Rebut or retract: A public challenge to Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz’s response to his derisive reception at 'Post' conference in New York late underscores bankruptcy of “The Case for Two States”.

May 9, 2013 23:14
Alan Dershowitz at the Jerusalem Post conference in New York, April 2013.

Alan Dershowitz Jpost conference 2013. 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

I have now joined this distinguished company of people who get booed for advocating territorial compromise in the interest of peace. That’s why I will no longer lend my support to ‘far-right pep’ rallies of the kind I spoke at last week.
– Alan Dershowitz, Jerusalem Post, May 5

In many ways, Alan Dershowitz’s somewhat puerile and petulant response to the derisive reception he was given by the audience at The Jerusalem Post Second Annual Conference in New York late last month vividly underscores just how bankrupt “The Case for Two States” has become.

Sulk, sulk; pout pout

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True, Dershowitz has been a stout defender of Israel against its more vehement critics. For this he should be – and often is – commended.

But this does not give him a carte blanche to promote preposterous and perilous policy proposals – or immunize himself from censure when he does.

His intemperate reaction to the irreverent giggles that the plan he presented for restarting talks with the Palestinians – or at least, certain elements of the plan – elicited from the audience were hardly becoming of a figure of his stature.

Although a case could perhaps be made for greater courtesy from the crowd, Dershowitz’s disparaging dismissal of his critics as “foolish” and “part of the problem, not the solution”; and his rather juvenile jibe that he reserved the right “to tell you what I think of you, and it’s not much,” hardly added to the force of his arguments.

His conference exchange apparently stung him sufficiently to prompt him into penning a riposte last Sunday, in The Jerusalem Post, titled “Jews who boo efforts to make peace.”

In a display of pouting pique he, in essence, declared that henceforth he would confine the presentation of his blueprint for peace to more compliant and consensual crowds, sulking: “... I will no longer lend my support to ‘far-right pep’ rallies of the kind I spoke at last week.”

When an ardent and articulate two-state advocate, such as Dershowitz, finds himself resorting to insults, rather than intellect, and vows to eschew endeavors to persuade dissenting audiences of the merits of his case, the arguments for it must be becoming terribly threadbare.

Refuting straw-man claims

Of course, the JPost audience was not booing the idea of making peace, merely the idea that it could be attained by disproven methods of political appeasement and territorial concessions.

They can invoke both past precedent and political prudence in support of their skepticism and apprehension regarding the consequences of persisting with such a policy.

But in attempting to rebut his “right-wing” opponents, Dershowitz invokes straw-man tactics, endeavoring to contort and caricaturize, rather than contend with, their positions.

He thus attempts to discount his critics as an inconsequential group of shrill and irrational rejectionists, writing: “There are a small number of extremely vocal right-wing Jews who believe that retaining the entire West Bank is more important than trying to make peace with the Palestinians.”

Quite the opposite is true: There is a large – and growing – number of mainstream Jews, denied Dershowitz’s easy access to the media, who believe that relinquishing even the entire West Bank would not result in sustainable peace with the Palestinians.

When it comes to irrational obsession, this seems far more the case with proponents of Palestinian statehood, than with its opponents.

It is not so much that the latter are not prepared to give up anything to attain peace, but that the former are prepared to give up everything, even if peace is not attained.

For as we saw last month at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, where the bizarre notion of “constructive unilateralism” was aggressively touted, there are a small number of extremely vocal left-wing Jews, with easy access to the media, who believe in relinquishing virtually the entire West Bank – even if this does not result in peace. Now there is irrational obsession for you.

Illogical and incomprehensible

 I could go on analyzing and countering the bile-tipped barbs that Dershowitz hurls at his detractors, and demonstrate that they are both inappropriate and unconvincing. But rather than get embroiled in a petty tit-for-tat rhetorical duel, I should like to focus efforts on his overall proposal, and show why it is neither logically consistent nor operationally feasible.

At this point allow me to remark that occasionally, an irate talk-backer will complain that there is some repetition to be found in the arguments articulated in the almost 100 columns I have written in this section over the past two years. To be fair, there is some truth in the claim. But this is virtually unavoidable when the same delusional and dangerous ideas, like so many hydra-heads, keep appearing repeatedly, and need to be refuted repeatedly.

Accordingly, in the ensuing paragraphs I will, as I have done before, set out the glaring defects and deficiencies in Dershowitz’s proposal for peace with the Palestinians which make it unworthy of serious consideration.

But then, I shall call on him to rebut my contentions or to concede their validity, retract the proposal and refrain from its continued promotion.

You know, just so I won’t have to keep on repeatedly refuting it.

A brief reminder

Readers will recall that Dershowitz suggests a scheme for reengaging the Palestinian Authority (presumably sans Hamas) in negotiations, in effect by offering it less – i.e. a conditional construction freeze – than what has already proven ineffective – i.e. an unconditional construction freeze.

Essentially, he counsels “putting the horse before the cart,” claiming: “The first issue on the table should be the rough borders of a Palestinian state.”

According to Dershowitz this can be done by “recognizing that the West Bank can be realistically divided into three effective areas: • Those... relatively certain to remain part of Israel, such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Gilo and other areas close to the center of Jerusalem.

• Those... relatively certain to become part of a Palestinian state, such as Ramallah, Jericho, Jenin and the vast majority of the heavily populated Arab areas of the West Bank beyond Israel’s security barrier.

• Those reasonably in dispute, including some of the large settlement blocs several kilometers from Jerusalem such as Ariel (which may well remain part of Israel, but subject to negotiated land swaps).”

As for the mechanism of the construction freeze, he stipulates: “There would be no Israeli building in those areas likely to become part of a Palestinian state. There would be no limit on Israeli building within areas likely to remain part of Israel. And 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.”

Significantly, the said freeze would commence “as soon as the Palestinian Authority sits down at the bargaining table, and continue as long as the talks continue in good faith.”

Points of principle

While it might be unreasonable to expect Dershowitz to provide answers to questions as to the elaborate details of his scheme, he should be able to provide them on the many issues of major principle it raises.

For example. with regard to his confident assertion that certain area across the Green Line are “relatively certain to remain part of Israel,” would this, in Dershowitz’s eyes, include the contentions E1 area whose development has been endorsed by virtually all Israeli prime ministers, including Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert? If not, why not? After all, it is immediately adjacent to Jerusalem and comprises the territorial link between the capital and Ma’aleh Adumim, which Dershowitz designates as “relatively certain to remain part of Israel.”

Or does he recommend encapsulating Ma’aleh Adumim’s 50,000 Jewish residents within an isolated enclave almost completely surrounded by Palestinian territory, accessible only by a narrow, virtually indefensible – or at least easily disrupted – corridor? Would he envision the same fate for “other areas close to the center of Jerusalem” such as Pisgat Ze’ev and and Givat Ze’ev, with a combined population of about 70,000 Jewish residents? Clarification would be greatly appreciated, as well as any indication of who in the PA agrees these areas should remain part of Israel?

Points of principle (cont)

As for the areas that “are in reasonable dispute,” would the freeze be placed on both sides of the dispute, or merely on the Jewish side? If not, why not? Clearly, if Jewish development is denied while Arab construction is allowed, the fate of these areas has been prejudged as being destined for inclusion in the putative Palestinian state, and their designation as “disputed” is deceptively misleading. So I would call on Dershowitz to enlighten us on this matter as well – a freeze on both sides, or only for Israelis? Dershowitz seems to expose his prejudice on this issue when he endorses “encourage[ ing] residents [in these areas] to move to areas that will remain part of Israel, especially if the freeze were accompanied by financial inducements to relocate.”

A trenchant question immediately arises: Apparently Dershowitz sees no moral defects in providing financial inducements to fund the evacuation of Jews from disputed areas to allow their annexation to what, in all likelihood, will become a failed micromini- Islamist state and a forward base for radical terror groups. Accordingly, would he not agree that there is no moral defect in funding the evacuation of Arabs from these areas to allow their annexation to Israel, and to forestall the establishment of such a presumably undesirable entity? And if not, why not?

The matter of good faith

As we have seen, according to Dershowitz, the building freeze in the areas in “reasonable dispute” will continue “as long as the talks continue in good faith.”

Again, a trenchant question of principle arises: What would be the criteria for determining – and who would be the arbiter to determine – whether the talks were “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 gives Israel the power to judge their good faith? Prof. Dershowitz, could you elucidate?

Especially disturbing

 Dershowitz talks glibly of widespread support among Israeli leaders for “a two-state solution that does not compromise Israel’s security.”

For a myriad of reasons that I and others have detailed elsewhere, this is unattainable “pie in the sky.”

I would challenge him (and indeed any senior Israeli) to show how any two-state configuration, even remotely acceptable to the Palestinians as a permanent resolution of the conflict, could be implemented without gravely compromising Israel’s security.

Unless, of course, wildly optimistic, and hence irresponsible, assumptions as to the future conduct of the Palestinians are made, envisioning them behaving in a manner diametrically opposed to the way they have behaved for decades.

In his writings, Dershowitz has shown himself to be alive to perils any such arrangement might create, threatening to bring the realities of Sderot to the Coastal Plain: “Someday Hamas might gain control over the Palestinian government, either by means of a coup, or an election, or some such combination of both. Israel cannot be asked to accept a fully militarized Hamas state on its vulnerable borders.”

The question is why risk a policy that may well precipitate an unacceptable situation which you will have no power to prevent?

The challenge

I challenge Dershowitz to respond to the queries I raise and to rebut my critiques of his proposal.

If he cannot, he should retract both the proposal and his pejorative portrayal of its critics. That would be no more than his moral and public duty.

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