Why are extremists able to sabotage peace processes in some cases but not others? And under what conditions will the public respond to such provocation and return to unpopular wars? We seek to show that extremist violence is not indiscriminate or irrational as many people have assumed but quite strategic. We argue that extremist violence intentionally plays on the uncertainty that exists between the more moderate groups who are attempting to negotiate a peace agreement. Using a game-theoretic model of the interaction of extremist violence and mistrust, we identify the conditions under which extremists will succeed and fail. We find that extremists are most likely to succeed in derailing a peace process when the targeted side believes that opposition moderates are strong. At these times, the public perceives moderates as best able to control and suppress extremists within their own ranks. When moderates are viewed as weak and unable to crack down on extremists, terrorism is more likely to fail. We discuss this finding, as well as a number of additional implications of the model, in connection with the Israeli–Palestinian case.
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