Four relevant, instructive flashbacks from Israel's national treasure (and my hero), Yisrael Aumann, mathematician and winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics for his research in Game Theory:
“Jewish presence in Israel lasted for 4,000 consecutive years, with the exception of 19 years between and 1948 and 1967 and another 90 years during the Crusades,” added Aumann.
“We should stop talking about the need for defensible borders. It’s not a matter of security but of belonging. If we do not belong here we do not have the right to security. Therefore we have to emphasize first of all our belonging to the land of Israel, and convince ourselves of that before trying to persuade others.”
In 2006 Aumann asserted that Israel needed to clearly redefine its national goals before any real compromise in the Arab Israeli conflict could take effect:
"There could well be a compromise. But before that is possible, a necessary condition is to make clear to ourselves and then to our cousins [the Arabs] that we are here to stay. That is by no means clear at the moment. We don’t have clearly defined goals. We used to, but we don’t anymore. It’s all very vague, and we have nothing to stick to. Because of that, I am pessimistic that we can convince our neighbors of what we want, when we don’t know what we want ourselves."
And in 2010, Aumann applied his expertise in Game Theory to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He explained:
Two men —let us call them Reuben and Simon— are put in a small room containing a suitcase filled with bills totaling $100,000. The owner of the suitcase announces the following:
“ I will give you the money in the suitcase under one condition…you have to negotiate an agreement on how to divide it. That is the only way I will agree to give you the money.”
Reuben is a rational person and realizes the golden opportunity that has fallen his way. He turns to Simon with the obvious suggestion: “You take half and I’ll take half, that way each of us will have $50,000.”
To his surprise, Simon frowns at him and says, in a tone that leaves no room for doubt: “Look here, I don’t know what your plans are for the money, but I don’t intend to leave this room with less than $90,000. If you accept that, fine. If not, we can both go home without any of the money.”
Reuben can hardly believe his ears. “What has happened to Simon” he asks himself. “Why should he get 90% of the money and I just 10%?” He decides to try to convince Simon to accept his view. “Let’s be logical,” he urges him, “We are in the same situation, we both want the money. Let’s divide the money equally and both of us will profit.”
Simon, however, doesn’t seem perturbed by his friend’s logic He listens attentively, but when Reuben is finished he says, even more emphatically than before: “90-10 or nothing. That is my last offer.”
Reuben’s face turns red with anger. He is about to punch Simon in the nose, but he steps back. He realizes that Simon is not going to relent, and that the only way he can leave the room with any money is to give in to him. He straightens his clothes, takes $10,000 from the suitcase, shakes Simon’s hand and leaves the room humiliated.
This case is called 'The Blackmailer’s Paradox” in game theory. The paradox is that Reuben the rational is forced to behave irrationally by definition, in order to achieve maximum results in the face of the situation that has evolved. What brings about this bizarre outcome is the fact Simon is sure of himself and doesn’t flinch when making his exorbitant demand. This convinces Reuben that he must give in so as to make the best of the situation.
Finally, I find even his early biography to be instructive and helpful. The last dot in this sequence comes from a lengthy interview, which should be read in full.
Aumann: I was born in 1930 in Frankfurt, Germany, to an orthodox Jewish family. My father was a wholesale textile merchant, rather well to do. We got away in 1938. Actually we had planned to leave already when Hitler came to power in 1933, but for one reason or another the emigration was cancelled and people convinced my parents that it wasn't so bad; it will be okay, this thing will blow over. The German people will not allow such a madman to take over, etc., etc. A well-known story. But it illustrates that when one is in the middle of things it is very, very difficult to see the future. Things seem clear in hindsight, but in the middle of the crisis they are very murky.
Sergiu Hart (interviewer): Especially when it is a slow-moving process, rather than a dramatic change: every time it is just a little more and you say, that's not much, but when you look at the integral of all this, suddenly it is a big change.
Aumann: That is one thing. But even more basically, it is just difficult to see.
Let me jump forward from 1933 to 1967. I was in Israel and there was the crisis preceding the Six-Day War. In hindsight it was "clear" that Israel would come out on top of that conflict. But at the time it wasn"t at all clear, not at all. I vividly remember the weeks leading up to the Six-Day War, the crisis in which Nasser closed the Tiran Straits and massed troops on Israel's border; it wasn't at all clear that Israel would survive. Not only to me, but to anybody in the general population.
Maybe our generals were confident, but I don't think so, because our government certainly was not confident. Prime Minister Eshkol was very worried. He made a broadcast in which he stuttered and his concern was very evident, very real. Nobody knew what was going to happen and people were very worried, and I, too, was very worried. I had a wife and three children and we all had American papers. So I said to myself, Johnny, don't make the mistake your father made by staying in Germany. Pick yourself up, get on a plane and leave, and save your skin and that of your family; because there is a very good chance that Israel will be destroyed and the inhabitants of Israel will be wiped out totally, killed, in the next two or three weeks. Pick yourself up and GO.
I made a conscious decision not to do that. I said, I am staying.
.... I am saying all this to illustrate that it is very difficult to judge a situation from the middle of it. When you're swimming in a big lake, it's difficult to see the shore, because you are low, you are inside it. One should not blame the German Jews or the European Jews for not leaving Europe in the thirties, because it was difficult to assess the situation.
Now let us rehash these four dots.
1. Jews have belonged in the Land of Israel for four thousand years.
2. We are in the Land to stay.
3. When confronted by hostile neighbors, apply #'s 1 and 2 above, and do not flinch.
4. When one is the middle of a crisis, it is very difficult to assess the situation and see the future. (Amen.)
Memorable Moment: Professor Auman with his family at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Sweden in 2005. "Read more" at the link.