Middle East Update: Interview with Daniel Pipes
by Alan Goldsmith
Disengagement from Gaza
Clarion: What, in your view, motivated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to implement the disengagement plan in light of his previous vows that such a move would be a terrible mistake?
Pipes: Sharon has really never explained what caused him to change his mind in the course of 2003. He won an electoral victory in January arguing against unilateral withdrawal, and in December he called for just that policy. Indeed, it is actually a shorter timeframe, because in February he was arguing against it, and by November we know he had changed his mind. So, in a mere nine months a total shift took place.
One can only speculate on his reasons. One can give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it was shifting circumstances, but it's not clear what those were. Or, one can be skeptical and say that he was trying to win his legacy, to win praise from those who criticized him. My particular theory is that he's trying to make himself a great figure in Israeli and Jewish history. Or he was hoping to avoid indictment and other problems of corruption. We don't know. And that's part of the problem—not only did he renege on his campaign platform, but he never explained why.
Clarion: Now that Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, do you believe that Ariel Sharon intends to make further territorial concessions?
Pipes: Since we don't know why Sharon made this change, it's hard to predict what he's going to do next. He has clearly abandoned the traditional Likud outlook. He has clearly abandoned his own traditional outlook. Where exactly he has landed is at this point not clear, so I'm wary of making any predictions.
What I can say more easily is how the Palestinians will respond to it. He has sent them a very clear signal that terrorism works. Israelis were happily in Gaza for decades, and when it got too painful they left. Similarly in Lebanon, and presumably the same in the West Bank. Why not Jerusalem? Why not Haifa? Why not Tel Aviv?
Clarion: For whatever reason that Sharon proposed the disengagement, why do you think he waited until the second term to do it?
Pipes: I can't explain that either. Why did he not say this when running for office in January 2003? Why did he not announce to his rival candidate, Amram Mitzna, in January 2003, "We agree on withdrawing from Gaza, so let's focus on our differences about taxation and education"? I wish we knew why.
But I can point out that Sharon is the fourth Israeli elected prime minister in a row who has reneged on his promises on dealing with the Arabs. In like manner, Rabin, Netanyahu, and Barak did the same. They said one thing at election time: Rabin: "I will not deal with the PLO." Netanyahu: "I will not return the Golan Heights." And Barak, "I will not divide Jerusalem." And in all these cases they did – or were willing to do - the opposite. I see this as the hubris of a politician elected prime minister of Israel and thinking how is he going to be a great and acclaimed leader. And the only way to do it is not by fixing the taxes or schools; not by occupying Cairo; but by making concessions to the Arabs, and so they all do that.
Clarion: What are the political implications of Benjamin Netanyahu's abrupt resignation from the government? Why didn't he resign sooner? Do you think he stands a good chance of reclaiming his position as prime minister?
Pipes: Netanyahu was clearly unhappy with the Gaza retreat policy but he had responsibilities as finance minister which he took seriously and did a great job at, and saw them through as far as he could until he decided to resign. I think it was an important and positive step. It positions him well for the future.
Clarion: Now that Gaza is under Palestinian control, what should be the next step of Ariel Sharon and/or his successor?
Pipes: Well, this withdrawal has made things considerably difficult, in two senses. One is that the Palestinians have a sense of exhilaration. They are on a roll; terrorism works, Israelis are on the retreat. The second is in terms of means. In terms of getting weaponry, training soldiers, sending off Qassam rockets, they are in a stronger position than they were before.
Israel's goal has to be to convince the Palestinians that Israel is strong and they are weak. When you have just inflicted upon yourself a defeat, that is rather difficult to do.
Clarion: What do you think is Mahmoud Abbas's game plan? Do you think he is employing the same strategy as Yasir Arafat—namely, promoting violence among the Palestinians in an attempt to extort further territorial concessions while he simultaneously talks peace to Israel and the West?
Pipes: No, I don't think that Abbas has the same game plan. Abbas came out in 2002 against the violence, not on moral or strategic grounds, but on tactical grounds, saying that violence had failed. That in itself is a good and useful thing but it's neither a change of heart nor a moral awakening.
Abbas is weak, however, and cannot implement this. He is not a global star like Arafat was, fêted from one capital to the next. He does not control the finances or the street toughs. Further, developments in the last year of Arafat's life have made it more difficult—namely, the growth of anarchy, warlordism, gangs, Islamist groups, and rival security forces.
Clarion: After the disengagement, Abbas declared it the result of the "martyrs." If he perceives that suicide bombings fulfill a tactical need, would he go ahead with them?
Pipes: Yes, and he might, due to Sharon's mistakes. Back in 2002, Abbas said, in effect, "Terrorism isn't working—cut it out." And that's what he's been saying and what others were saying. And then Sharon turns around and effectively says, "No, terrorism is working. Let me prove it to you by running from Gaza." So this whole argument is much harder to make. Terrorism does work. The "martyrs" did push the Israelis out – that can't be disputed.
What Sharon had achieved in 2001-03 he has now thrown out the window. We're back to 2000, with the Israelis on the retreat from Lebanon and terrorism working. Abbas's arguments have dissipated. And while I do think he is skeptical of terrorism, it's hard for him to argue with success.
Clarion: Let's say Abbas was able to control the terrorist groups. Would that necessarily be a good thing for Israel? Is it a matter of similar goals? Is it a matter of power? If he did that, would that signal that he's really in favor of peace with Israel?
Pipes: Yes, controlling the groups would be a good thing.
Clarion: If he did that, would that signal that he's really in favor of peace with Israel?
Pipes: No, Abbas calling for an end to terrorism because it is not working is hardly the same as wanting to live in harmony with Israel.
Clarion: Well, let's say that peace means negotiating a two-state solution.
Pipes: That is a minoritarian position; some 20% of Palestinians are ready to accept an Israel, to live next to it without resort to violence. That number fluctuates and has now gone down as a result of the retreat in Gaza.
Ironically, democracies are better off with enemies who are explicit. It is easier for the public to deal with a Stalin than a Khrushchev, a Saddam Hussein than a Hafez al-Assad. The fully overt enemy makes convincing people a lot easier.
Hamas has no intention of tricking Israel, whereas the PLO does. From that point of view Israel is not better served by having the PLO rather than Hamas. Their goal is the same, namely, the destruction of Israel. The PLO engages in diplomatic negotiations, smiles towards the West, makes nice words when necessary. Hamas does not. The PLO's PR capabilities are significant. Hamas does not have those, though even it is making diplomatic gains. There are important voices in the West now talking about opening relations with Hamas.
Clarion: Looking back on the recent disengagement, do you think it went rather quickly and, in terms of practically on the ground, smoothly? And, if so, how will that affect support among Israelis for further territorial concessions?
Pipes: Well, today is the 26th of August. It's been just a few days. I think it's too early to comment. I think, for example, that the fact that thousands of people were moved without any proper facilities is likely to become an issue in the weeks ahead.
Prospects of a Settlement
Clarion: You mentioned in a recent article that Sharon and Bush have lauded Abbas and thus have much invested in his success; but you believe him to be possibly a more dangerous adversary than Yasir Arafat. Why have those leaders invested so much in Abbas? What do you think is running through their minds?
Pipes: There is a widespread consensus that in September 1993, Palestinian rejection of Israel as a state came to an end. From that time until now, while there have been all sorts of violence, disagreement and incitement, they have basically been within the context of Palestinian acceptance of Israel. That notion and framework is absolutely key.
I disagree with the framework. I think that the words spoken and signed onto in September 1993 were fraudulent and nothing changed. The Palestinian intent to destroy Israel, in particular, remained in place.
The consensus says Abbas had a change of heart, I say he made a tactical shift—useful, good, but not terribly meaningful. Once you decide he's had a change of heart, then you find yourself invested in proving that to be the case, whether you are the Israeli left (a category that now includes Sharon) or the US government.
Clarion: Considering the demographic problem in Israel, with a rapidly rising Palestinian Arab population, is Israel moving unwillingly towards a minority-majority state, and thus to inevitable comparisons to the apartheid system of South Africa? If Israel makes no further territorial concessions, will the country have to choose between being a democracy and a Jewish state?
Pipes: I find that argument perplexing, since neither Israelis nor Palestinians are calling for the populations of Gaza or the West Bank—maybe we should now just talk about the West Bank—to be included in Israel. Nobody wants that. And the Arabs that have been included in Israel—mainly through Jerusalem residence—have not, by and large, taken out Israeli citizenship. What's the issue, then?
Clarion: Well, the issue is that in several years down the road, the Palestinian birthrate in the West Bank and Gaza expands …
Pipes: But West Bank and Gaza Arabs are as little likely to become citizens of Israel as Egyptians or Jordanians.
Clarion: You don't see it as an issue to have 40% of the population ruling over 60% of the population, even if the 60% are not citizens?
Pipes: Well, first, Gaza is now, at least for the moment, out of that calculation. Second, the proportion of Israelis to Palestinians, demographically, does not seem to be the issue. Would things be better if there were ten times more Israelis than Palestinians? That ratio seems nearly immaterial to me.
On the other hand, there is a real demographic issue for Israel with its Arab citizens. They are experiencing a very high fertility rate and are likely to become a larger proportion of the body politic. That is a genuine problem, for this population is widely aligned with its enemies. Look at, say, the Arab members of parliament in Israel who show themselves basically sympathetic to the other side.
Clarion: Do you think it's realistic, then, to assume that if at some point there were to be a Palestinian state, Jews would be able to live peacefully there?
Pipes: That is, in my view, a requirement of any settlement. Israelis living on the West Bank must be able to live there without fear of hostilities. When the Palestinians do come to accept Israel, lay down arms, and live in harmony, then having Jews in their midst by definition cannot pose a problem. To put this in its most extreme form, a resolution of the problem implies that the Jews of Hebron have no more need of security than do the Arabs of Nazareth. Just as there are Arabs in Israel, there can be Jews in the Palestinian areas. They don't necessarily have to have Israeli citizenship. That is obviously a remote prospect. But if it does not occur, the conflict is not over, and the war continues.
Clarion: Israel is currently at peace with Jordan and Egypt, but the Jewish populations of those countries are very small. I'm not sure how Jews would feel living in those countries, even though they are at peace with the state of Israel.
Pipes: Yes, those states have nominal agreements with Israel. I say "nominal" because the hostility of their populations remains in place. In the case of the Jordanians and Egyptians there's not a whole lot that the people can do, but the Palestinians, being cheek by jowl with Israelis, can do a lot. They can go stab someone, run a car into someone, or blow themselves up. There has to be a true resolution of the problem—not just signatures on pieces of paper, but a change of heart.
In fact, the lesson we learn from all these signatures—Egypt-Israel in 1979, Lebanon-Israel in 1982, Palestinians-Israel in 1993, Jordan-Israel in 1994, and the shimmering possibility of Syria—is that these are basically meaningless agreements because they did not reflect a change of heart, but were an end in and of themselves. We now know that agreements, to mean something, have to memorialize a shift that has taken place, rather than be daring, novel—and unpopular.
I'd go further and note that there was a better attitude in Egypt and Jordan, where there now are peace treaties in place, before those treaties were signed. In the pre-treaty days, Egyptians and Jordanians said to themselves, "Our government is carrying the anti-Zionist banner for us. We don't have to worry about that." After the agreements were signed, they said, "Our governments are working with Israel. Anti-Zionism is now our burden." As a result, hatred of Israel grew after the treaties were signed.
I lived in Egypt before the treaty and saw first-hand how Egyptians were not emotionally connected to the fight against Israel. Since 1979, they are connected—and increasingly so with time. In retrospect, those cold government-to-government agreements were a mistake. They should have followed a change in popular sentiment, rather than lead it.
Clarion: Couldn't one argue that even if there was no change of heart, essentially since the agreements were signed there really have not been any conflicts, any battles at all between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan. Would that not be considered in itself worthy of making a treaty?
Pipes: Three points in response. One, I don't see any reason to think that there would have been attacks anyway. Neither of those governments were inclined to make war on Israel. Two, Israel has no treaty with Syria and also has not fought a war with it for over two decades. Three, in the case of Egypt, not only has the treaty aroused popular sentiment, but it has opened the floodgates for the American arsenal to go to Egypt. As a result, Cairo has built up, in the past quarter century, a serious conventional military force, far greater than what it had before. Accordingly, the chances of a conventional war between Egypt and Israel are substantially greater precisely because of the treaty between them.
Iraq and Beyond
Clarion: Do you believe that Iraq constitutes a central front in the war on terror, as President Bush has frequently claimed?
Pipes: No. Iraq was originally a separate problem, as Saddam Hussein had almost nothing to do with radical Islam. Nor was he relying heavily on terror. He was listed, famously, with North Korea in President Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech and had only slightly more to do with radical Islamic jihad than did North Korea. Iraq then became part of the war on terror in the sense that jihad has come to the country. I do not agree that if we weren't fighting them there we'd be fighting them here. We are fighting them there and here. There's plenty of evidence that the war in Iraq has led to more alienation among Muslims living in the West.
Clarion: If America were to succeed in crushing the insurgency and creating a real democracy, would you consider that an inherent victory in the war on terror, or the war on Islamic fundamentalism?
Pipes: Not particularly. What we're seeing in Iraq, as in most countries in the Middle East, is that Islamists are the ones surging due to democratic means going into effect. Ibrahim al-Jaafari is obviously a great improvement over Saddam Hussein, but he is a pro-Tehran Islamist. I fail to how it's a victory over radical Islam when Islamists come to power.
Clarion: How must the Bush administration navigate between its support for the majority-Shi‘ite, Iran-friendly government in Iraq, and its tough stance with the Shi‘ite government of Iran?
Pipes: This points to a larger problem throughout the Muslim world: We call for democracy and it's the Islamists who succeed. My answer is yes, call for democracy—it's a healthy, constructive change and none too early—but go slow. It should come in over decades, not months. Civil society needs to develop. Let the Muslims experience Islamist rule at a local level. Don't rush it. In Iraq, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi should, assuming he stayed healthy, have stayed in office for many years to come, taking control of the country and moving it towards democracy.
Clarion: Many pundits have argued that the war in Iraq has encouraged, and will continue to encourage, pushes for democracy in other Arab countries. Is this a realistic assessment? Would it be fair for President Bush to take credit for democratic movements emerging in countries like Lebanon and Egypt?
Pipes: Islamists are now in a position of strength in Iraq, and their strength in Iraq has encouraged Islamists in other countries of the region. That is not going to help us. I'm no fan of Hosni Mubarak, but I sure wouldn't like to see him replaced with a radical Islamic government.
Clarion: Do you think we can expect to see similar democratic movements emerge throughout the Arab world?
Pipes: That depends too much on future developments. I can't predict.
Clarion: Going back to democracy in Iraq, Recent demands by Iraqi Shiites that Islam constitute the "primary" or the "main" source of law have been a central bone of contention in the drafting of Iraq's constitution. How do these developments bode for the prospects of establishing a democracy in Iraq? Do you believe that democracy is compatible with the Islamic republic envisioned by Iraq's Shiites?
Pipes: In principle, there's no contradiction between Islam and democracy, but in practice, given historical context and actual developments, there's going to be a long and painful process to reconcile them. Can you imagine the Soviet Union going in two years, from 1953 to 1955, from Stalinism to democracy? Impossible. Likewise, it was impossible in Iraq from 2003 to 2005. It shouldn't have been twenty-two months between Saddam's overthrow and elections for prime minister—it should have been twenty-two years.
Clarion: Why would it have been better slower?
Pipes: Because democracy, as the record everywhere shows, takes time to develop. It is a spirit and an understanding based on counterintuitive premises. Loyal opposition, freedom of speech, the marketplace, minority rights, independent judiciary—these are learned habits. We as Americans take them for granted, but they're very sophisticated notions. Whether it be in East Africa, Eastern Europe, or Latin America, democracy takes decades. The Soviet Union has had fifteen years and look what remains to be done. Turkey took decades and decades. Look at Chile, Taiwan, Mexico, Poland—these are works in process.
Clarion: What Arab country or countries should be the prime focus of American lawmakers if and when the violence in Iraq recedes? Specifically, how should Washington respond to the prospects of a nuclear Iran? Do you believe that America may someday need to implement "regime change" in countries like Iran, Syria, or Saudi Arabia?
Pipes: I have a more modest attitude towards these ideas. Ever since World War II and the rehabilitation of Germany and Japan, there's been an assumption that if we win, we rehabilitate our enemy. Yes, rehabilitation is an option, but one to be resorted to with caution.
Another option is simply defeating the enemy and leaving him to fix things. In the case of Iran, should Tehran be determined to build nuclear weapons, one possibility is going in to destroy their nuclear installations, but without any kind of regime change or rehabilitation. I don't see that it's our responsibility to repair the country. Iraq has received billion of dollars from the Western world; why? We don't owe anything to Iraq. Just because it was a threat to us doesn't mean we have an obligation to it. I endorse the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but I am very unhappy about the intense engagement in Iraq, and making the success or failure of our effort depend on how the Iraqis are doing. It's not our main concern.
Clarion: At a time of tremendous, simmering Islamic fundamentalism, is it really worthwhile to go in and topple a country and not choose what takes its place, or at least try to?
Pipes: One can try, of course, but it's very hard.
Clarion: Would it be better to leave it in chaos?
Pipes: In some instances, yes.
Pipes: Because we can't choose what takes its place. American forces went to Afghanistan and removed the Taliban, to Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein. We had a glorious victory for a few weeks. We should have taken our victory and left. Why build sewers and arbitrate between tribes and oversee elections? I'm not against rehabilitation in principle. If I thought it would work, I'd be for it. But I never thought it would work in Iraq. I'm on record about this as early as April 1991 and then April 2003.
Clarion: In that case, do you think America should withdraw from Iraq now?
Pipes: Now, things are more difficult. The war had a great start, but it was botched. We have made Iraq's welfare the determinant of American success. If the country is not doing well and we leave, we lose. But we lose if we stay, for Iraqis care much more about Iraq's destiny than do Americans, so they will prevail. In short, we can't win.
Clarion: You are a frequent critic of various forms of Arab, Islamic, and Palestinian nationalism. What would replace it in order to detribalize, democratize and liberalize the Middle East?
Pipes: Well, the prospect of alternatives seems pretty dim at this point. In decades past there were attempts at secularism, at separating state and religion. There has developed over the years more of a state nationalism. The countries that work best are the most secular. Those movements are weak today but those alternatives are not impossible.
Clarion: Is it a fallacy to equate financial and political liberalization with a more friendly approach in the Middle East to the West and to Israel?
Pipes: Yes. Bahrain typically marks number two on the Heritage-Wall Street Journal ranking of economic freedom. It's not particularly friendly towards Americans, much less Israelis.
Clarion: Has Campus Watch worked? Has it achieved its objectives?
Pipes: Well, you should probably ask our opponents. They seem to think it has. If you go to the homepage of Campus Watch, we currently have a quote from Miriam Cooke, professor of Asian and African languages and literature at Duke University, saying that we are not only changing the rules in Middle East studies but undermining the very foundations of American education! That's a bit more purple prose-ish than most, but yes, they blame many of their problems on us.
Clarion: Have academic standards and academic discourse improved since the start of Campus Watch?
Pipes: Well, we're only three years old next month, so no, we can't claim that there's been a huge change. But I would say there has been a lowering of the rhetorical levels, in that the prospect of being critiqued, of having your statement put on the Campus Watch website as the "quote of the month," of having students report what pressure you are putting on them in the classroom, and other developments, have led to more caution. The spotlight that we've created has improved matters. It hasn't lead to fundamental change; it has lead to rhetorical change. Fundamental change will take time.
Clarion: Columbia University's ad hoc grievance committee report responding to allegations of intimidations in its Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture was dismissed by many critics as a "whitewash" because it effectively exonerated most of the professors that lay at the heart of the controversy. If you were a member of the investigative committee, how would you have composed the report? What recommendations would you have made to Columbia's leadership?
Pipes: I can't say. It's too detailed a topic, and I didn't see the raw materials. Also, it's really not our issue at Campus Watch. That report was about the maltreatment of students, which is significant, but we focus on the content of Middle East studies. Further, we are less interested in specific professors than in the corporate culture. At Columbia there are some twenty specialists on the region and nearly every one of them is on one side politically. Ten and ten, or so, would offer balance. But right now it's nineteen to one or so. They could be wonderful to students and model instructors, but that would not touch the deeper issue, which is the content of the professors' work.
Clarion: On a related issue, when Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado-Boulder, a professor of ethnic studies, compared victims of 9/11 to Nazis, there were demands from the public for his termination. Do you think it's appropriate for a university to fire a professor for making such a statement, and what should university administrators do when they encounter such a professor?
Pipes: We're less interested in firing people than in how they are hired and who is hired. We seek a balance, ensuring that voices not now heard are heard in the future.
Middle East studies has deeply changed. I've been in the field long enough to have seen it before this happened. When I entered it in the 1960s, a diversity of voices existed, though even then there was certainly a left-ward bias. Now, it's gotten to the point that students come to me, a couple of times a year, to tell me that they have cited me in a footnote and a professor berated them for this "unacceptable" citation. This is groupthink, hegemonic discourse – pick your term. Professors cannot tell students what to read, whom to cite, but they are attempting that now.
Clarion: So practically speaking, is Campus Watch seeking to fire anyone? Practically speaking, the only way you're going to change the discourse is to get rid of professors.
Pipes: No, the long term solution lies less in firing the incompetents now warming seats and more in hiring intellectually diverse and competent scholars.
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