Opinion: How to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict

From Derek
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The problem with violent approaches to conflict such as wars, is the destruction and loss of life. Also because the world is a complex social network we never can predict, in advance, whether any proposed war is going to result in a continuing cycle that breeds further endless wars or fizzles out in peace. Some conflicts end in a dramatic halt, but some just seem to drag on and on without an end in sight. The Israel-Palestine conflict is an example where warfare seems endless. We need constructive rather than destructive solutions to problems. It is vital that we have more top engineers closely advising politicians how to problem solve in a constructive peaceful way. How would an engineer go about solving the Israel-Palestine conflict?

An engineering solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict

This is one possible way a civil engineer could go about addressing the Israel-Palestine conflict:

  • Step 1: Estimate the area of Israel = 20,770 sq km
  • Step 2: Estimate the area of water inside Israel = 440 sq km
  • Step 3: Calculate the land mass of Israel = 20,330 - 440 = 20,300 sq km
  • Step 4: Estimate the area of the Gaza Strip = 360 sq km
  • Step 5: Estimate how much it costs to reclaim land out of the Mediterranean sea. In 2003, the Seychelles reclaimed 3.5 sq km of land from the sea for a mere US 50 million. So let us be conservative and say that Israel-Palestine land reclamation will cost $50 million per 1 sq km.
  • Step 6: Estimate how much extra land Israel-Palestine needs so that fighting stops. The exact figure will result from political negotiation. But as engineers, we can at least calculate an upper and a lower bound. In the minimal case we need an extra 360 sq km so that both sides can have a land mass equivalent to the Gaza Strip. In the worst maximal case let us say that we need no more than the land mass of Israel itself—doubling the area should create more than enough for both sides to equitably share.
  • Step 7: Therefore, the minimal cost = $50 million [math]\times[/math] 360 = $18,000 million = $18 billion. The maximal cost is = $50 million [math]\times[/math] 20,300 = $1,016,500 million = $1 trillion (approx).

Are these costs reasonable?

The minimal case of $18 billion

How much is $18 billion? It is nothing compared to the magnitude of the problem. The US-Saudi arms deal in January 2008 alone was $20 billion. The point being that $18 billion is insignificant when compared to what is generally spent on weapons in the world. The biologist Edward O. Wilson has proposed the sum of $50 billion for protecting the Earth's biodiversity, and referred to this small sum of money as "chump change."

The maximal case of $1 trillion

It is unlikely a sum this large is needed to solve the conflict. However, let us hypothetically consider this case. The Nobel prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz has estimated that the real cost of US-Iraq war is $3 trillion. So it is reasonable to guesstimate that well over $1 trillion has already been spent on all the Israel-Palestine conflicts since 1948. The maximal cost of the solution is probably less than what has been spent on destruction.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that the economic cost of a peaceful solution is less than what is spent on weapons. Then when we take into account the human and spiritual cost, we see that military solutions are 'overkill.'

Who should pay?

I am an engineer/scientist, not a political negotiator. However, note that $18 billion is only a fraction of Warren Buffet's fortune. He could make a donation and still be one of the world's richest men and become a hero all at the same time. I only picked on Buffet randomly to show how small these sums of money are. Another sobering thought is that in the 2001-2007 period, the US military aid to Israel was about $19.5 billion—if equivalent money was used for a land reclamation project, peace might have a chance. In reality, the money could be raised as a cooperative deal between all the stakeholders in the Israel-Palestine region.

Does land really address the problem?

As any therapist can tell you, when a husband and wife have a conflict it does not help to go straight into "problem solving mode." First, one must get to the heart of the problem and validate each others' feelings before proposing practical solutions. This is probably also true of conflict between nations. A possible objection to the 'solution' of generating more land, is that it does not go to the heart of the conflict in terms of values/culture. The land is only a tangible representation for the 'real' intangible issues. My reply to this is that I don't deny there are intangible issues, however, there is clearly also a land issue nevertheless. A creative proposal on the table to generate more land at the expense of bombs, is a clean way on which to build a fresh resolution process. It changes the parameters, landscape, and shows new vision and hope. The alternative is the status quo, and we know that is not working.

The details of how the old land and the new is divided up is also a matter for political negotiators and not my job as an engineer. One could imagine various scenarios for cutting up the cake. But one thing is for for certain, you can't expect anyone to want any part of the new land unless there is some attractive infrastructure on it. So for a relatively small additional cost we need to look at building schools, hospitals, roads, a water desalination plant, and a shipping port. We need to put into place 30 year shipping contracts into the new port so that an economy can develop in the region. This port could be developed into a major hub for a part of Middle East.


These are the opinions of Prof Derek Abbott and not of the University of Adelaide. Being a professor rather than a politician gives me the freedom to brainstorm ideas, and even change my opinion as I learn. Academic freedom means that professors not only have a responsibility to put forward bold ideas, but also to be constantly fine tuning them as they get tested and peer reviewed. Comments and corrections are therefore invited and I will modify this page as new points emerge. Email: dabbott@eleceng.adelaide.edu.au