Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rosner - Settlement in exchange for a kidnapped soldier?

Shmuel Rosner
Rosner's Domain
16 October '11

In a well known experiment by the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky, students were asked to spin a "Wheel of Fortune" marked with numbers from zero to a hundred. It was programmed in advance, though (without knowledge of the students), to stop only on one of the two numbers - 10 or 65. Then the students were asked: Is the percentage of African nations at the UN larger or smaller than the number at which the wheel had stopped? Obviously, no number reached by any wheel of fortune has anything to do with the right (or wrong) number of African countries at the UN. And yet, there was a clear connection between what students answered and the numbers presented by the wheel. It turns out that random numbers affect the brain in mysterious ways. Like it or not, the so-called "anchoring effect" plays a role in how we value things, in how we estimate deals.

Here's an interesting question for psychology professionals that should be asked following the news of the Schalit deal: To what extent does the high price demanded by Hamas made soldier Gilad Shalit more valuable in the eyes of Israelis? How precious Gilad Shalit is for all of us precisely because we are required to pay so much for his release? One can try and offer some interesting thought experimentations as one attempts to start answering questions like that. For example: Would you set free a few hundred murderers to prevent one fatal road accident in which three, or five, or ten passengers would surely be killed? Would you free several hundred murderers to prevent the realization of a Hamas threat to execute the same number of civilians?

And here is another intriguing question. But before one is trying to answer it one has to stop thinking about the Schalit deal as a numerical deal. 400, 500, 1000 - the numbers do not matter here. When it comes to such bargain - hundreds of convicted prisoners for one soldier – logic can't be found in the numbers. It is a package deal. In this case the package contains 1000 prisoners, but what's important is to have a package tempting enough for Hamas to consider it worthy of Schalit's release.

Imagine such package with no prisoner release involved - a package that Hamas leaders might find attractive. For example: Are you willing to give Hamas a package that will prohibit Israel from responding to rocket fire from Gaza for two months, or five months, or a year? Essentially a deal that exchanges "Kidnapped soldier" for a year of "Code Red" in Sderot and Ashkelon. Would you? Or another example: Would you be willing to give Hamas a package that makes Israel, in return for the kidnapped soldier, evacuate one settlement, or three, or five?

This package of "evacuation for a soldier" is of course no more than provocation. For such evacuation can't be considered in Israel's best interest, right? It may convince the neighbors that the way to establishing a Palestinian State in the territories is not through negotiated settlement but rather by going back to terrorism. It may weaken the Palestinian Authority and strengthen the hand of the opposition. Israel would never agree to such package. And even in case it does, such deal will encounter a lot of internal resistance. Israelis might try to prevent evacuation of the settlement involved – and they would also refuse to accept (so I believe and hope) any deal of "Code Red for a soldier". The residents of Ashkelon would not tolerate it, and rightly so. And the government would have no choice but to listen to their voices of opposition – to give them the attention that was hardly given in recent days to those opposing the Schalit deal, those speaking on behalf of strategic interest with no name and face and address.

An interesting experiment (Northcraft & Neale) tried to evaluate the effect of the asking price on an apartment's value estimates. Experiment in which students with no background in real estate as well as professional real estate agents were tested. Half of them were presented with higher-than-reasonable asking price, and the other half with lower-than-reasonable asking price. It turned out that there was almost no difference: both students and professionals were highly affected by the specified price when they wrote down the price they think is appropriate for the apartment involved. And yet, there was a little difference of some importance: The students readily acknowledged that they were influenced by the asking price - the pros denied it.

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