Does Terrorism Work?
Eric D. Gould and Esteban F. Klor
Department of Economics
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
This paper presents the first systematic examination of whether terrorism is an effective strategy to achieve political goals, while paying particular attention to the issue of causality. Our results show that terror attacks by Palestinian factions have succeeded to move the entire political landscape of the Israeli electorate towards a more accommodating stance regarding the political objectives of the Palestinians. Specifically, we show that local terror attacks cause Israelis to be: (i) more willing to grant territorial concessions to the Palestinians; (ii) more willing to accept a Palestinian state; and (iii) less likely to identify oneself as being right-wing. Although terrorism induces Israelis to vote increasingly for right-wing parties, our results indicate that right-wing parties (and particular demographic groups which tend to be right-wing in their views) are shifting to the left in response to terror.
We show that local terror attacks cause Israelis to be: (i) more willing to grant territorial concessions to the Palestinians; (ii) more willing to accept a Palestinian state; and (iii) less likely to identify oneself as being right-wing.
These findings highlight the importance of examining how terrorism affects political views, not just voting patterns, when assessing the effectiveness of terror. Looking at the effect of terrorism only on voting patterns in order to infer its effect on political views would lead to the opposite conclusion, at least in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While terrorism in small doses appears to be an effective political tool, our results suggest that terror activity beyond a certain threshold seems to backfire on the goals of terrorist factions, by hardening the stance of the targeted population. This finding could be one explanation for why terrorist factions tend to implement their tactics in episodes that are rather limited in scale and diverse in terms of geographic placement.
Others have argued that Palestinian terrorism has worked in exacting political concessions (Dershowitz (2002) and Hoffman (2006)). Their claim, however, is that terrorism raised the salience of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which increased pressure from the international community on the Israeli government. Our paper shows that terrorism works not only because of the possibility of fostering international pressure, but also because it creates domestic political pressure from the targeted electorate.
Many conflicts in history have been settled by peaceful means (the racial conflict in South Africa, the civil rights movement in the US, the British occupation of India, etc). Understanding when conflicts are conducted peacefully versus violently is a complicated issue that deserves more attention. It may well be the case that a more peaceful, diplomatic strategy would have been more effective in achieving Palestinian goals.
Moreover, the apparent political effectiveness of Palestinian terrorism may not have been worth the economic, social, and human cost to the Palestinian population over time, as the conflict remains unsettled to this day. However, by showing that terror can be an effective political tool, our findings not only provide insights into how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has evolved over time, but also shed light on why terror appears to be increasing in many parts of the world. Effective and comprehensive counterterrorism policies -- which may consist of deterrence, raising the costs to terrorists, and diplomatic efforts -- have to take into account the political gains which can be obtained through terrorism.