amalgamations amount to anything? I think these two groups are more likely to escalate competition and violence than form alliances. Israel’s “Eastern population” should ally with Arabs? Professor Lustick is actually suggesting that Israeli citizens develop an Arab identity rather than an Israeli or Jewish one? Difficult to imagine.

The two-state solution has plenty of life in it and is truly the best answer even though Lustick is correct that it is becoming more difficult to grasp even after all this time. Two states for two peoples is the most humane and politically democratic solution. It is a consequence of the belief that the Palestinian people constitute a collective existence deserving of political and cultural expression.

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Posted on September 23, 2013, in Israel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Ian Lustick’s piece reflects a groundswell of Israeli left and academic thinking about various alternatives to the 2 state solution, which are not computer simulations but regular assessments of the situation. A good example on the academic side is the summer 2012 issue of “Public Sphere”, #6. The alliances that Lustick mentions are all incipient, and visible to a close observer. Fro example, with regards to “Ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists” – there was Rav Forman, recently deceased. But the underlying issue is that the 2-state solution is cover for the continuation of the status quo, which is “no peace, no war”, creeping annexation of Area Cand continuing settlement amid settler-military harassment of the remaining Palestinians.

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