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Tag Archives: Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Gaming Terror: Some thoughts on designing Divided Land

The following piece has been written for PAXsims by Terry Martin.


 

09ps6ozbzucw-ybkxwd7zg.jpgDivided Land is a megagame set in Palestine during 1947, the turbulent last year of the British Mandate, just before the involvement of the United Nations, and the subsequent declaration of the State of Israel and the ensuing conflicts. The game has been played in Sweden and in the UK.

In this article I will examine the original development concept, the thoughts and dynamics of the design process as it developed, and some comments on how the game actually played out in both countries. Finally, I will give some personal conclusions on how it worked and on the implications of gaming a situation which still has a lot of relevance today, and which still arouses passion and partisan emotions.

Background

I have studied Middle East history and politics since my undergraduate days at Oxford and all the games I have written have been set in that part of the world, ranging from the Crusades up to the 1973 war. But 1945 to 1948 has always had a special fascination for me. It was a period that profoundly affected the world as we know it today. It saw the birth of the modern states of Israel and the beginning of what we see today as the ‘Palestinian problem’. It was the formative period for the Arab League as well as the United Nations – and in many ways it saw the birth of modern urban terrorism. It always seemed to me to be an ideal period for my sort of gaming – a complex and enjoyable game exploring one of the ‘what if….’ questions of history.

Back in the 1990’s I wrote a committee game on this subject, with six players and one control umpire. I wrote in the briefing:

this is primarily a game about politics, and about the search for a solution to the troubles of that region of the Middle East for which Great Britain had assumed responsibility since December 9th, 1917, when General Allenby’s troops received the surrender of Jerusalem from the defending Turkish forces.

The game consists of teams representing different interests in the region. It starts in March 1947. On February 14th Ernest Bevin has announced Great Britain’s intention of laying down the Mandate and referring the Palestine problem to the fledgling United Nations, who will have the theoretical power to impose a solution if one cannot be found beforehand.

In the months before the end of the Mandate there is a frantic jockeying for position and influence, in a final attempt to force a solution before the problem is thrown to the new and unknown international organisation.

The game had six players, representing the British Foreign Office, British Chiefs of Staff, Arab League, United States, Jewish Agency, and Jewish extremists.It was a very freeform game with all the players being given the same overall objectives:

  • a settlement of the Palestine problem that fulfils your own personal objectives and yet is accepted by all other parties. This would mean that the United Nations doesn’t have to get
  • if you can’t achieve a settlement then you must have the most persuasive plan to put to the United Nations. If this plan is to recommend partition, then you must include your proposals for partition on a map.
  • Players also need to plan on how they are going to handle (now and in future) the possibility/probability of no solution being found, even by the UN

There were 5 phases to that 1990’s game

  1. Reading your briefing and decidingwhat your ideal plan would be.
  2. Negotiations with other players and other actions as time progresses. Negotiation can be secret or open; only the British home team has the authority to call an official round-the-table conference, although they can’t enforce attendance
  3. Preparation of a presentation to the United Nations (represented by the Control Umpire) This can be by individual players or several players
  4. Adjudication by the United Nations and deciding on your reactions.
  5. Final actions/decisions depending on outcome of 4.

The game was moderately successful as a small committee game – but of course it oversimplified an intensely complicated situation and for years I toyed with the idea of expanding it to encompass not only the political complexities within all the various interested parties but also the effect of the terrorist (freedom fighters?) activities on the ground. So I decided to expand the idea into a multi-player megagame.

Design challenges: Political

My first design objective was to expand the political side of the game to reflect the fact that within all the involved parties (British, Jewish, Arab, and American) there was disagreement as to what the ideal solution to Palestine would be. In London the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office were involved in a turf war over who led the search for a solution, and even within the Ministries there were differing opinions as to what that solution should be.

In the US the State Department was at odds with the White House while lobbyists for both sides tried to apply pressure. The Arab League was riven by internal dissension, particularly the hereditary feud between the Hashemites of Transjordan and Iraq, and the House of Saud. Even the Jewish community within Palestine (the Yishuv) was split between the activists’ faction led by David Ben-Gurion and the moderates under Chaim Weizmann – not to mention the extremist terrorist organisations outside the normal political channels, Irgun,and Lehi (or the Stern Gang as the British called it).

My solution to this challenge was to have multi-player teams of around three players each but no team briefs. Instead all players represented actual historical figures and received individual briefs outlining their own personal feelings and objectives. In this way I hoped for sub games within each team that would reflect some of the internal disagreements and squabbles that made finding a solution so difficult in reality.

Design challenges: Operational

The second challenge I faced was that events on the ground often influenced political efforts to come up with agreements, so I needed teams to have an ability to take actions that would have effects, not just on the player teams but also on public opinion in their various communities.

The approach I took was to introduce an operational element into the game. Most teams would have a limited number of defined Action Cards of which they could play a limited number each turn. Some actions were distinctly political. As an example, the British High Commissioner’s cards allowed him to:

  • Declare Full Martial Law
  • Declare Partial Martial Law
  • Suspend Habeas Corpus
  • Suspend the Jewish Agency
  • Close the banks
  • Evacuate civilians

As another example, the Jewish Agency could play the following cards

  • “open” immigration (e.g. like Exodus)
  • Secret immigration
  • Civil disobedience
  • General strike
  • Denounce Terrorists
  • Suppress Terrorists
  • In extreme circumstances they could also play a “Declaration of State of Israel” card – in which case they also had to decide a policy on Forced Displacement (many thanks to Rex Brynen for that suggestion when he kindly reviewed the game design for me!)

Some of the other teams were issued with more military Action Cards. For example, the GOC Palestine had the following possible actions:

  • Aggressive arms searches against settlements or towns
  • Sweeps through an area, including objectives of arresting suspect individuals
  • Demolition of suspect properties
  • Aggressive Roadblocks
  • Aggressive Beach patrolling
  • Confining troops to barracks. (Sadly but understandably, sometimes discipline cracked under the constant stress of terrorist attacks and atrocities. If the GOC was concerned that one or more units are going to over react to provocation he had this option to confine it/them to barracks until they had calmed down.)

Military teams also had Force Counters representing the resources open to them. Their chances of success for an action would be affected by the resources they allocated to the actions. In the case of the British GOC Palestine, his brief stated:

Although you have around 100,000 men under your command, your resources are continually under strain. Men need to be rested, rotated, and trained; buildings and infrastructure need to be protected. So a lot of your forces are not usually available to you for field operations, and nor are your forces large enough for some of the operations others (especially the Chiefs of Staff) would like you to take on.

Once you have decided upon an operation, your Divisional Generals must allocate forces to that action. This means putting Force Counters with the Action Card and Pro Forma when your forces mount an action.

The Pro Formas referred to had to be filled in with specific objectives and location of the action proposed.

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Gaming terror (1)

DL2.pngProducing action cards for the more conventional forces was relatively easy but I had to consider actions for the irregular and terrorist teams involved. On the Jewish side this meant the underground paramilitary forces of the Haganah and Palmach, as well asthe terroristIrgun. (I had decided not to play Lehifor reasons I discuss later).  On the Arab side it meant the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and his so called Arab Army of Salvation. In the end I gave them Action Cards that reflected their differing philosophies and historical actions. For example, the Haganah could mount a Sabotage action or a reprisal Raid on an Arab village but would not act against any civilian targets. Irgun on the other hand could take any of the following actions:

  • Sabotage
  • Ambush/Mine
  • Kidnapping
  • Bombing
  • Bank robbery
  • Raid on Arabs
  • Assassination

 

Results of actions on the map and public opinion

The results of actions taken on the main map depended on forces committed and some simple rules on chances of success. Die rolls represented random factors and plain old luck. Map control umpires would also use their intelligence and common sense to determine likely real outcomes. But the real significance of the results of actions would be their effect on public opinion in the relative communities. This was to be reflected in Trackers for the British, Americans and Yishuv. I decided that Arab trackers would be less necessary since the Arab states involved were much more autocratic and rarely reacted to public opinion until there were riots in the streets!

The real purpose of the trackers was to make players consider what the reactions to their actions might be amongst other players and world opinion. Players would need to keep very aware of that tracker, since if it reached critical levels, there would be consequences, which they would only discover when such a level was reached.

For example, if Jewish Public opinion is moving against extremism and becoming more optimistic of a settlement, the tracker will reflect this. Support for Irgun in the community will diminish, and they will become more liable to betrayal to the British. Another example; if British public opinion becomes increasingly against Government policy, morale amongst British troops in Palestine will suffer and all their actions become less effective. (Excerpt from Game Handbook.)

Research and sources

Having resolved the basic design philosophy to my own satisfaction, I realised that I had committed myself to two things

  • A lot more knowledge of the issues as seen by less famous but still important people in 1947
  • Writing over 50 individual briefs including what I was calling my ‘fall backs’

Both realisations meant much more research, which raised a design issue of its own. There are three main research sources open to any investigator, all of which raised some issues.

The first source was official and semi-official documents and papers. The clear majority of these are straightforward records and cannot be challenged for bias (e.g. Cabinet Minutes of the British Government) but there were language problems with some Jewish and Arab sources, although the official papers of the Jewish Agency were available in English.

My second main source was the memoirs and papers of many of the participants in the events of the times. It was here that any student of the period – and myself as a game designer – had to be aware of, and be prepared to discount, the inevitable bias of people recounting events as they reflected their own views and self-interest. In some cases, this was actually helpful in fleshing out a person’s character and views, making it easier to digest them into a succinct briefing for the player who would be taking on that character in the game. For example, the memoirs of Viscount Montgomery, CIGS at the time. His attitude to the Jewish community and his belief in overt military solutions come through very clearly.

Where bias was not helpful at all was in examining the motives and actions of the Jewish and Arab terror groups and their effects upon the communities they lived in. For example, The Revolt by Menachem Begin is a justification of all Irgun’s actions, but has very little on the opposition to Irgun within the Yishuv.

My third area of research was secondary sources, the various books and articles on the period, both published and on the net. A student of the period is continually reminded that the Palestine problem is still very much a live issue, with many authors having diametrically opposed views and interpretations on not just why things happened, but on whether they happened at all. This is particularly – and not unexpectedly – true of material one finds on the Internet, although there also some real gems of discovery there as well. In the end I found myself using the Washington Post’s Watergate test of trusting nothing that I could not confirm from two other sources. I gravitated increasingly towards a small core of secondary material that I trusted for accuracy of narrative and the objectivity of the writer’s own assessments.

Final roles

In the end I decided on a final player list as follows

TEAM ROLE
 
BRITISH (London)  
Foreign Office  
Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin
Permanent Under Secretary Sir Orme Sargent
Mid-East Desk Harold Beeley
   
Colonial Office  
Sec. of State for the Colonies Arthur Creech Jones
Permanent Under Secretary Sir George Gater
Eastern Department Douglas Harris
   
Chiefs of Staff  
CIGS Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Cunningham
Air Air Chief Marshall Arthur Tedder
   
   
BRITISH (Palestine)  
High Commissioner General Alan Cunningham
Secretary Harold Gurney
Chief Justice Sir William Fitzgerald
   
GOC General Gordon Macmillan
6th Airborne Major general James Cassels
1st Inf Div. Lt. General Richard Gale
Intelligence Colonel C.R.W. Norman
   
JEWISH  
Jewish agency  
Activists  
Chairman David Ben Gurion
Head Political Dept Moshe Sharret
Histadrut Pinhas Lavon
Member Executive Golda Meir
   
Haganah Yaakov Dori
Palmach Yigal Allon
   
Moderates  
Leader Chaim Weizmann
Assistant Eliezer Kaplan
Diplomat Abba Eban
   
Irgun  
Leader Menachem Begin
Assistant Chaim Landau
 USA rep  Hillel Kook
   
ARAB  
Arab League  
Sec general Azzam Pasha
Assistant Musa Alami
   
Egypt  
King Farouk
PM Nokrashy Pasha
   
Saudi  
King Ibn Saud
Son Feisal
   
Mufti  
Mufti Amin al-Husseini
  Jamal al-Husseini
   
Transjordan  
King Abdullah
Adviser Awni Abd al-Hadi
Arab Legion Glubb Pasha
   
USA  
White House  
President Harry Truman
Counsellor Clark Clifford
   
State Department  
Sec State General George Marshall
Deputy for Mid-East George Kennon
   
Press 2 players

I chose this final cast list to reflect the varying individual views within each team, since I believed that a totally united USA team, for example, would not reflect the complexities of the time. I also reasoned that differing opinions within most of the teams would allow the development of interesting ‘sub-games’.

My approach in developing each individual brief was to impart enough information about the character to allow the player to immerse him/herself in the role but not so much that they were forced into slavishly replaying what their character had done in reality. I also thought that supplying pictures of the people involved could be helpful to players in identifying with their characters.

DLroles.png

I also had to consider how much information the players needed to make the game meaningful and successful. Obviously, a base knowledge of both background and the issues involved was essential, but at the same time I did not want to overwhelm the players with so much information that they would either be confused or simply not read the material!

The solution decided on was to keep the personal briefings to a minimum (about 3 pages), include the basic information in Appendices to the Game Handbook, and supply a further background document (Characters and Glossary) for those players who were minded to read it. I made sure that all briefing materials went out at least three weeks before the game, and I also supplied a limited bibliography to a couple of players who asked for more information.

What if….

During the final thinking through of the design process I needed to consider two matters that might impact on the playing of the game on the day.

What if players got killed?

At this time in the Middle East assassination was not as uncommon as we might hope and indeed both the Jewish and Arab terrorist teams had Assassination Action Cards that they could play.

DL6.png

I had to acknowledge that player characters might indeed be killed – both Abdullah and Henry Gurney were in fact assassinated, although not during this year. I made the chances of assassinating a major figure quite slim, but possible. As designer I had to consider how to recycle those players into the game after their unfortunate demise. This meant writing several ‘fall back’ player briefs which would only be used if an assassination succeeded. As it happened, in both the Swedish and London games, attempts were made to assassinate the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In one case he could not be found by the hit squad; in the other he was grievously wounded but survived to preach a fatwa against all Jews!

What if war broke out?

As mentioned above, if pushed into a corner, and provided that certain conditions were met, the Jewish Agency could in the game declare unilaterally the State of Israel. This would almost inevitably lead to open warfare between the Arab nations and the new Jewish state. Unlikely as I thought this might be, I had to be prepared for it. I decided I would need to produce a simple combat system, as well as forces counters. This was not actually too difficult as I used the actual Orders of Battle from 1948 when of course war did occur. In the event this never happened, although it came close in the London game, but as the game designer I felt rather reassured that I was ready for it if it did happen.


 

The actual games

This article is not intended to be an after-action report on either of the games, but perhaps some observations are of interest.

Sweden

I first tested the game with a small group of inexperienced but enthusiastic megagamers in Malmo. This helped me immensely with development and fine tuning of a lot of game elements, and the key players from there kindly consented to be my control team when I came to put on the full game in Stockholm.

I was faced with two issues in the Swedish games. The first was that virtually nobody had ever played a historical megagame before, although we did have some experienced LARP and boardgame players. The second I had half anticipated but was still slightly surprised by. Sweden is a culture in which compromise and consensus is deep rooted, and indeed emphasised in school Civics classes. As one player wrote to me after the game “The British have very different cultures from Swedes when it comes to turn taking. Today’s younger Swedes are brought up in a social system that ‘enforces and reinforces’ every person’s right to be heard, everyone’s right to be involved in a decision and the focus on group consensus is extremely strong.”  This resulted in a much greater search for compromise than I believe could ever have happened in reality. Having anticipated this to some extent, I had decided not to play Lehi (Stern gang) in the game, so that if Irgun turned out to be too compromising, or indeed peace seeking, Control could input into the game actual terrorist actions.

This seemed to achieve its objectives as perhaps the following extract from the Ben Gurion player’s AAR illustrates… “I had changed the subject to the question of the Mufti and had just held what I think was an effective little speech about the injustice of the Arabs, when Control opens the door and reads out a list of three atrocities, all committed by Jews. I was quite relieved when Moshe Sharett a moment later came, panic in his voice, and demanded that I go to the map, as all hell was breaking loose. I would have been humiliated, had the conference continued.”

DL7.png

The Arab League in negotiations (picture credit: Richard Moreau).

The final result of the Swedish game was an agreed partition between the Jews and Arab states, with the Jewish Agency gaining British support by suppressing Irgun quite ruthlessly and successfully (three successive very lucky die rolls!). The Arab players were quite pleased with themselves until they heard of the rioting by mobs of fellahin on the streets of Damascus and Cairo.

UK

Putting on the UK game was made simpler in that the player pool had many more experienced megagamers, many of whom I knew, which made casting much easier. The game ran more smoothly with far less need for direct intervention by the Control team. The final result again was an agreed partition into two separate states in Palestine and a surprisingly generously sized Jewish state.

DL8.png

The UK game (picture credit: Caroline Martin).

Jewish suspicion of the Arab generosity was quite justified, as there actually existed a secret treaty amongst the Arab states saying that as soon as the British had withdrawn, the Arab armies would immediately invade.

The resulting war would have been interesting to observe, since the Haganah/Palmach players had spent most of the game quietly and successfully transforming their forces from a semi organised paramilitary force into a regular army ready to mobilise at a moment’s notice. They even had a war plan ready to go.

DLmaps.png

The partition agreement and Jewish war plan from the UK game.

 

Some final thoughts

Gaming live issues

You candesign a game about 1947 without being accused of bias but you need to be very careful. There were definitely some in Sweden who were uncomfortable with the thought of turning such a turbulent and still live issue into a ‘game’. From my point of view though, it worked. I think most players not only enjoyed Divided Land as a game, but some also were given cause to think.

Gaming in different countries

There are certainly cultural differences between Sweden and the UK in how they regard international relations and issues. Sweden has a long and mostly honourable tradition of neutrality and searching for ends to international disputes by negotiation and compromise. This was evident to me in the game, and indeed in their reactions to successful negotiations being derailed by seemingly irrational acts of terror on the ground.

Operational and political

Despite the extra work for a designer in adding an operational element to the game, with actions on a map, I am convinced that this worked, and made the game much more ‘real’. Having the operational game also led to 30-minute action turns, which helped to add structure to a long day’s play.

Gaming terror (2)

From the moment I conceived this game I had been concerned that finding players willing to commit acts of terror and even atrocities might be difficult. I was quite wrong. It seems (encouragingly to designers like myself) that with the right briefings players are quite willing to suspend their own moralities and try to play as their characters did in fact behave. I do wonder though whether time would affect this attitude. Could we find players to play IRA gunmen or Bosnian Serb warlords, or indeed in my own field of study could we find players able to play the Phalange militiamen entering the Shatila refugee camp in 1982. I do wonder…

Terry Martin

Duke University: “Gaming in support of the Middle East peace process” (October 20)

On October 20 I’ll be speaking at Duke University on the topic of gaming in support of the Middle East peace process. There’s not really a “Middle East peace process” any more, of course—but hopefully the gaming stuff will be interesting!

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You’ll find additional details here. Among the games I will be discussing are:

I’ll also say a little about using gaming approaches to address other Middle East conflicts, including the ISIS Crisis matrix game, the  Syrian refugees in Lebanon educational simulation (2015), and the recent Atlantic Council crisis game on US engagement in the Middle East (2016).

Simulating the Arab-Israeli conflict: to what ends?

Israel-and-Palestine-flags.jpg

Last month The Forward published two articles dealing with Arab-Jewish dialogue, and the particular contribution of negotiation simulations in promoting empathy and understanding. The first, by Sam Kestenbaum, describes a negotiation simulation at CUNY’s Queen’s College:

On a recent afternoon in Queens, Secretary of State John Kerry sat with Israeli and Palestinian representatives, chatting amiably. “It’s great to see you two side by side,” Kerry said to the delegates. “Now, have we agreed about these land swaps?”

The Israeli and Palestinian smiled and nodded — a historic agreement had been reached; it seemed there might be an end to the crippling decades long stalemated conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

But then the class period ended.

John Kerry, peeling off a nametag, introduced herself as Rachel Olshin, a Jewish student at Queens College. The Israeli delegate revealed herself as a young Muslim named Amer Ashraf. The Palestinian delegate was a Jew and onetime soldier in the Israeli army, named Jeremy Pitts. The three students were participating in a semester-long simulated peace process at City University of New York’s Queens College, one of a number of measures taken on that campus to ease religious and political tensions.

Around 2005, Rosenblum developed a curriculum and course called “America and Middle East: Clash of Civilizations or Meeting of the Minds.” The next years saw slightly different iterations, culminating in the conflict-resolution simulations.

McGee, who has now taken over Rosenblum’s class, said students are often uncomfortable with the material. And that’s the point. They’re asked to assume characters from “the other side” of where they are coming from.

Students broke up into small groups in different parts of the classroom, peering over maps of the region. Some had difficulty finding Gaza and Tel Aviv on the map. One student struggled to pronounce Bahrain and Kuwait correctly; a young woman in a hijab leaned over to correct her.

A whole range of characters was cast: Amos Yadlin, IDF military attaché to Washington; Salaam Fayyad, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority; Samantha Powers, United States ambassador to the United Nations, and Turki Al-Faisal, from the Saudi royal family.

If a character is simply beyond the pale for a given student — for example, taking on the role of a Hamas representative, or an Israeli settler — McGee will let that character take a more backseat role. One student confided in a private message to McGee earlier this semester, “It’s really important for me to understand the Palestinians, but I’m terrified.”

The other piece, by David Makovsky and Gaith al-Omari, describes a negotiation simulation at the University of California Santa Barbara:

…the most unique feature of our UCSB program is the mock negotiation exercise, where we ask students who self-identify as pro-Israel to play the role of Palestinian negotiators and vice versa. It’s all too common in such a highly emotive conflict for partisans to dismiss the views of the other as mere posturing or as unfounded propaganda. Rather than simply spelling out the various parties’ positions to the students, we challenge these students to articulate the logic and sets of interests that lead each side to adopt its position.

This is not an emotionally easy process for students who feel a strong affinity to one side. As facilitators, we can see in the students’ facial expressions and body language clear signs that many of them struggle to argue for the very same positions they have grown accustomed to criticizing. So it’s important for us to ensure that they are not made to feel uncomfortable with their views or pressured to abandon them. Instead, we hope that students leave this exercise with a greater understanding that the positions of the other side are based on a set of facts, interests and narratives that need to be understood, even if they are not adopted, by anyone who seeks to end this conflict.

As the exercise progresses, we see the participants becoming more comfortable with the idea that people can have their own narratives and that often, although not always, these different narratives do not come from a place of malice. The participants begin to understand that this conflict is not a morality play, as they may hear from some of their teachers in the classroom.

In the end, we believe that the effort is worth it when students — often those who were most skeptical at the start — tell us that they leave the exercise understanding that the conflict is more complex than the bumper stickers or fliers on campus suggest it is, or that they now appreciate that both sides believe they have justice on their side. Our hope is that students will use the knowledge they gained to promote dialogue and practical forms of coexistence rather than engage in BDS or other forms of divisive, mutually delegitimizing activities.

In a sharp rejoinder, however, Natasha Gill is rather critical of the approach:

Despite what many people may believe, humanization between individuals does not resolve conflict between groups. And yet against all the hard evidence, most conflict management or simulation exercises still put this forward as their primary objective.

The Forward recently ran two articles about conflict negotiation simulations dealing with the Israel/Palestine dispute. Both mention the challenges and rewards of role-reversal, in which participants take on the part of their adversary during the course of the simulation.

But by citing the troika of dialogue and peace projects — humanizing enemies, encouraging an understanding of “the other” and developing mutual empathy — both models appear to be driven by the same unquestioned assumption that has ushered Palestine/Israel reconciliation movements into oblivion: that there is a relationship between mutual understanding among individuals and the end of violence or the achievement of peace between groups or nations.

As one of the first to devise Israel/Palestine role reversal negotiations over a decade ago, inspired and trained by Barnard College historian Mark Carnes’s highly successful “Reacting to the Past” method, I have found that the emphasis on dialogue, empathy and humanization is misleading. In reality, the most powerful component of these modules is that they offer a unique space where adversaries can face each other without being pressured prematurely into friendship or asked to feel each other’s pain, and where their anger and hatred can be accepted, even respected.

In the end, such simulations do compel participants to better understand their adversary, but not out of any sense of moral responsibility, virtuousness or respect for “the other.” Instead, they do so in order to take stock of their own options and the realities that their own people face . As a result, participants might rethink their approach to the conflict even when they do not change their mind about their enemies’ motives, rights or actions. They’re likely to query the effectiveness of their own strategies and goals, and closely analyze whether these are achievable. And they will often recognize the beliefs of their adversaries as facts on the ground that have to be addressed, no less powerful than any that can be seen or touched.

The results of this process are quite different from those that emerge from many peace and dialogue groups — not because the latter are not meaningful for individuals, but because whereas personal encounters may open hearts and minds, participants in these programs are rarely given tools to address their adversaries within the context of the conflict itself .

And the results are certainty different from the kind of work done by advocacy groups, where intra-community debate is subject to stringent rules of censorship, and where the goal is generally to learn only enough about your enemy’s stated positions so as to design a set of counter attacks and talking points. That’s a staggeringly superficial and ineffective strategy whose only success has been to deprive otherwise intelligent individuals of the insight they need in order to be effective advocates for their own cause.

In contrast to these approaches — both of which, for different reasons, avoid a confrontation with reality — a well designed simulation plunges participants into the heart of the conflict, where they analyze in great detail the social, economic, political, territorial, diplomatic and psychological obstacles to peace, from the perspectives of all parties that have a stake in its outcome.

Natasha is well known for her work on integrative simulations to teach conflict, negotiation, and mediation, and has been a contributor here at PAXsims. Like her, I have been critical of many of the “people-to-people” initiatives that flourished in the heyday of the Arab-Israeli peace process. These typically placed too much emphasis on changing attitudes within a very small section of the grassroots while overlooking more hard-edged political and  structural challenges. That being said, I think she’s being a little unfair to the two projects described, since both clearly have student socialization as an important goal, as well as seeking to educate participants about the conflict. On campus, classroom friendships and empathy can play a powerful role in changing broader community dynamics, even if they have no impact whatsoever on the actual conflict—a point noted by the authors of both pieces.

She and I also partly disagree on the potential value of “fictional or futuristic scenarios, which can be uplifting for participants but misleading for all involved.” Certainly there are badly-designed fictional or future simulations, and understanding of current problems is usually best served by setting a simulation in the here-and-now.

Depending on what you are trying to do, however, there are sometimes very good reasons to liberate participants from the tyranny of the present if you are trying to identify future challenges or develop innovative approaches. This is a point that Sean McMahon and Chris Miller have made from a critical studies perspective. At the other end of the spectrum, many professional national security simulations utilize such settings because they allow you to set initial conditions in a way that best suits analytical or experimental needs.

Indeed, the most successful and influential Arab-Israeli simulation I have ever been involved in—one that led directly to several international meetings attended by diplomats and technical experts, briefings in multiple national capitals, and two follow-up simulations in direct support of on-going negotiations—was set in a future scenario rather than a current one, and this setting was critical to its success. It was certainly realistic and engaging enough that we had to stop one group of participants from consulting their (real-life) national leader’s office to obtain (simulated) negotiation instructions.

Taken together, the pieces by Kestenbaum, Makovsky and al-Omari—together with Gill’s critique— raise some valuable questions about how we run simulations, to what purpose and with what effects, and how greater understanding might best contribute to conflict resolution.

h/t Neil Caplan 

Gaming the durability of an Israeli-Palestinian borders and security agreement

President Obama’s recent major policy speech on the Middle East suggested that, with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security.”

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

It isn’t entirely clear to me how you can talk borders without talking Jerusalem, but that wasn’t the reason I raised the speech. Rather, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution recently held a simulation intended to evaluate the durability of a borders- and security-first approach, roughly along the territorial lines suggested by David Makovsky in a report earlier this year by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. According to a summary on the Brookings website by Kenneth Pollack:

Since the collapse of the latest round of Israeli- Palestinian peace talks in the fall of 2010, numerous commentators, and even officials in the U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian governments, have suggested that Israel and the Palestinians instead pursue an agreement limited only to border and security considerations as a way to overcome the many problems inherent in both final status talks and further interim agreements. Indeed, in his May 2011 speeches, President Obama himself suggested that Israelis and Palestinians concentrate first on security and borders issues, although he did not go so far as to advocate a pure borders and security agreement.

With this background in mind, the war game sought to test four key variables that would be critical to the success of a borders and security agreement:

1. The extent to which Israel would feel willing to trust the Palestinians and/or the Americans to handle issues it deems critical to its security in the face of clear threats and actual terrorist attacks.

2. The extent to which Palestinian political strife could create problems between Israel and the Palestinians or among Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States.

3. The willingness of the Palestinians to tolerate infringements on their sovereignty to ensure that Israeli security requirements are met.

4. The willingness and ability of the United States to mediate disputes between Israel and the Palestinians while simultaneously addressing the security and sovereignty issues related to both.

You’ll find the full version of the report here. I’m a little unconvinced of the fundamental starting premise that transitional arrangements in a future Palestine would necessarily involve the presence of large numbers of US combat forces to guarantee the arrangements, an element that I think both Palestinians and Israelis could find deeply problematic (the former because of the apparent affront to Palestinian “sovereignty,” the latter because it could constrain Israel’s ability to take unilateral action). However, exploring the possible risks, dynamics, and benefits of such an approach was clearly part of the purpose of the game. It makes for interesting reading.

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For Arab-Israeli simulation junkies: Some readers may remember that I was previously involved in a larger game addressing another aspect of the conflict a few years back, namely the Palestinian refugee issue. You’ll find that 2008 report here. For an account of an April 2011 simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking by Track4, check out this report.

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