Israel's Deals with the Devils

(Wall Street Journal Europe) Robert H. Mnookin - In 2004, Israel exchanged several hundred Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli held captive by Hizbullah (and the remains of three soldiers). Drawing on government figures, Nadav Shragai noted in a report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that "those freed in the deal had murdered 35 Israelis" by 2007. What explains Israel's decision to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli corporal kidnapped by Hamas in a cross-border raid in 2006 and held hostage in Gaza? There is a long line of psychological research showing that, in making decisions, human beings will incur far greater costs to save one identifiable being from immediate peril than to enact safety measures that might save many more statistical lives. While no expense will be spared to save an identifiable miner trapped in a coal mine, there is often great political reluctance to spend an equal amount on mine safety. Such a response is entirely human, but it is not rational. The writer is chair of Harvard University's Program on Negotiation. His most recent book is Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight (2010).

2011-10-18 00:00:00

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