Israeli Nobel laureate offers rightwing talking points on Palestine

Yisrael Aumann won the Nobel Prize in Economics, yet still manages to make no sense on Israeli-Palestinian peace

Professor Yisrael Aumann, an Israeli laureate of the Nobel Prize in Economics, delivered on Wednesday a “master class” in the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, under the title “Peace in the Middle East: A Game Theorist’s Perspective”. The Jerusalem Post devoted an entire article just to Aumann’s presentation, crowning him as “an out-of-the-box thinker with a pronounced though slightly cockeyed sense of humor and a gift for delivering shockers.”

These shockers included praise for Helen Thomas, the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD, and Obama’s rather obvious argument that the “belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it.” Out of the box, indeed. Yet, despite the lack of creativity, Aumann’s rehashing of right-wing talking points, which his presentation apparently turned out to be, is illuminating in several ways.

Take, for example, the issue of educating Palestinians to support peace. This was one of Aumann’s top priorities:

We have to insist on the Oslo provision calling for education for peace and tolerance. It’s the most important provision in the Oslo Accords – and the least remembered… The most intelligent kids swallow all the hate and then they become the leaders… We have to start a big campaign for the way children are taught in the territories.

Israelis have been blasting the Palestinian Authority for not doing enough to stop terrorism since it was founded. In recent years, however, under Abu Mazen’s leadership, it has become increasingly harder to make this argument. The PA has tightened security cooperation with Israel, and has massively clamped down on terrorist cells and organization. This is one of the factors contributing to a sharp decline in Palestinian attacks and Israeli fatalities in recent years.

So, after this excuse has been taken away from them, Israeli governments have had to resurrect the old hobbyhorse of incitement and education. Beyond the hypocrisy, the argument simply makes no sense. What Aumann neglected to mention is that Israel controlled the Palestinian education system, from the start of the occupation in 1967 to the establishment of the PA in 1994, for 27 years. All Palestinians between the ages of 24 and 59 have spent at least some time in Israeli-controlled classrooms, and those between the ages of 35 and 50 have spent their entire time in school under Israeli control.

According to Aumann’s logic, these people – who also happen to dominate the ranks of school teachers and principals, and education ministry officials – should have been strong advocates for peace. Perhaps hate for Israel has more to do with the occupation and Israeli policies than with education?

According to the Jerusalem Post, “making concessions and gestures, expelling thousands from their homes as happened with the people of Gush Katif will bring war, not peace, [Aumann] declared, stating that there was a great body of historical proof to support his claim.” The main proof is, of course, the Munich agreement of 1938, which Israelis never tire of mentioning in this context.

Of course, the idea that you must make peace without concessions and gestures is strange, to say the least. Just by looking at the past two decades, one can easily see that conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Balkans were all resolved based precisely on these notions.

Aumann was generous enough to extend his opposition to expelling people from their homes to Palestinians as well as Jews. He also opposed collective punishments such as denying electricity, and excessive restrictions on movement and commerce. He was, careful, however, to couch this advice in general terms, avoiding condemnation of the numerous measures [pdf] Israel has adopted [pdf] that ignore it completely. That is a very popular Israeli sleight of hand: we are all in favor of these things, but have nothing to say when the opposite is being done by our own government.

In the same spirit, Aumann, perhaps employing his “cockeyed sense of humor” took care to integrate yet two more conflicting clichés in his talk: “If you want peace, be prepared for war,” and “[t]here are no positive consequences of war.” While this combination might work in game theory simulations, these messages hardly make for the consistent education for peace that Aumann claims to advocate.