Searching for a Solution: Israel in a Time of Terror

Harvard International Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Searching for a Solution: Israel in a Time of Terror


ALAN DERSHOWITZ is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

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Imagine a Middle East with a HAMAS-led Palestinian government, a Hezbollah-led Lebanese government, and a pro-Iranian government in Iraq. Do you believe that Israel has the capability to endure such a situation? Do you believe Israel is preparing for a Middle East of this nature? If so, how?

The only way Israel can survive is by maintaining qualitative military superiority over all of the combined Arab armies and Iran. There is not an Arab or a Muslim army in the Middle East which would not be compelled to destroy Israel if it had military superiority, and I include amongst those Jordan and Egypt. For example, Jordan has a very substantial Palestinian majority, and today it is among the most radical, anti-American, and anti-Israel countries in the Middle East. That radicalism just happens to be suppressed by a monarchy supported by American and other military assistance. But if you ask the people of Jordan today--would they like to see Israel destroyed?--the overwhelming response would be yes. Egypt perhaps to a lesser degree, but we are seeing increasing Islamization and radicalism in Egypt as well--again, suppressed not by democracy but by authoritarianism. So Israel can only survive by its superior military capacity, which is why the threat of an Iranian nuclear delivery system is essentially the only existing threat that Israel faces today. It faces threats from HAMAS, from Hezbollah, and it would face threats from an Iraq under the influence of Iran, but without a nuclear threat, Israel has the capability to handle these conventional threats to its existence. The Middle East has become increasingly dangerous, which is one reason among others why Israel should try to make separate peaces, if it can, with Syria and other countries in the region. It will never be able to make peace with radical Islam, Iran, Hezbollah, or HAMAS, so it has to try to make as many peaces as it can with less extremist governments.

What do you see as the future of HAMAS? Can it accept a peaceful and productive role in the Palestinian government and the peace process with Israel, or will it be forever relegated to terrorist or agitator status?

I think there are three options. One is that HAMAS will show its true self, which is a terrorist, rejectionist group that will never rest until Israel is destroyed. The second is that there could be a complete conversion in which HAMAS would become much like the Palestinian Authority, recognizing Israel and accepting all of the previous peace agreements. I believe, however, that the most likely is the third option--that HAMAS, as a result of being elected, will say one thing and do another. That is, it will continue to speak belligerently, it will never recognize Israel, it will not accept previous peace agreements or agreements leading toward peace, and it will continue to allow a hudna (a temporary truce) to exist for a rather lengthy period of time. Thus it will permit a kind of detente to exist, much like the kind that exists now. Currently HAMAS is not a major source of terrorism against Israel--Islamic Jihad is. HAMAS is in a truce with Israel, which I believe resulted from HAMAS' decision to surrender when Israel succeeded in killing several of its leaders and threatening the remaining leaders. It was only because Israel operated from a position of strength that it was able to attain the cease-fire with HAMAS. The question faced by Israel and the United States now is what to do with a HAMAS that talks belligerently out of one side of its mouth, but acts in a somewhat more moderate way.

Is there a role for the United States, Europe, or other Middle East countries in brokering a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians?

There certainly are roles to be played by the United States, European countries, and other Middle East countries, but they have to ensure that Israel does not endanger its survival by minimizing its ability to defend itself. …

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