'I'm frustrated Israelis don't get the point'

'Guardian of Zion' winner Daniel Pipes may be soft-spoken, but his content is loud and controversial.

daniel pipes 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
daniel pipes 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In Israel last month to receive the "Guardian of Zion" award from Bar-Ilan University's Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, Middle East scholar and author Daniel Pipes pulled no punches. In his acceptance speech at the King David Hotel before a distinguished gathering of academics, politicians, business people and the media, Pipes did something that - while perhaps, par for his own lonely course of late - was unconventional to say the least. It certainly strayed from the pro forma podium fare that was the focus of his predecessors' professions of dedication to the Jewish state and its capital. Rather than emphasizing his heart-felt connection to the land and people of Israel, he gave a lecture on "The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem."
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With the customary articulateness and the scholarly adherence to historical data that are the trademarks of his writings - among them a weekly column in these pages - Pipes produced empirical evidence to demonstrate that any and all Arab claims to "al-Quds" are, and have always been, merely utilitarian. Period. In other words, Pipes showed himself a Guardian of Zion and Jerusalem not by direct professions of love, but by refuting the fallacious arguments of those he identifies, in no uncertain terms, as Israel's mortal enemies. Another feature of the annual ceremony that distinguished it from that of previous years was the opening of the floor to questions from the audience following the lecture. This spiced the festive dinner with the flavor of a debate; though in this case, there was clearly more a sense of serene agreement among the few hundred attendees than skepticism or hostility. Which may have been something of an unusual experience for Pipes, who is under constant attack from the Left for his portrayal of the Islamist agenda, and for his calling to task the departments of Middle East studies at North American universities - through his Middle East Forum's Campus Watch project - for what he considers to be academic malpractice. Nor has he been winning any popularity contests among former political and intellectual allies on the Right - not, that is, since conservatives first split over the wisdom of Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan. While neoconservative appointees in the Bush Administration - like many Bush-backers elsewhere - have remained loyal to the policies of the American president and the former Israeli prime minister, others, like Pipes, have been sounding alarm bells about both. In an hour-long interview with The Jerusalem Post in his suite at the King David on the eve of the award ceremony, Pipes pinpointed what he considers to be Israel's fundamental failing: a shift from victory-driven warfare to conflict management. "In the end, one side will win and one side will lose," he said, shrugging matter-of-factly, his mild-mannered tone seemingly at odds with his message. "What's so striking is that Israel, which is a modern, sophisticated, globalized country, seems not to understand this. Very few Israelis are aware of the need to win. As an outsider, I watch with frustration as the Israelis don't get the point." Were you surprised to have won this particular award? Yes, it came as a surprise. Why? Well, the prior recipients were people I admired, and I didn't quite see myself in their league. [Previous recipients were William Safire, Arthur Cohn, Ruth Wisse, Charles Krauthammer, Cynthia Ozick, Sir Martin Gilbert, A.M. Rosenthal, Herman Wouk and Elie Wiesel.] You didn't see yourself "in their league" or you don't share their views on Israel? Those who won this award have been, as the title suggests, "Guardians of Zion" - in other words, defenders of Israel. That description applies less well to me. If anything, I lambaste Israel. What do you "lambaste" Israel for? Israelis have lost their way when it comes to relations with the Arabs, and more specifically, when it comes to war goals. I criticize Israelis - and I mean the body politic, not specifically the leadership - for thinking that management of the conflict is the best that can be done. As opposed to…? As opposed to winning. Over the course of the past 15 years, one has seen a host of proposals on how to manage the conflict. Some of these proposals became government policy; many others are simply proposals. What they have in common, from Left to Right, is that they see this conflict as unwinnable, as merely manageable. The security fence is a case in point. I am for it. Clearly, it has had - and in the future, when it's completed, will have even more - the effect of keeping out would-be murderers. But a wall is not the way to win a conflict. A wall is a tactical mechanism to protect oneself, not a strategic way of winning a war. Winning a war requires imagination - perspective - to impose your will on your enemy. That is classically what victory means: imposing your will on your enemy. It doesn't mean massacring or impoverishing the enemy, but causing him to give up his goals. This notion is virtually absent from Israeli political discussion. You say that Israelis have "lost their way" in relation to the Arabs. This implies a shift. When do you see this shift from aiming to win the conflict to merely managing it as having taken place? A profound shift took place during the decade between the 1982 war in Lebanon and the 1993 Oslo Accord. Is criticizing Israel the only difference between yourself and prior Rennert award winners? No, there is another. I focus on Muslims rather than defend Israel. I don't spend time on the British boycott of Israeli universities, or on the bias against Israel at the United Nations. I don't justify Israel. I don't fit the pattern in the sense that I look at Israel primarily from the Palestinian, Arab, Muslim point of view. My work involves not so much the defense of Israel as looking at Syria, the Palestinians, etc. Is there really such a thing as an Arab "point of view?" After all, there are so many different Arab and Muslim countries in the world. There are enormous numbers of differences and exceptions among them, but I think in general one can draw a broad outline of a viewpoint, yes. So, from an Arab point of view, what constitutes the imposition of will on an enemy? I understand this conflict between Israel and the Arabs to be defined by war goals. Israel's war goals consist of winning the acceptance of its Arab enemies, in particular that of the Palestinians. Acceptance means no longer using force - or other means, for that matter - to eliminate the Jewish state. The Arab war goals, conversely, are to eliminate the Jewish state. I see this as binary - as black and white. One side wins, one side loses. Compromise cannot take place. Oslo was a grand experiment in compromise, and it failed. In the end, one side imposes its will on the other. Now, if the Arabs impose their will on Israelis, it means there will be no sovereign Jewish state. There could be a Jewish population living under Palestinian or other Arab rule. Or it could be that the Jews flee. It could be that they're murdered. But there's no more sovereign Jewish state. Should the Israelis win, the Arabs acknowledge, however grudgingly, that Israel's there and is a permanent fact of life. They don't have to have trade with it, or sponsor Hebrew classes in their schools - these would be nice things, but they're not necessary. A cold peace, as it were, would work. But unlike the one with Egypt, there truly must be acceptance. What's so striking is that Israel, which is a modern, sophisticated, globalized country, seems not to understand this. Very few Israelis are aware of the need to win. As an outsider, I watch with frustration as the Israelis don't get the point. And the Palestinians? The Palestinians, who have not scaled the same sophisticated heights, ironically, do understand that their goal is to win. How much of this is connected to pressure from Washington? I have been struck for 15 years now by how Israelis make their own destiny with little reference to Washington. Looking at the relationship schematically, until the 1967 war, Washington exerted little diplomatic pressure on Israel, for there was no one to negotiate with on the Arab side. But then, even in the midst of the Six Day War, president Lyndon B. Johnson had formulated the outline of the land-for-peace policy that all these decades later still drives US diplomacy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict. This became more real when [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat took office and with the diplomacy that did ensue, especially in 1973. For the next 20 years, constant tension divided Washington and Jerusalem. Washington advised Jerusalem to take the plunge, and Jerusalem responded with caution, pointed out that the Arabs say one thing in Arabic and another in English - that they are not sincere. This tension finally dissolved in 1993, when, under [prime minister] Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli government said, in effect, "OK, United States, you're right. Let's give it a try." Since then, there basically has been no tension, other than modest, temporary strains under [prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu. The degree of agreement between Washington and Jerusalem has been remarkable, as has been Jerusalem's initiative. Consider three examples: The Oslo Accord was done in Oslo, not in Washington, to keep the Americans from knowing about it. At the tail end of [prime minister] Ehud Barak's and [US president] Bill Clinton's time in office, in January 2001, the former pushed the latter to come up with some arrangement that would finally settle matters at Taba. And there was [prime minister Ariel] Sharon's change of heart concerning Gaza in November 2003. What about "occupation"? What is its role in all of this? The Palestinians hold the notion of occupation dear to them, to the point that no matter what Israel does - even withdraw forces completely from Gaza - they say the occupation continues. Israelis are trying to "un-occupy," in terms of currency, utilities and much else, and the Palestinians are saying, "No, we're your unwanted stepchild, and we're yours." They found that this word, ihtilal (occupation), is a very useful one, domestically and internationally. What is the ultimate Palestinian war goal, then, statehood or the elimination of Israel? Oh, definitely the elimination of Israel. That is to say, there is far wider agreement on this than on the notion of a Palestinian state. Recall that making the region Israel controls into southern Syria drove Arab politics in the early 1950s. Then came the heyday of Pan-Arab nationalism in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Today, Hamas strives for an Islamic state whose boundaries need not be those of Mandatory Palestine. All of these outlooks agree on the need to eliminate Israel but disagree on what should replace it. There is much talk now about the regimes in Egypt and Jordan being in danger of destabilization as a result of the chaos in the Palestinian Authority. If so, why are these countries more actively siding with the PA than with Israel? The Palestinian cause is a challenge to most Arab leaders - something they ride at their peril. It has a potential to challenge their regimes from the outside. So they handle the issue with great caution. Most Arab leaders, especially those of Jordan and Egypt, would like to end this conflict. Indeed, in both cases, their predecessors tried, by signing formal peace agreements with Israel, to pull out. Why did that not succeed? In both cases, the population said no. They had given their proxy to their governments and said, "Here, leaders, you're in charge of anti-Zionism." When the leaders betrayed them by signing formal peace agreements - Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 - the popular reaction was, "We're taking back our proxy; we've got to do this ourselves." You see a ratcheting up in popular attitudes toward Israel. I lived in Egypt for three years before the signing of the peace agreement with Israel, and Israel was hardly ever a topic. Egyptians did not engage in economic boycotts of firms that were dealing with Israel or rumored to be sending money to Israel. No songs celebrated hatred of Israel. Political cartoons were nasty toward Israel, but just politically, not religiously. I conclude that we see a far deeper anti-Israel sentiment in the post-1979 period than before then. The same goes for Jordan, where the king signed a particularly warm agreement with Israel, the popular reaction to which was, "No! We will not have trade. We will not have other forms of contact with Israel." What does this imply? That, contrary to common perception - according to which Arab governments foment trouble with Israel as a cheap way of diverting attention from their own malpractices - the issue of Israel is a grass-roots issue that scares them. We witnessed this, for example, during the violence of late 2000-early 2001, when massive demonstrations took place on Arab streets and the governments dealt with them very gingerly. A prime minister might head a demonstration in a show of solidarity, but he was clearly nervous about it. Any comments on the actions of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments lately? They have begun to revert to their pre-1967 roles - Egypt in Gaza and Jordan in the West Bank. They exert nothing like the control they enjoyed before June 5, 1967, but both governments now - with Israelis pulling back and Hamas surging in power - are nervously concerned with what's taking place in their former territories. Many Israelis who favored disengagement from Gaza say that the success of the withdrawal can be seen in the chaos - perhaps civil war, even - now taking place in the PA between Hamas and Fatah. I disagree. First, I see no causal effect between the Israeli withdrawal and the anarchy in the PA - which began much earlier. I documented it from February 2004 in a blog titled "The Growing Palestinian Anarchy." Second, I'm not altogether sure that this violence benefits Israel. Short-term, there's a diversion of attention away from Israel. But long-term, the forces unleashed now might well harm Israel. Third, this surely is not the way to judge the withdrawal, which needs to be assessed from Israel's point of view on the basis of whether it has enhanced Israeli interests and security or not. I'd say there are strong reasons to claim it has not. Is there a causal relationship between Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon and the events leading up to disengagement from Gaza? I definitely think there was. There are a few pieces of evidence. First, a number of statements by Palestinian leaders indicated how deeply they were influenced by the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000. Second, it vindicated the Palestinian use of violence. This requires some background. The great debate among Palestinians is not over goals; the elimination of Israel is a consensus goal among 80 percent of the Palestinian population, while the other 20% has no voice. The debate among that 80% for two decades has been how best to deal with Israel. The PLO answer is to engage it. Look at all the benefits it won by making fraudulent statements and giving empty assurances: It got the Palestinian Authority, a proto-military force, greater world support and so forth. To which Hamas replies that the PLO has degraded itself, lost its purpose and betrayed the purity of the cause. This has been the key debate among Palestinians. In this light, the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, driven by Hizbullah, signalled that Palestinians, too, can achieve their goals without negotiations, without trucking with the enemy. Just relentlessly hammer away, kill, attack, year after year, and the Israelis will take flight. There's no need for negotiations, for agreements, for international involvement. This powerful argument resonated in Palestinian circles. How so? The first manifestation of this came just two months later, in July 2000 at Camp David. Despite Barak's quite extraordinary offers, Yasser Arafat not only said no, but he did so without making any reciprocal offers. I mean, he was pressured to go there by the US government. And he showed up. But he said no to everything, and the talks collapsed. Two short months later, the violence began - violence in good part inspired by Hizbullah tactics - a very different form of violence from what had been seen before: particularly the suicide bombing, a Hizbullah tactic, and the use of videos to build up the would-be suicide bomber giving testimonial, or then showing the actual scene of the attack. So, whether tactical or strategic, Hizbullah set the pace. Showed the Palestinians how to do it. How did this affect the withdrawal from Gaza? The dominant Palestinian slogan last summer was, "Today Gaza, tomorrow Jerusalem." There's no question that they saw the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a vindication of their use of force. I'd be hard-pressed to gainsay them, because it's quite clear to me that had there not been violence in Gaza, the Israeli military and the Israeli civilians would still be there. They only left because of the violence. And the West Bank? The same applies there. Should there be a withdrawal there, too, it's because it became too difficult. When things get painful - whether in Lebanon or Gaza - Israelis leave. That sends a signal that violence works. It presumably will be applied in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv as well. How would the White House have responded after President Bush's June 24, 2002 speech, had Sharon gone to Washington and, instead of proposing disengagement, requested that the PA be treated as an enemy that had to be defeated militarily as part of the war on terror? It would have been a hard sell. US policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, since 1993, has been premised on the idea that since 1993, Palestinians and Israelis are "partners for peace" - that their war is over and it's now a matter of finding the modalities of a resolution. Therefore, the sort of things that the US government does vis-a-vis the Taliban or al-Qaida are wrong, illegitimate and counterproductive for Israel to pursue vis a vis the Palestinians. America is at war, while Israel is making peace. The US government would have to be addressed on this level, something along the lines of, "No, Mr. President, we're not at peace; we're at war, just like you are. We tried negotiations, but they failed. Just as the US government is engaged in an asymmetric war, where the vastness of the US is arrayed against al-Qaida, so, too, in a lesser disproportion, Israel is arrayed against the PLO, Hamas, Islamic Jihad." But Israeli leaders did not make the case, because it is not their view. Instead, Sharon agreed with Bush in principle and actually disagreed a lot on the ground - which was a reasonable approach, and it did work. I came out against that June 24th speech, which I thought rewarded terrorism. But I understand that the Israeli prime minister would rather not tangle with the US president. So he said, "Good idea" - both with this and the roadmap - and then implemented his own way. I, as an American foreign policy analyst, don't need to do that. As an American foreign policy analyst, how do you explain the split among the neoconservatives regarding the Israeli policy of unilateral territorial withdrawals? I attribute the split to Sharon and his change of views. Given his personal history and his being prime minister, he had a lot of credibility on the Right. As he made his pirouette from one outlook to another - from opposing unilateral withdrawal to favoring it - a lot of people went with him. Basically, they said to him, "Arik, you understand this more deeply than I, and you see it further than I do, so I'm following you." Can the Arab world democratize? Yes. There's nothing in the Arab DNA that is anti-democratic. Do you see it making such a transformation? Possibly, but it will take a long time. A lot of things have to change. The basic problem is that the Arabic-speaking Muslims have had a great deal of difficulty in coping with modern life, and blame others for their problems. They're not introspective and not productive and constructive in their self-criticism. A notable exception would be the UN's Arab Human Development Report of 2002 - which made one take note. But it's such a wisp in the overall conspiratorial mindset, which requires profound changes taking place. Profound changes in Islam, you mean? Like some kind of reformation? Religious reformation is certainly very important, but changes are also needed outside the religious sphere. A sense of taking responsibility for themselves. An attempt to be introspective, to figure out what the problems are. There are positive examples. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Muhammad Bin Rashed Al Maktoum, has recently come out with a book titled My Vision, for instance. He's of note, because he actually achieved something. He stayed away from ideology and built an economic success story. He did this through intelligence and good practices. But such positive elements are few and far between. The Arabic-speaking Muslim world - as the Muslim world as a whole, perhaps even more so - is in a state of anger, denial, fury, extremism and conspiracism that creates problems for the entire world. It's a threat to us all, including to those Muslims who want to live a modern, civilized life. Do you think that they're demographically "a threat to us all?" The Muslim demographic upsurge is striking. But there's every reason to see it as temporary. Europe went through a huge population burst at a point in its development, then had a demographic levelling and is now experiencing collapse. A number of Muslim countries are already going through a demographic decline. And the Muslim population in Europe? That's a different story. European women have an average of something like 1.4 children, when 2.1 is what's necessary for continuity. In other words, one-third of the needed population is never born. That one-third is primarily being replaced by immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries which are nearby, with which there are colonial relationships, or which are particularly eager to get to Europe because of troubles in their own countries. Europeans are not really coming to terms with this phenomenon. They do not bother to figure out how to adapt to their population deficit or to decide which immigrants they want. In December 2002, a month after the Turkish elections, you attended the Herzliya Conference, where you were chided for being pessimistic about the rise to power of the Islamist party. How do things look now in Turkey? Things look bad, especially of late. [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is turning out to be a skilled, savvy, cautious politician who is moving to promote the Islamist agenda. Whether it be foreign policy, the judiciary, the role of the military, relations with majority-Muslim states or Turkey's regional standing, the Islamist influence is paramount. The great question about Turkey is whether Erdogan and his colleagues see themselves as countering the Ataturk Revolution - as being the anti-Ataturk cadres - or whether they're willing to work within the Ataturk structure. I can't say for sure that they're revolutionaries, that their goal is to upend the system. But it certainly seems more likely than not, and more so with time. Another one of your projects is Campus Watch. You have been accused of being an academic witch-hunter where the free flow of ideas in the universities is concerned. Campus Watch is specifically concerned with Middle East studies in the United States and Canada, and what we perceive on the basis of Martin Kramer's book, Ivory Towers on Sand, to be the failure of this enterprise. We criticize the substantive work, the extremism and the imposition of political views on students. And we hope that by bringing this to the attention of the general public, two positive results will follow: First, that Middle East specialists will be more cautious; and second, that universities will make sure that there's more intellectual diversity. We've been quite successful in the former, where we see repeatedly specialists being aware of Campus Watch and being more cautious. We have not even begun to have any achievement in the latter area, where appointments are still very much skewed. How have you been successful in the former? By attracting attention to problems with Middle East studies. For example, our work uncovered the wretched excesses of Middle East studies at Columbia University and we initially noted Juan Cole, the professor now much in the public eye because of his possible move to Yale. Do Middle East studies differ from other academic areas in this respect? No. They are perfectly representative of many social science and humanities fields, whether it be Latin American studies or anthropology or English literature. We focus on the Middle East because it has a prominence other areas lack. Take a concept like jihad, which is central to understanding the war on terror, and you hear historians of Islam, religious specialists or others, almost without exception saying that jihad is moral self-improvement - becoming a better colleague; working on behalf of women's rights; working against apartheid. They are generally unwilling to state what it really is, which is warfare that expands Muslim control of land. This is a very important concept, and whom does one turn to for an understanding of it? Not to politicians, not to the media, but to specialists. And they have failed, betrayed their profession, by not being candid as to what this means. This is disinformation and dissimulation. It is what we criticize. When, in his victory speech in January 2005, PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas said the period of the "little jihad has ended, and now the big jihad is beginning," there was much debate in Israel as to the meaning of his statement. Some local Middle East analysts said that "little jihad" was warfare, and that "big jihad" meant internal spiritual ascension. Are you saying they were spreading disinformation? Not in this case. A secondary meaning of the word jihad comes from Sufism and means, in fact, moral self-improvement. But, when used in the public sphere - when Osama bin Laden uses it, or in statements by Islamic Jihad - it normally refers to warfare to extend Muslim control. Do you envision a situation in which there will be a reverse shift - in Israel and elsewhere in the West - from managing conflicts to imposing victory on the enemy? I don't know. Sometimes I'm optimistic and think that the unending failures of not striving for victory will eventually lead someone to figure this out. On the other hand, I see how mistaken policies can go on year after year. Were you optimistic in this way on 9/11? Did you believe it was the event that would "lead someone to figure this out?" Yes, I was, with "united we stand" being the slogan of that period, and with the sense of resolve, the willingness to undo the Taliban regime. The 50-50 division in the United States now between those who understand we are at war and those involved in a glorified police operation was not something I expected. But now, having seen that division, and having seen what happened after the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the 2005 London bombings and other major terrorist incidents, I'm no longer surprised.