Last week, Finance for Impact participated to University of Pittsburgh seminar on conflict resolution. The originality of the session consisted in applying the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) methodology to one of the most complex international crisis, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and, in particular, the refugee issue.

With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, approximately 725,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes to seek refuge in the neighboring Arab territories. The properties that they left behind were seized by the nascent Jewish state. A further 300,000 were displaced by Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Today, about 5 million refugees and their descendants are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

The Palestinian refugees question in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process stands as one of the most difficult and sensitive one, with the parties unwilling or unable to articulate compromise positions in the last 60+ years. For Palestinians and Israelis alike, it touches upon deeply held historical narratives and even existential issues: the partition of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel; the forced displacement and refugee experience of the Palestinian people; the Palestinian ‘right of return’ and Israel’s ‘demographic security’, etc.

In the early 2010s, University of Pittsburgh began to apply the AHP approach to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. With the support of a number of private foundations, the University was able, on several occasions, to gather together in Pittsburgh participant groups of equal size, consisting of people who were interested in and knowledgeable about this conflict. A group of senior experts was invited to complete the cycle in the last years. Thierry Senechal, CEO of Finance for Impact and author of a number of studies on the Palestinian Refugee issue between 2004-2012, participated to the Pittsburgh seminars in 2016 and 2017, which debated compensation and development scenarios for the refugees question.

Find out more in the open access summary of how AHP is applied to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict

The AHP approach is well-suited to propose solutions to intricable conflicts. AHP allows to (i) structure a problem as a hierarchy or as a system with dependence loops, (ii) represent judgments with meaningful numbers and (iii) derive priorities on issues. Luis Vargas, one of the organizers of these seminar and Professor at the Joseph M. Katz School of Business, University of Pittsburgh, argues that the advantages which the AHP provides over face to face negotiations are critical intellectually and substantively. These advantages include minimizing the emotional interplay between the parties, accurately measuring the impact of intangible factors not previously considered, providing an opportunity to consider every possible issue involved, identifying all concessions that could be made by either party, no matter which party articulated them, providing an opportunity for tradeoffs between and among concessions, establishing values for each concession that create priorities expressing the importance, as accurately measured, of each factor involved, and using a hierarchical structure to establish the benefits, opportunities, costs and risks.

Watch the video of Prof. Vargas on the AHP methodology :

The work of last years on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Pittsburgh shows that AHP can efficiently structure the problems, derive priorities and help reach compromise positions, while minimizing much of the emotionality as it is possible in such circumstances. The measurement technique makes it possible to compare the benefits and costs which each side sees as the result of the judgments they have made.

The participants of the University of Pittsburgh study have discussed an implementable proposal that should facilitate agreement on the issues at stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, a final resolution of the Palestinian refugee crisis will require extensive international support from third parties, both during the period leading to establishment of the implementation proposal and during the implementation. Still, the AHP methodology has certainly brought a novel way of approaching a major conflict, allowing participants to think out of the box, elaborate relevant policy actions and, more importantly, building trust and confidence in one another to facilitate deliberations.

See also:
Powerpoint presentation: The Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) Methodology for Decision Making (L. Vargas and all).

Further reading:
Models, Methods, Concepts & Applications of The Analytic Hierarchy Process, with Thomas L. Saaty. Boston : Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001, 2nd  edition 2012.