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Two noted academics offered vastly different views on the history and path forward in the Arab-Israeli conflict recently as Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky debated each other at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Whereas Chomsky claimed "Israeli rejectionism" was the source of Arab-Israeli tensions, Dershowitz derided the Palestinian rejection of the peace offer made to Yasser Arafat by Ehud Barak at Camp David.
Dershowitz also called on academics to stop demonizing Israel. "At the moment, I am sad to report that many academics around the world are contributing to an atmosphere that makes peace more difficult to achieve," Dershowitz said. "Thank G-d Israel has to make peace with the Palestinians, and not with the professors!" Dershowitz went on to say that peace "will require that both sides give up rights."
Chomsky and Dershowitz were each given ten minutes for opening remarks, followed by forty-five minutes for a question-and-answer session with the audience, and two minutes for closing statements.
To a skeptical audience however Dershowitz refuted Chomsky's line of attack.
"President Clinton told me directly and personally," Dershowitz said, "that the cause of the failure of the Camp David talks was the refusal of the Palestinians and Arafat to give up the right of returnâ€¦It wasn't borders, it wasn't Jerusalem, it was the right of returnâ€¦ If you think America has rejected the two state solution, I say welcome to Planet Chomsky."
Chomsky rebutted by saying it was hard to trust hearsay. "You can believe what the [research] shows or you can believe what Mr. Dershowitz says someone told him," he said.
Chomsky suggested that Israel was "outside the international consensus." He argued the Israeli Supreme Court's decision to reject the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice is consistent with "Chief [Justice Aharon] Barak's doctrine that Israeli law supersedes international law particularly in eastern Jerusalem... and that is a violation of the security council's orders." Chomsky also claimed that there were "Jewish only" roads in the West Bank, later saying they were the "roads of the sovereign state of the Jewish people".
Dershowitz was skeptical. "I challenge you to find a place where it says Israeli Law trumps international law," he said to Chomsky. Dershowitz clarified that not only was the ICJ opinion non-binding, the other issue was that Israel could not accept a opinion from a court of which it was not allowed to participate.
Chomsky, who Dershowitz claimed was: "picking tidbits out of context, knowing that we are not going to check up on him," said Arab states and the PLO had attempted to make peace with Israel on a number of occasions. He alleged that in 1971 the Israeli government rejected a peace offer by assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. "Israel rejected the offer, choosing expansion over securityâ€¦those decisions led to the 1973 war," Chomsky said.
Returning to his previous theme, Dershowitz assailed academics for making the Arab-Israeli conflict worse. "They [academics] are encouraging those who see the end of Israel as their ultimate goal to persist in their ideological terrorist campaign." He proposed a peace treaty among academics who purport to favor peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Chomsky alleged that, in 1976, Israel rejected outright a peace offer by Arab states. He said Israel missed a later opportunity when, in 1988, the PLO went from "tacit approval to formal acceptance of the two state solution."
He also claimed that the negotiations at Camp David in 2000 foundered on territorial issues, not Palestinian refugees and their descendents "for which Arafat agreed to a pragmatic solution." "No Palestinian" could have accepted the Camp David offer, Chomsky said.
Dershowitz again refuted that logic. "Bill Clinton has told me," he said, "Dennis Ross has told meâ€¦it was completely in the hands of Arafat."
"Many of those who support the Palestinian cause [on campus] tend to be opposed virulently to Israel," said Dershowitz. "Most of those who support Israel are supportive of a peaceful Palestinian state."
Chomsky said ultimately the United States was to blame. "The [settlements] will continue as long as Washington insists on marching along the road to catastropheâ€¦by rejecting minimal Palestinian rights. And if that march to catastrophe continues, we will only have ourselves to blame," Chomsky said.