The following interview with Prof. Robert J. Aumann, a game theorist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the winner of 2005 Nobel Prize for Economics, is excerpted from the Israeli weekly, Sha’ar La’Mathil (6/23/09). The interviewer was Dania Amihai-Mikhlin. Translated from the Hebrew by Joseph Shattan.
In your opinion, what must Israel do to finally bring peace to our part of the world?
In the past, we’ve made mistakes that can’t be quickly undone. When you break a tool, it’s often impossible to fix it, so I don’t anticipate that peace will come to our part of the world in our time. I hope peace will come in our grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s time, but it won’t come in our time, because we’ve made too many mistakes. The biggest mistake was the expulsion from Gush Katif. [ Gush Katif was a bloc of 17 Israeli settlements in the southern Gaza Strip. In 2005, its 8,000 residents were forcibly evicted by the Israeli government, and their homes demolished, as part of Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza.] This was an irrevocable mistake. We won’t ever return to Gush Katif.
What we did there was send a message to the other side — namely, the more they pressure us, the more they’ll succeed. This was what we taught them, and since it’s difficult to teach the opposite lesson — and we obviously don’t intend to clear out of Israel — the problem is bound to continue for many years. It’s not a pleasant thing to say, but there you are. What we need to do, from now on, is send the opposite message over the next thirty years. Maybe they’ll learn from that.
Do you mean that we should be more consistent in carrying out our decisions?
Our flexibility, our various concessions and gestures achieve precisely the opposite of what they’re intended to achieve, and this is so obvious and simple that everyone knows it. Throughout history, peace was never achieved — neither from a scientific-theoretical perspective, nor from a common sense perspective — through concessions and demonstrations of flexibility — never. In conflict situations, it has first of all been necessary to demonstrate resolve, and only afterwards to sit down at the negotiating table — but not in the wake of concessions. These only invite more pressure and more explosions and more Kassam and Grad missiles. They invite these things because the adversary realizes that he’s succeeding.
If you’re succeeding in whatever business you undertake, it’s obvious that you’ll step up your efforts. If you’re succeeding by blowing yourself up, you’ll continue to blow yourself up. That is to say: the young people who up themselves and us aren’t crazy; they’re idealists. They’re people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for something they believe in. I don’t share their beliefs, but they do believe, and there’s a certain insight from game theory here, that in order to play a game effectively you need to understand what the other side is doing. If you’re playing chess, and the other side makes a move that you don’t understand, if you say: “I don’t get it, it’s all nonsense, I’m going to continue my attack” — you’ll lose. First of all, you need to ask yourself why he made his move and after you’ve understood, you need to adjust your behavior accordingly.
And it’s not just in chess, it’s in everything. If you think that the other side is irrational, blowing themselves up for no good reason, so let’s ignore their behavior and keep making concessions for the sake of peace — you won’t achieve your goal. Because all those tales about 70 virgins and such-like — they’re nonsense. The young people who are prepared to lay down their lives to advance what they regard as an exalted goal are idealists — let’s understand that. What we did with the expulsion from Gush Katif — we said to them, “Bravo! You’ve succeeded.” So if they were successful, they’ll continue doing more of the same.
What are the greatest threats facing us today?
We are. We’re threatening ourselves, and that’s the greatest threat; we, and our insane race after peace, that’s what brings war. When Chamberlain returned to Great Britain from Munich in 1938, he said, “I have brought peace in our time.” Back then, too, everyone was racing madly after peace, and Chamberlain brought war.
Then what really will bring peace?
What will bring peace is our readiness for war. The Romans already knew this: If you want peace, prepare for war, not just materially, but also psychologically. You should be psychologically prepared for war, and not go around all the time yelling, “When will peace finally come?” The other side wants war? Fine, bring it on! Only then will peace come, only when the other side is convinced that we mean it. We’re not doing anything to convince them. On the contrary, we’re doing precisely the opposite, which is why we are the greatest threat to ourselves.