Double Standard Watch: A real dialogue would have been better

Prof. Alan Dershowitz writes about the debate he should have had with Jimmy Carter at Brandeis.

alan dershowitz 88 (photo credit: )
alan dershowitz 88
(photo credit: )
A real dialogue would have been better President Carter's speech at Brandeis University on Tuesday should have been a real debate. Instead, it was a one-way dialogue with pre-screened questions and no rebuttals. Had Carter allowed the dialogue he says he wants to provoke, we all could have learned something. President Carter and I agree on many issues. We both want a two-state solution to the conflict. We both want to see an end to the occupation. We both oppose new Israeli settlements. We both wish to see the emergence of a democratic, economically viable Palestinian state. Fundamentally, we are both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. There need not be any contradiction between the two. But President Carter and I have our differences, too. I favored a compromise peace based on the offer by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000-2001. Carter, however, defends Yasser Arafat's refusal to accept these generous terms, or to make a counteroffer. In fact, Carter never mentions in his book that the Palestinians could have had a state in 1938, 1948, 1967 and on several other occasions. Their leaders cared more about destroying Israel than they did about creating Palestine. That is the core of the conflict. It is Palestinian terror, not Israeli policy, which prevents peace. Carter chooses to believe Arafat's story over that of Clinton, Barak and Saudi Prince Bandar, who called Arafat's refusal a "crime." Why? We know from Carter's biographer, Douglas Brinkley, that Carter and Arafat strategized together about how to improve the image of the PLO. It is highly likely, therefore, that Arafat sought Carter's advice on whether to accept or reject the Clinton/Barak offer. Did Carter advise Arafat to walk away from a Palestinian state? Did he contribute to the new intifada, which claimed thousands of lives on both sides? That is an important question-one I would have asked Carter had I been given the chance. President Carter also told the audience at Brandeis that he wanted to reduce America's role in the peace process in favor of Russia, the United Nations and the European Union. To me, that is not a serious proposal. As Carter himself showed during his presidency, American leadership is both positive and necessary. I give President Carter credit for the concessions he made in his speech. He acknowledged that the use of the word "apartheid" in the title of his book might have caused offense. He apologized for the infamous passage on page 213, which condones Palestinian terrorism. But the President Carter we saw at Brandeis was different from the President Carter the world has seen on Al-Jazeera. The Al-Jazeera Carter said that Palestinian missiles fired at Israeli civilians are not terrorism. The Al-Jazeera Carter refused to condemn suicide bombings on moral grounds. Even at Brandeis, President Carter continued to make the kinds of inaccurate claims that run throughout his book. He said, for example, that Hamas began a sixteen-month a cease-fire in August 2004. He said nothing about Hamas rocket attacks in the weeks and months that followed, which killed innocent Israeli women and children. He claimed that Israel's security barrier was designed to seize land, when in fact it was proposed by liberal and left wing Israelis, and aims only to protect civilians from bombings and sniper fire. Every inch of the barrier's route has to be justified by security needs, according to Israel's highest court. President Carter also left out some important details. Not once, for example, did he mention the Palestinian refugee problem, which the Arab states still exploit against Israel. And not once did he mention Iran and the nuclear threat it poses-not just to Israel, but to the entire world. It was not Israel that rejected UN Security Council Resolution 242, which called for Israel to withdraw from territories-allowing for adjustments-that it won in 1967. It was the Palestinians, together with the other Arab nations, that said "no" to recognition, negotiation and peace. I would like to join with President Carter in working for peace in the Middle East. But peace will not come if we insist on blaming one side in the conflict. And real dialogue, at Brandeis or in the Middle East, means talking with people you might not agree with. Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. His most recent book is Preemption: A Knife that Cuts Both Ways (Norton, 2006). * * * Previous entries: The new blood libel Jews for Ahmadinejad