Breaking the Stalemate: Avoiding Last Period Defection within Israeli-Palestinian Final Status Negotiations through Statistical Modeling


Debates over the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict can be rife with individual bias, distortions of fact and skewed accounts of history. This publication has two main goals: (1) establish a factual analysis of legal documentation pertaining to the “final status” agreements for the West Bank and East Jerusalem and (2) to utilize raw settlements data to model several feasible two-state solutions with the goal of avoiding common causes of negotiation defections. Both ethical and historical claims to the land, while important, serve mostly to obstruct or divert the peace process, as each group makes claims that serve its own domestic constituency but are inconsistent with the basic assumptions of the “other side.” Final status proposals are all too often based upon desire, history, and personal agendas, ignoring the physical realities on the ground. The illustrations I am able to provide will afford a clearer basis for a blueprint of how to get “there” (a final agreement) from “here” (the actual current pattern of settlements and territory).

Negotiators face a particularly thorny strategic setting, one that game theorists call “the last period problem.” In the Israel-Palestine context, the Final Status negotiation means that neither side has any incentive to compromise or cooperate, because the negotiations end and the agreement is implemented if both sides agree. But that means that both parties make one last major push for their respective goals, often disregarding their partners’ objectives and previous patterns of cooperation. The idea of last minute defection is best modeled through an iterated Prisoners Dilemma in which cooperating with ones’ partners is advantageous until the final move when defection often provides additional gains with no repercussions.

When applying this reasoning to territory-based negotiations the last period is that of a Final Status agreement. There is no incentive to compromise because each party believes that they are in the final stage and any defection will not have negative repercussions. The greater the ability of either party to grab territory enhances the negotiation position for the final round, and there is no mechanism for rewarding a conciliatory stance. Thus the participants act irrationally—as individuals and in terms of the goals of their domestic audiences—by refusing to cooperate, but the aggregate effect is to block any of the Final Status configurations that would make both parties better off compared to the status quo. This “individually rational, group irrationality” outcome is typical of the Prisoner’s Dilemma context. As a result, Final Status territorial disputes can be accurately modeled as iterated prisoner’s dilemmas facing a last-period obstacle: negotiators recognize that the “other side” will always defect in the last period, which causes an “unravelling” in previous periods as both sides attempt to enhance their bargaining strength by grabbing territory or other assets. Good faith attempts to establish a reputation for being reasonable and willing to offer compromises cannot solve this problem, because the “shadow of the future” disappears in the last period.

The issue of defection between partners during territorial Final Status agreements is not a new trend. • Nearing the end of World War II, both the Russians and Americans undermined years of active military alliance and cooperation by rushing to grab land during the last days of the war, hopping to strengthen their negotiating positions. • Likewise, throughout the Nixon-Kissinger attempts at negotiation in Paris to sign an agreement establishing a “final” boundary for North and South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese military was being urged by its leaders on the ground to annex more territory. Each new grab of land enhanced the position of the North Vietnamese negotiators, but it also required a constant redrawing of maps, so that negotiators always felt they were starting over rather than making final arrangements.

These examples highlight an additional issue, which comes up frequently during Final Status negotiations, that being preemptive defection. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and specifically the placement of the Settlements in the West Bank can be seen as a preemptive defection per the internationally disruptive intentions behind each settlement. In the 1970s, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon popularized the term, “Facts on the Ground.” Sharon’s goal was to establish Israeli enclaves across the West Bank that would eventually grow so large that a contagious Palestinian state would no longer be a viable option. In the 1980s, Sharon made his defection from good-faith negotiating very clear when he said, “everyone there should move [to the West Bank], should run, should grab more hills, expand more territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands. Everything we don’t grab will be in their hands.” Thus the issue of preemptive defection, as well as final stage defection in iterated territorial negotiations, is the issue that this paper attempts to address.

To address this issue, this publication uses a specialized Criteria Alternative Matrix (CAM), a method in which physical realities, such as population, distance, and area, are used to compute composite annexation and separation scores for each settlement, thus displaying a feasible final status border. By limiting each actor’s role in the decision-making process and using tangible data to limit negotiations, there are fewer opportunities for actor defection and the resulting collapses.

For the model to be most applicable it is essential to first understand the legal roots of modern Israeli-Palestinian. Simply modeling conflicts isolated from the surrounding political landscape can lead to both inaccurate results as well as unintentional bias. Thus preceding the model is a journey through the legal history of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.





Villa, John J. (2017). Breaking the Stalemate: Avoiding Last Period Defection within Israeli-Palestinian Final Status Negotiations through Statistical Modeling. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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