Into the Fray: Disputing Dershowitz – again
What is it about the Palestinian issue that induces the total eclipse of common sense in otherwise ostensibly intelligent people?
Alan Dershowitz Photo: (Courtesy of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
A [Palestinian] state is liable to be an arrowhead directed at the very heart of
Israel with all the force of the Arab world behind it.... this is the terrible
danger involved in the establishment of a third independent sovereign state
between us and the Jordan River – Amnon Rubinstein, former Meretz MK and
education minister, Haaretz, 1976
What is it about the Palestinian issue that
induces the total eclipse of common sense in otherwise ostensibly intelligent
people? How long can two-staters cling to disastrously failed concepts? How long
can they obdurately adhere to patently unfeasible policy proposals? How long can
they continue to mouth meaningless mantras that fly in the face of painfully
evident facts? How long can they go on resolutely ignoring reality – no matter
how ruinous the consequences?
How long can they maintain the mendacious
masquerade that their futile pursuit of fatal fantasy somehow validates their
absurd claim to the moral and intellectual high ground?
How long will it take
until intellectual integrity asserts itself and compels them to admit error?
These irksome questions keep pushing themselves into my mind whenever I
encounter an new declaration of support for the two-state notion by people of
the stature of Alan Dershowitz.
Oxymorons and non sequiturs
As I have
stated before in prefacing previous critiques of his positions, I feel a certain
discomfort in engaging in public dispute with such a staunch supporter of Israel
as Dershowitz. But his good intentions are no guarantee of the quality – or the
consequences – of his political prescriptions, and given his significant public
influence and considerable media access, his well-meaning but ill-advised
proposals cannot go unchallenged.
This is particularly true of his recent
offering in The Wall Street Journal, “A Settlement Freeze Can Advance
Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” The piece, reposted in several high profile sites on
the Web, was a masterpiece of logical inconsistency, with its oxymorons
surpassed only by its non sequiturs.
Excessively harsh criticism?
Dershowitz correctly observes: “Israel accepted a 10-month
freeze in 2009, but the Palestinian Authority didn’t come to the bargaining
table until weeks before the freeze expired. Its negotiators demanded that the
freeze be extended indefinitely. When Israel refused, they walked away
from the table.”
He then cautions that if the government imposed a
similar freeze now: “There is every reason to believe that... they would
continue such game-playing especially in light of current efforts by the
Palestinian Authority and Hamas to form their own unity government, which would
likely include elements opposed to any negotiation with the Jewish
But what conclusion does Dershowitz draw from his recognition of
proven bad faith in the past, and of probable increased rejectionism in the
future? Rather than following the logic that his own analysis seems to dictate,
i.e. either that negotiations are futile, or that more generous offers be made,
he advocates neither.
Instead, he makes the astounding suggestion that
the Palestinians be coaxed back to the negotiating table by offering them...
less than what they have already rejected. Go figure.
Bold or bonkers
According to Dershowitz, given the giant-sized ruling coalition in Israel, “the
time is ripe for that government to make a bold peace offer to the Palestinian
Authority” – as if in the past the size of the coalition has prevented Israel
from making wildly irresponsible concessionary proposals to the Palestinians,
all of which were resoundingly rejected.
The problem with making “bold
peace offers” is not that they endanger the ruling coalition, but that they have
proved totally unproductive – indeed counter-productive – resulting in nothing
but Palestinian demands for yet further concessions.
At some stage,
repeating increasingly risky offers ceases to be “bold” and become just
“bonkers.” As I pointed out in last week’s column, apart from the unrequited
unilateral 10-month freeze on construction in the “settlements,” Israel has,
among other things:
• Withdrawn from major populations centers in Judea and
• Unilaterally evacuated the Gaza Strip, erasing every vestige of
• Unearthed its dead from graveyards;
• Demolished settlements
in northern Samaria; and
• Allowed armed militias to deploy adjacent to its
capital, within mortar range of its parliament.
The Palestinians have
responded with vitriolic Judeophobic incitement and vicious Judeocidal terror,
even from within – especially from within – areas transferred to their control.
(Imagine the storm of international outrage that would erupt if the mainstream
Israeli media dared to depict the Palestinians as the mainstream Palestinian
media depicts the Israelis. Ah! The soft racism of low expectations.)
Yet none of this seems to have any perceptible impact on
Dershwitz’s perceptions of political realities.
Despite the accumulation
of unequivocal evidence, he still appears loath to recognize the recurring bad
faith on the part of the Palestinians and to acknowledge the continual and
concrete good faith shown by Israel.
In a breathtaking display of
misplaced moral equivalence, he has the temerity to suggest that his proposal
will not only provide “a good test of the bona fides of the Palestinian side
[but].. would also test the bona fides of the Israeli government.”
is a stunning assertion for someone purportedly familiar with the twists and
turns of the “peace process.”
For – as we shall soon see – Israel has
made the Palestinians offers more farreaching than Dershowitz’s proposal, which
were all rejected.
So not only should this be completely adequate to
determine unequivocally the respective bona fides (or lack thereof) of the two
sides, but it is entirely unclear why his proposal should have any chance of
acceptance by the Palestinians – or how it could contribute to any further
clarification of the two sides’ bone fides.
digress. Getting back to the substance of Dershowitz’s proposal: As I mentioned
earlier, he not only concedes that the Palestinians spurned the construction
freeze, but that they are likely to do so again.
Moreover, he cautions
that the future Palestinian government may well include elements opposed to any
negotiations. Yet despite all this, he suggests that negotiations be commenced
with an Israeli offer of a “conditional freeze,” to commence “as soon as the
Palestinian Authority sits down at the bargaining table, and... continue as long
as the talks continue in good faith.”
This, of course, leaves us to
puzzle over two things:
(a) If the implementation of the previous unconditional
freeze did not induce the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table, why on
earth should the mere promise of a conditional one do so?
(b) Even assuming that
it did, given the past acrimony, reproach and disagreement between the sides,
what would be the criteria for determining – and who would be the arbiter to
determine – whether the talks were in fact “continuing in good faith”? Obama?
The State Department? The EU? Egypt? The Arab League?
I am sure that, on
reflection, Dershowitz might admit that this could be a touch problematic, with
Israel risking being locked into a perpetual construction freeze by a biased
adjudicator of Palestinian “good faith.”
Or would Israel be able to
decide this unilaterally and revoke the freeze at will whenever disagreement
arose? If so, why would the Palestinians agree to an arrangement which give
Israel the power to judge their good faith?
Curiouser and curiouser
get even more perplexing.
Dershowitz asserts: “The first issue on the
table should be the rough borders of a Palestinian state.” Oh really!
What a good idea! So the good professor blithely suggests that we kick off with
a perfunctory agreement over a “trifling” matter that in effect has been a
principal – arguably the principal – bone of contention for at least a quarter
of a century.
But fear not. The redoubtable Dershowitz has a formula for
success where others have failed. Presumably with a straight face, he
prescribes: “Setting those [rough borders] would require recognizing that the
West Bank can be realistically divided into three effective areas: Those that
are relatively certain to remain part of Israel, such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Gilo
and other areas close to the center of Jerusalem [presumably Gush Etzion with a
population of about 70,000 Israelis – M.S.].
“Those that are relatively
certain to become part of a Palestinian state, such as the vast majority of the
heavily populated Arab areas of the West Bank beyond Israel’s security
“Those reasonably in dispute, including some of the large
settlement blocs several miles from Jerusalem such as Ariel (which may well
remain part of Israel, but subject to negotiated land swaps).”
such proposals, one can only wonder whether Dershowitz reads newspapers or
follows the news. Does he seriously imagine that there is any relevant
Palestinian negotiating partner who would agree – a priori – that the areas he
designates as “relatively certain to remain part of Israel” are indeed
relatively certain to remain part of Israel? Does he know of any Palestinian who
would agree that the areas that include “the large settlement blocs such as
Ariel” are “reasonably in dispute”?
Although Dershowitz continues that “this
rough division is based on prior negotiations and positions already articulated
by each side,” it is not at all clear to what – or to whom – he is referring,
certainly not with regard to the Palestinians.
For to launch Dershowitz’s
initiative, some mealy-mouthed, ambiguous – and deniable – inference,
surreptitiously whispered in some covert meeting in some discrete location,
scrupulously shielded from the public eye – and hence totally devoid of any
binding political commitment – will not suffice.
What is needed is for it
to be declared, overtly and officially, as the Palestinians’ publicly proclaimed
position for the commencement of negotiations. Good luck with that.
any Palestinian afford to be seen to be less Palestinian than Barack Obama, who
stipulated the pre-1967 lines as the starting point for delineating the “rough
borders of the Palestinian state,” especially, as we have seen, Dershowitz
himself notes the PA is striving to set up a unity government with Hamas, which
opposes any negotiations with Israel.
Durability and discrimination
the winds blowing throughout the Arab world, the durability and credibility of
Palestinian “good faith” becomes crucial, not only because of the grave
consequences of territorial concessions for Israel’s security. It is equally
crucial for the application of the core element of Dershowitz’s proposal –
“conditional freeze” of settlement construction – which if anything is even more
problematic than his geographical division of the “West Bank.”
For he is
completely mistaken when he claims: “If there can be agreement concerning this
preliminary division – even tentative or conditional – then the
settlement-building dispute would quickly disappear.”
Nothing could be
further from the truth, or more conducive to potential friction – especially the
part about the agreement being “tentative or conditioned.”
that “there would be no Israeli building in those areas likely to become part of
a Palestinian state” but refrains from precluding Palestinian building “within
areas likely to remain part of Israel” – which fair and balanced impartiality
would seem to call for. Wouldn’t it?
His attitude to
the “disputed areas” is even more discriminatory.
He states: “The
conditional freeze would continue in disputed areas until it was decided which
will remain part of Israel and which will become part of the new Palestinian
state.... An absolute building freeze would be... a painful but necessary
But would the Palestinians be prevented from building in
these disputed areas “until it was decided which will remain part of Israel and
which will become part of the new Palestinian state”? You know, so as not to
prejudge the outcome? And if not, why not?
Significantly, he adds: “It might
also encourage residents of settlements to move to areas that will remain part
of Israel, especially if accompanied by financial inducements to relocate.”
Really! Financial inducements for relocation of Jews in “disputed areas”– but
not for Arabs?
These are weighty issues and deserve careful consideration and
However, to avert the wrath of my very patient
editor, I will have to have to defer further analysis to next week, when I will
continue the critique of Dershowitz’s proposal, and, I hope, take up related
issues. Until then...