The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Incentive-Based Solutions

Recently, I watched the film Five Broken Cameras, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. It got me thinking.

Of course, the message of this film was that Israelis are violent, thieving brutes. And, of course, this is not precisely accurate, though there are good reasons for some people to see things this way. Rather than try to sort out who’s to blame or issue other moral judgments, though, I’ll use this short essay to spell out just one problem and offer a solution to that problem. It should go without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that I do not see these as the problem or the solution, but rather as one pair among many. I make no claims that my proposal would be easy to adopt – but it’s a solution that would reduce tension in the disputed territories. Outside actors would be wise to endorse either my suggestion or another in response to the problem I identify here.


Consider a problem: Due to their economic and political circumstances, the Palestinians in the West Bank often (though not always) must live off the land, more and more of which the Israelis are claiming as time passes. This tactic will not guarantee (or encourage) peace – it can only intensify the struggle by incentivizing backlash from the Palestinians. Were the livelihood of the Palestinian people not threatened so directly, the results likely would be different. In the Gaza strip, the circumstances are often more severe than in the West Bank, and its political and economic isolation creates an analogous problem to that of the West Bank.

There are only two solutions for the Israelis, given this reality: (1) they can exterminate all of the Palestinians or (2) they can stop taking land. As they seem unwilling to take the second path, genocide is their only practically remaining option.


In the remainder of this essay, I suggest a path forward that makes option 2 more appealing, largely through pressure from non-Israeli actors.

To demonstrate or to advocate in support of the message “The Israelis must give the Palestinians back their land!” is to accept implicitly the premise that the land is either one side’s or another’s. Instead, perhaps peace-seekers should reject that premise and instead endorse one holding that the land belongs to neither group. In fact, at one time or another, both groups have possessed the land. So, the question of whose land it really is cannot be solved definitively. Even if it could, and were a political agreement worked out according to that determination, one or the other group would be denied a homeland. More importantly, from a practical view, one or the other group’s survival would be threatened directly.

One solution to this problem is to reduce the pressure on both groups’ chances of survival by discouraging both groups’ attempts to repossess the disputed territory. This should be one of the top priorities of American foreign policy. Using soft power to incentivize a change in policy on Israel’s part must come first. Though the current administration has admonished Israel repeatedly for new settlements, words are not enough.

“Make life eminently livable for the Palestinians (and stop repossessing land)” should be the new Israeli motto. Difficult though this may be for Israeli hard-liners to accept, this is the foundation for a second-option solution to the dilemma in which Israel finds itself.

The truth is that people behave according to perceived incentives. If those in the Gaza strip had access to a functioning economy, healthcare, clean water, and plentiful food, the incentive to commit acts of violence against Israel would disappear for all but the most devout extremists. When Jihadists search for willing participants in their war against Israel, they will find fewer volunteers. (On the other hand, in February of 2011, the U.S. vetoed a non-binding U.N. resolution stating that the Israeli settlements are illegal. If we wish to encourage peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, this is the wrong kind of incentive for the Israelis).

Every new Israeli settlement building creates one, ten, or a hundred new volunteers for Jihad. If Israel were to adopt and implement my suggested motto, they could then begin negotiations about who should control what bit of land. But, even then, both parties ought to stop arguing about to whom the land belongs. It’s a pointless argument, given that Israel has the bigger guns (and a sparkling-new missile-defense system).

What do you think?


Image borrowed from the Christian Science Monitor

Image borrowed from the Christian Science Monitor

About Steve Capone

Writer hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah. Interdisciplinary teacher (read: generalist guiding inquiry) at an independent school. Adjunct instructor at a medium sized state school. Lover of learning. Favorite destination: Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany. @CaponeTeaches on Twitter M.S. Philosophy (Univ. of Utah 2013) M.A. Humanities (Univ. of Chicago 2007) B.A. Philosophy & English (Washington & Jefferson College 2006
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2 Responses to The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Incentive-Based Solutions

  1. ilhagenah says:

    How exactly would Gaza have “access to a functioning economy, clean water and better healthcare”? From foreign aid or donations? You are right; the Palestinians and Jews lived together for a while… and they also had a functioning economy together at one time. It was when they started having conspiracies and political issues that the Jews decided they would function better with their own economy, leaving the Palestinians to believe they were being wronged. Not the other way around! If the problem started with political issues, it’s going to end with political issues!

    For the Palestinians to have their own functioning economy today, they will need their own water supply system…and money to support it. This means that their exports and trade cannot be pocketed and limited. Palestinian billionaires who sell real estate cannot become so rich from U.S. aid that gives U.S.-style mortgages (that led to our financial collapse) to them. . The problem that the Palestinians can’t admit because it paradoxically gives them issues, is that they need Israel for their water supply so they can sell grapes and other products, however, they need their own trade unions, as well.

    Also, in saying that “neither group’s land is theirs” that works theoretically, but when it comes down to it, many opposition groups started not because they had to leave their land, but because they had to leave their homes. The Fatah was a group of Palestinians who left their homes in the Nakba and were going to make sure that did not happen again. How can the Palestinians reclaim the sense of dignity they left in their homes after the Nakba? Okay, that’s a little much, but I think you can try, it would just take more moderate leadership than the Hamas and, at least the beginning stages of the Fatah.

    To solve that, I do agree with your thinking that if the Palestinian economy can thrive on its own, that could potentially stifle many radical groups. The Hamas gets its “legitimacy” and popularity because of its charity and hand-outs to the people. Its schools read the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, however, so this kind of charity ultimately does not give the Palestinians much peace.

    And last, in “incentive-based” thinking, the most important incentives are the U.S.’s since they also have huge amounts of control over Palestine and its ability to fun more moderate leaders/opposition groups. This can create more enemies than intended, however, but you can’t deny their power. Technically, you could say that if it really is an “Apartheid”, the opressor in this situation which used to be Great Britain (for shipping the Jews to Palestine and secretly wanting to control the Turks, then not forseeing the issues that have arose) is now the U.S. That’s if you want to call it an Apartheid, however, which I don’t use those words.

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