21 February 2007 – Games and fashion
Over the past few days, I have been fiddling around with a new computer game called Peacemaker. It’s a simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and actually quite addictive. You play the role of the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President, and try to build confidence among your own people while developing the trust of the other side and the respect of the world. The goal is to make peace.
Along the way, you have to deal with sudden shocks such as suicide bombings, street demonstrations, economic downturns, even slips of the tongue by junior ministers in your government. Each of these events is accompanied by real-world photographs or footage. You gauge the public mood by examining a set of opinion polls and decide whether to use political, economic or security-related policies.
I must admit that I have played this game rather badly thus far. Every time I have been the Israeli Prime Minister, my actions have sparked the Third Intifada. (The game seems to punish targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders.) When I have been the Palestinian President, I have lost the support of the international community for my people’s aspirations by giving strident speeches and failing to control violence.
I have improved a little bit by picking up on the game’s subtle clues. If some international agency expresses concern about the deteriorating fortunes of the Palestinian economy, for example, then as Israeli Prime Minister you should offer economic aid. It’s not that simple, though—aid is often refused if you’ve spent the last few turns fighting terrorists by increasing checkpoints and imposing curfews.
One of the features of Middle East politics that the game tries to highlight is the interdependence of national leaders. Another is the chaotic way in which events respond to, or amplify, each other. Sometimes a gain for the Israelis is a loss for the Palestinians; sometimes both may benefit or lose at once. The need for coordination becomes apparent very quickly, but it is very hard to achieve, as in real life.
Something about the game felt just a little bit unreal to me. It leaves little room for dramatic gestures—positive ones, at any rate—on the scale of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977. It also gives the impression that all Israeli or Palestinian leaders do is respond to one extremist faction or another, pulling in all different directions. On second thought, maybe that’s a fair picture of the reality.
In other news, a designer in the UK has come up with the “Keffiyeh Israelit,” the Israeli answer to the Palestinian keffiyeh that is showing up on fashionable necks all over the place. (Ironically, I think it’s the erection of the security barrier, and the resultant drop in suicide bombings, that has made the keffiyeh politically safe enough to be a trendy symbol of resistance and counterculture chic.)
I think the Keffiyeh Israelit is a great idea—and I’ve ordered a few—for three reasons. First, it is a satire on the Palestinian one, and on the whole idea of militancy that the keffiyeh has come to represent. Second, it asserts the right of Israelis (and friends of Israel) to be funky and spiky, too. And third, it claims that Israel, too, is part of the Middle East and therefore has a national keffiyeh style.