Interview: ‘I watch with frustration as the Israelis don't get the point'
by Ruthie Blum
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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?
You didn't see yourself "in their league" or you don't share their views on Israel?
What do you "lambaste" Israel for?
As opposed to…?
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?
Is criticizing Israel the only difference between yourself and prior Rennert award winners?
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.
So, from an Arab point of view, what constitutes the imposition of will on an enemy?
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?
How much of this is connected to pressure from Washington?
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?
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?
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?
Why did that not succeed?
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?
Any comments on the actions of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments lately?
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.
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?
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 did this affect the withdrawal from Gaza?
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?
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?
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?
Can the Arab world democratize?
Do you see it making such a transformation?
Profound changes in Islam, you mean? Like some kind of reformation?
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?"
And the Muslim population in Europe?
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?
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.
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?
Do Middle East studies differ from other academic areas in this respect?
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?
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?
Were you optimistic in this way on 9/11? Did you believe it was the event that would "lead someone to figure this out?"
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.
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