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Brams: Negotiate Mideast Peace With Point System

When rivals negotiate, Steven J. Brams' suggests using the adjusted winner technique, which gives negotiators 100 points apiece and for them to start the bidding.

With the Arab world and the Middle East in turmoil, Israel may soon find itself negotiating with a new and unfamiliar government in Egypt.

When the uneasy neighbors do meet, how many points would Egypt bid, out of a possible 100, for Israel to bless the creation of a Palestinian state, especially if that calculation came at the expense of bids on other matters of importance to Egypt?

Steven J. Brams has examined the current peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, negotiated at Camp David, Md., in 1978, as a way to test his theories about fairness and his recommendation that international disputes, like divorces and business split-ups, be negotiated using a point system.

When Brams thinks about dividing up goods in a negotiation, he has several goals. One is efficiency, where no other allocation is better for one player and at least as good for all the other players. Another is envy-freeness, where each player thinks it receives at least a tied-for-largest portion, so it does not envy what the other side receives.

What he recommends when what is being negotiated is divisible — land, Palestinian rights, diplomatic recognition, etc. — is a technique called adjusted winner.

Under his system, each of two players is given 100 points to distribute across two or more goods. After the players make their point assignment independently, the goods are then allocated based on the highest bids. If one side gets goods worth more points than the other side overall, an adjustment is made, via negotiations, to even the point totals, so that the side that got more gives something back to the side with fewer points.

Such a system doesn't eliminate negotiations but requires them to be structured so that both sides avoid entangling details. As Brams notes, most negotiations get hung up on the procedural issues — say, the shape of the negotiating table ( ) — before arriving at the substantive matters.

There are ways such a system can fail, too, especially if it doesn't discourage each side from concealing its true position or attempting manipulation.

Peace, Fairness Through Game Theory Prolific political scientist Steven J. Brams has devoted his career to the application of mathematics and game theory to elections, politics, property, international disputes, and law.Click the image to read more.

Peace, Fairness Through Game Theory
Prolific political scientist Steven J. Brams has devoted his career to the application of mathematics and game theory to elections, politics, property, international disputes, and law.
Click the image to read more.

But the adjustment to even up points at the end of the process acts as a deterrent to exaggerating or undercutting the importance of an issue and the points you give to it, because you run the risk of losing on another issue.

Here’s an example Brams gives based on the Camp David Accord negotiations. Assume that Israel, anticipating that Egypt would put overwhelmingly high points on return of the Sinai, reduced Israel’s own points on that issue from 35 to 20. And then Israel guesses Egypt won’t value Palestinian rights too highly, so Israel bumps up its points on that, to 20.

Israel may win most of the issues, but it could find that it is tied with Egypt on Palestinian rights and that both countries have assigned 20 points to it.

If Egypt’s total points won are below Israel’s, the tied issue of Palestinian rights will be awarded to Egypt.

If that then puts Egypt ahead on total points won, another adjustment is needed. But by allocating its points in an untruthful way, Israel will end up with fewer points for what it really feels is important in each subsequent adjustment.

The only way gaming this system would work is if one side had precise information about how the other side will distribute its points, writes Brams, and then the manipulator could optimally allocate is points to exploit the knowledge.

Brams' assessment of Camp David, which has stood the test of time, is that his adjusted winner system could have cut through a lot of the preliminaries and produced a less-crisis-driven process than what occurred, “even if the final outcome would not have differed much from that which actually was achieved.”

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