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Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz called yesterday for a renewed effort to achieve peace in the Middle East after Yasser Arafat’s death, in a discussion of his book “The Case for Peace” organized by Harvard Students for Israel.
At the well-attended event in Emerson Hall, Dershowitz argued that “this is a time for Israel to be extremely generous.” He said that Israel’s strategic interests, along with moral imperatives, demand a rapid resolution of the conflict with Palestinians.
Opening his remarks, Dershowitz criticized the Harvard Law School group “Justice for Palestine” for inviting Norman G. Finkelstein to speak on campus Thursday. Finkelstein, a professor of political science at DePaul University, has angered many Jewish groups with his controversial positions on Israel and his criticisms of the way the Holocaust has been presented.
Praising Harvard’s tradition of “rational dialogue” on the Middle East, Dershowitz warned that Finkelstein’s appearance may mark a turning point in that tradition.
Dershowitz then outlined his suggestions for the peace process, emphasizing that peace would “require major compromises from both sides.”
Stating that “the end result has to be two states,” Dershowitz said that any future Palestinian state “will not be contiguous.” He suggested that high speed rail links, along with water links and fiber-optic infrastructure, could help to address the problems of communication and transportation that this would entail.
On the status of Jerusalem, Dershowitz accepted that “it is going to have to be divided along demographic lines.” However, he pointed out that at the Camp David peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in 2000, the status of Jerusalem was not problematic. Instead, the major stumbling block then was the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees displaced by the 1947-49 war and their descendants.
Rejecting the possibility of this right being implemented, Dershowitz suggested that the aim of Palestinian leaders in advocating it was to “demographically destroy Israel” by flooding the country with four million Palestinians. In its place, Dershowitz suggested a massive aid package, “in effect a mini-Marshall Plan.”
Dershowitz also advocated Israel’s controversial security fence, which he claimed is an effective barrier against terrorism, as well as a valuable bargaining tool. He argued that, as the de facto boundary between the two states, the fence encourages the Palestinian leadership to come to the negotiating table to seek a better solution.
However, he said that such a solution should be less generous than the concessions offered at Camp David, in order to avoid “rewarding [acts of] terrorism” that have occurred in the intervening years.
Addressing the difficulties of the peace process, he said that the kind of difficult compromise required is “hard for democracies to make.” He said that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak relied on continuous polling data throughout the Camp David talks before offering anything for negotiation.
Dershowitz finished his talk by highlighting Israel’s strategic interests. Claiming that Israel could “ignore the Palestinian problem” if it chose to do so, he emphasized that the most significant threat to Israel comes from Iran, whose president recently called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”
Following his talk, Dershowitz opened the floor to questions. Answering questions on U.S.-Iranian relations, political barriers to peace, and international law, Dershowitz again emphasized the benefit of rational discussion of the conflict, something he said is absent from many campuses.
“Thank God Israel only has to make peace with the Palestinians, not with the professors,” he said in closing.
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