31 May 2010

Peace in the Middle East

Who wants it? Ordinary people, mostly. It's difficult, though, for them to express that preference. We're all susceptible to anger and impulse, to propaganda and, especially, emotional television pictures of conflict. It doesn't help, though, that the financial and status incentives are overwhelmingly on the side of conflict. The arms sellers, the men of (so-called) religion, the state and non-state militias: all have their own reasons for keeping conflict going, some of them perfectly logical. What's missing are countervailing incentives, and that's where Middle East Peace Bonds could enter the picture. Ordinary people, perhaps following initial contributions from philanthropists, could set up a fund to be used for the redemption of the bonds. The bonds could aim to achieve a sustained period of peace, defined and verified objectively. It would be up to bondholders to devise and investigate the multitude of possible ways in which conflict can be avoided. They would have incentives to deploy only the most efficient of such ways.

People often write about 'intractable' ethnic, religious, or territorial conflicts. But these conflicts do fizzle out and, on reflection, the conflicts were not so intractable after all. Historical grievances, and notions of fairness or justice, loom large and play a part in perpetuating conflict. But not inevitably. People get tired, deals are done, compromises made, other events assume greater importance or time heals. Middle East Peace Bonds could accelerate all these processes. They could channel the wishes of the majority of ordinary people in the Middle East and beyond into the attainment of peace in the region. Incentives do matter.

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