One man's verdict

The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved By Alan Dershowitz Wiley 203pp., $22.95

By NATHAN BURSTEIN
October 9, 2005 13:14

 
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The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved By Alan Dershowitz Wiley 203pp., $22.95 Between his occasional Penthouse columns and recent appearances on TV sports shows, it would be easy to forget that Alan Dershowitz's media career started as a result of his legal scholarship, not simply his gift for the memorable one-liner. But the Harvard law professor puts his formidable rhetorical arsenal back on display in his latest book, The Case for Peace, which arrived in American bookstores last month and is now on sale in Israel. A follow-up to 2003's The Case for Israel, the new book is an engrossing demonstration of the skills that make an effective attorney, frequently revisiting persuasive old arguments and repeating familiar anecdotes that worked well with past juries. Among other old favorites in The Case for Peace, Dershowitz apparently can't resist again telling how Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell defended anti-Semitic policies in the 1920s on the grounds that "Jews cheat," then refused to acknowledge the possibility that members of other groups might commit the same sin as well. It's a story Dershowitz has used in The Case for Israel and other books, as well as in his frequent speeches and appearances to promote them. The look and format of the new book are familiar as well, with the title of most chapters coming in the form of a question and followed by Dershowitz's predictable, if convincing, pro-Israel answer. ("Can Israel Make Peace and Prevent Terrorism at the Same Time?" I'm guessing yes.) Even the cover of the new book resembles that of The Case for Israel, with the title written in identical black font and accompanied by a history-laden Middle East symbol (a Star of David on the old book, an olive branch on the new one). But despite its similar structure and the familiarity of a number of anecdotes, The Case for Peace is a welcome and in some way more ambitious book than its predecessor. Though the book revisits many of the same anti-Israel slanders addressed in The Case for Israel, it also spends more energy on possible solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and provides an incisive analysis of how the Middle East debate has played out on American and European university campuses in the last two years. Several sections deal with their topics in a more nuanced manner than can be found in the previous book, and some chapters even allow that there might not be a simple "yes" or "no" answer to the question under investigation. A chapter on the Geneva Initiative, for example, notes the progress that could result from the unofficial peace treaty, but it also worries with some legitimacy about whether Israeli democracy is undermined when unelected actors take it upon themselves to hammer out "model" political agreements. Dershowitz relies heavily on recent news reports in The Case for Peace, which is intended to be more "forward-looking" and less "reactive" than The Case for Israel and other recent books on the Arab-Israeli conflict. While habitual newspaper readers will recall many of the New York Times, Guardian and Haaretz pieces cited in the book, Dershowitz's argumentation with and against the articles occasionally surprises. Maps of a proposed rail line connecting major West Bank cities with Jerusalem and Gaza may be news to many readers, and an accompanying map of the Danish rail system - which connects the country across two channels of water - provides persuasive, hope-giving evidence that a future Palestine could be economically viable. As he notes throughout both "Cases" and his previous books, Dershowitz is very much in support of Palestine - so long as its existence doesn't jeopardize or damage Israel's. "I have always been pro-Palestinian," he writes in the book's conclusion. Though moderate critics on both the Left and Right will argue about the process that will result in the creation of a Palestinian state, Dershowitz never less than fully acknowledges the need to end Israel's occupation of nearly all the West Bank and create a prosperous Palestinian democracy in its place. Indeed, it is the principle of achieving both a terror-free Israel and an IDF-free Palestine that underlies the bulk of The Case for Peace, which could equally accurately be titled The Case for Two States. Excluding lengthy digressions about Iran's atomic program and the dastardly deeds of his academic opponents, Dershowitz focuses primarily on bringing the Israeli-Palestinian debate back to the political center. A decades-long supporter of the two-state solution, Dershowitz is clearly unnerved by recent essays in The New York Times and elsewhere calling for the creation of a single country between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which Dershowitz argues would result in a cataclysmic inter-ethnic war like those in Lebanon and the former Yugoslavia. The violence of the second intifada has emboldened one-state advocates in the PLO and at American and European universities, and Dershowitz's writing is marked by a sense of immediacy that is only heightened by church and university divestment campaigns that have continued despite Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Dershowitz's chapter on such movements is dispiriting - he labels them "more Palestinian than the Palestinians" - but he's correct in calling for a return to the "two states for two peoples" principle. He's oddly dismissive of large numbers of two-state supporters when he claims that "all reasonable people" accept that the largest West Bank settlements will ultimately be part of Israel, and it would have been helpful if he'd further explained why the one-state solution could never be viable. Identifying those who are "more Israeli than the Israelis" adds balance to the book - and further shows the ethnic and religious supremacism that underlies most calls to place all of historical Israel/Palestine under one authority. Unfortunately, there are plenty of campus daydreamers who genuinely believe the false promises of a peaceful binational state - I studied among them as recently as 2004 - and Dershowitz is quick to deride such thinking as a "ploy" and "nonstarter" put forward only by "enemies of peace." Despite these shortcomings, however, Dershowitz performs a real service for Israelis and Palestinians in calling for a return to negotiations, an end to violence, and self-determination for both peoples. It's not easy to argue against The Case for Peace.

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