Saturday, May 29, 2010

What do helicopters catching Skylab have to do with Arab-Israeli peace?

I was just beginning my teen years when Skylab fell on July 11, 1979. I remember people talking about whether it would cause damage on the ground, and how such damage could be prevented. One news clip on TV showed the ideas of an American classroom of little kids, perhaps preschool or kindergarten age: crayon drawings showing various ways of dealing with a falling space station. My favorite was a giant net stretched between two helicopters. The idea was for Skylab to fall safely into the net, allowing the helicopters to guide it gently to the ground.

I think that we could learn something from the exercise of those little kids: we need some brainstorming, some way of being really creative, generating ideas, with no risk of criticism. We need to get a whole mountain of ideas out onto the table, because somewhere in that mountain there will be at least a few ideas that could be helpful, if not in providing immediate solutions, at least providing some possible ways to move toward peace.

I have a very childish idea.

Years ago I read an article in a science magazine about game theory and how it could be used in simple, two-sided land disputes. The formula was simple: have one side of the negotiators propose the most fair division they can come up with, but let the other side be the first to choose which piece of the pie they will take. This is a beautifully simple plan. It forces the people doing the division into really thinking about what's fair, because they know that they'll get the second choice.

I propose this not even as a final solution, but just as a brainstorming mechanism: create a website that allows everyone, everywhere to propose their best ideas on how to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs, with the knowledge that each proposal gives first choice to the other side. So an Israeli would propose a division of Palestine that allows the Arabs to choose their half first. Let this website get filled up with hundreds or even thousands of proposals. The two sides of the conflict can sit at home, not having to worry about the pressures of negotiations, and quietly reflect on these proposals. Surely there will be a few, or at least one, that is thought to be a good idea by both camps. Maybe there could even be a voting mechanism, so the two camps of negotiators and leaders can see the popularity of the proposals, in case they want to listen to the voice of the people.

I think that we can find a solution to this problem. Maybe I'm just the kid drawing helicopters catching Skylab, but even if it's a naive or even stupid idea, maybe someone smart will read it and be inspired to come up with a good idea.

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