Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved

, September 3, 2018

Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved. Wiley, 2006, 256 pp.

Seventy years on, the Arab-Israeli conflict remains unresolved. Both Israelis and Palestinians have lived and died for peace, but it remains a distant dream. Why has peace become such a costly affair for both Arabs and Israelis? What are the barriers to its attainment? And how could the present state of affairs be surmounted by employing effective diplomatic means?

These questions are answered by Alan Dershowitz in this remarkable book, which brilliantly depicts the present state of crisis in the Middle East and possible ways of resolving it.

In this book Dershowitz updates and expands his earlier work on what drives radical elements of a society to terrorism and how enemies of Israel are in fact enemies of peace. In the introductory chapter he scathingly attacks radical academics, students, and political leaders for derailing the peace process by denying Israel’s right to exist. Israel’s enemies, he observes, have redoubled their efforts to demonize it by various means, and academics like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein have sided with those who care more about destroying the Jewish state than creating the Palestinian state (3).

The Case for Peace is in fact a case against the enemies of peace, as Dershowitz analyzes the barriers that the advocates of peace confront. He maintains that the conflict is between those who genuinely want peace and those who oppose it. The opponents are extremists on both sides, who are small in number but capable of influencing and exploiting the situation on the ground.

The book has two parts. The first deals with geopolitical barriers to peace; the second discusses at length the various manifestations of hatred as potential barriers to peace.

With regard to geopolitical barriers, Dershowitz considers a wide range of issues including disputed borders, ongoing violence, the division of holy places, and the nuclear threat from Iran. The essential threat to peace, however, is extremism. On the Palestinian side it is characterized by the continued denial of claims by Israelis who left or were forced out of land during the war of 1947-1949, and by the recourse to terrorism in various forms. On the Israeli side it is characterized by strict adherence to biblical prophecy and by the denial of Palestinians’ right to establish an independent Palestine.

Dershowitz proposes a two-state solution in which the entire world, including all the Arab and Muslim states, would acknowledge Israel’s right to continue to exist as an independent, democratic Jewish state with inviolable boundaries, and, in exchange, Israel would recognize the Palestinians’ right to establish an independent, democratic Palestinian state with politically and economically viable boundaries.

Apart from geopolitical barriers there is a more subtle kind of obstacle, one that is important and must not be neglected: namely, hatred deliberately directed against each side by extremists on the other side. Hatred encompasses a wide range of phenomena, from using derogatory appellations to engaging in firebombing, cemetery vandalism, and the like.

Directed at Israel, hate speech mainly by radical academics like Edward Said, Chomsky, and Finkelstein, and a journalist such as Alexander Cockburn, has engendered suspicion among Palestinians and often helped derail the peace process. In addition, religious leaders, media houses, university students, and international institutions like the European Union, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations in general, and Amnesty International have engaged in anti-Israeli rhetoric – making them, in a sense, more Palestinian than the Palestinians as Dershowitz contends.

There are also people, Dershowitz suggests, who are more Israeli than Israelis. Though small in number, some Jews and evangelical Protestants oppose pragmatic compromises out of ideological, religious, and political considerations. Some extremists use language that is nothing less than hate speech. Some ultra-Orthodox rabbis misappropriate theology and have opposed ceding the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

Against all odds, however, peace is possible, but it entails certain preconditions that must be fulfilled by both sides. Dershowitz maintains that a real peace, based on the universal acceptance of Israel, can be achieved, but it will take more than Israel and Palestine to do so. It will require an end to the hatred directed against Israel by academics, religious leaders, diplomats, and international organizations such as those mentioned above. In sum, Dershowitz seeks a Chekhovian rather than a Shakespearean resolution for the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy.

Like other masterpieces, Dershowitz’s book is not perfect in all regards. In discussing the issue of coexistence, he overlooks the experiences of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Although, at the time of partition, Hindus in those two countries were assured of their religious rights, the promises were not fulfilled. Until Muslims allow reforms to be made in Islam, the coexistence of Islam and democracy will remain a distant dream, let alone the coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims.

From decades of experience and historical evidence, it can safely be inferred that Palestine will never become a secular state. It could become secular in a constitutional sense like Bangladesh and Pakistan, but it will remain a theocratic state in spirit. Ultimately, Dershowitz’s book has been written for a rationally inclined audience that wants to see a two-state solution to the present conflict. The average reader is likely to find the book overly pro-Israeli, replete with arguments that overlook violence employed by Israel in the name of hot pursuit of terrorists. Such readers may see the book as advocating only for Israel. Yet the opposite is the case; Dershowitz has equally taken Palestinian concerns into account, and nowhere in the book does he give a clean bill of health to Israeli extremists. His incisive observations, based on carefully examined evidence and scholarship, make this masterpiece worth reading both for students of international politics and for a general audience.

Sunil Kumar

Sunil Kumar is a research scholar at Sikkim Manipal University, Gangtok, India.