Daniel Pipes is an author, writer and political commentator. He primarily focuses on Middle East issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He founded and the Middle East Forum, a think tank group, as well as Campus Watch, an organization that critiques academic professors concerning the Middle East. Pipes has written a number of books on the Middle East and has a bi-weekly column for The Jerusalem Post.
Below is the transcript of the interview between Managing Editor Najib Aminy and Daniel Pipes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
Press: When and why did you get involved in this particular area of the world?
Mr. Pipes: That was in my college, it was in Niger. I just got fascinated the deserts and Islam, and I think I was 18 then. Soon after, I took up Islam and Arabic in my junior year of college.
What in particular got you interested?
In particular it was the desert, the way of life.
When would you date the origin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
It dates back to the 1890s when almost simultaneously Zionism, which was Jewish nationalism, developed along with Arab nationalism, and a conflict arose over the designing of this use of land.
It took violence for the first time in 1911, and so it’s just about a century old. [It started] as a violent conflict–a small-scale violence. Nonetheless, it was violence.
Can you comment on Israelis and pro-Israeli supporters who claim that Israel is their land because their ancestors?
That is an argument that became moot in 1948. In other words, whether there should be an Israel or not was a valid argument a century ago or in the 1920s but after Israel came into it’s existence
I think that is no longer an argument I think worth fighting over. Now there is an Israel has been one for over 60 years, the question is should it exist or be destroyed [or] eliminated.
It’s a reasonable justification if not something one should bother refighting today, but whether the argument today is whether it should exist as it is today a Jewish state or eliminated as a Jewish state, which could mean various things.
It could mean a state of it’s citizens, it could mean a Palestinian state, it could mean extension of a Syrian state, part of a pan-Arab state, there are many alternatives to it and indeed there is much disagreement on the anti-Israeli side as to what should be instead but the key question is should it be a Jewish state as it has been for 60 years or should the Jewish state be eliminated.
But yes I think it should be there and that’s the policy of every western government and every American President and so forth. That is not exactly a controversial issue except that it is a controversial issue by 1993-94.
The voices calling for Israel’s elimination had ceased to exist in the West so in the past 15 years they have reappeared. What seemed to be put to rest is now once again in play.
Do you think this is a conflict based on land, religion or both? And why?
It’s a question not so much land or sovereignty, [but] what should be the nature of this sovereignty in this land is as it is today. It is a self-defined Jewish state, should it be a state of it’s citizens, a Palestinian state, a Syrian state, a pan-Arab state, an Islamic state? That’s the question.
Can a state of Israel exist with a state of Palestinians?
In theory it could, but in practice I think that’s not something feasible. Maybe one day in the distant future; I wouldn’t rule it out forever but now, as a practical goal is implausible for a number of reasons.
Palestinians have showed themselves incapable of forming a state; they have also shown themselves to be irredentist. They have used that state as a platform for fighting Israel.
But I just posted a survey in Israel that showed a majority of Israelis and even more Arab-Israelis are for a two-state solution than anything else. Something like 51 or 56 % were in favor for a two state solution.
In a previous interview you stated that the actions of suicide bombers and insurgents in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not fueled by oppression but ambition. Where is the ambition fueled?
I think the conventional interpretation is that the Palestinian people are oppressed, under checkpoints, [they] can’t move around freely, [the] economy is bad; the despair is turned into violence.
And I argue the precisely the opposite that it was a growing sense in the 1990s that Israel is weak, they are making more unilateral concessions, confirmed by more recent events such as the withdrawals form Lebanon and Gaza that fueled the sense that if you hit Israel hit them hard and repeatedly they will cave.
And Lebanon and Gaza were vindication of that point of view. It’s out of the sense of exhilaration and ambition and purpose not of despair that the suicide bombings emerged as a phenomenon and also emerged because Arafat and his PLO built up a machinery for it.
But people willing to do it because they saw themselves as making a difference. People don’t throw away their lives for nothing. They only do it, they are soldiers in a war, they treat themselves as part of an important effort. So I reverse the conventional understanding.
What can be done to ease the Palestinian unrest?
The key is for Palestinians to accept that Israel is there as a Jewish state. When that happens the Palestinians then tend for their own economy, society and culture and build something. And Palestinians have proven to be capable to do great things. If they would only take their eyes off of destroying Israel and instead and [focus on] tending their own garden they could make great things happen.
But that it is not happening. The focus has been for a century [and] remains on Zionism, the issue of Israel. You can’t make progress and as a result Palestinians are under occupations and are facing walls and fences and checkpoints.
I have no sympathies whatsoever. I think the Israelis are entitled to protect themselves and the Palestinians continue to attack Israelis and they pay the price for it. If they would only stop than there would be a release and by the way that was the way it used to by. For decades after 1967 there were lots of good years there.
The universities that now exist were founded there, substantial increase in the standard of living, people moving about freely. It was only really starting about 1987; it was half the time between 1967 and 1987. It was very much more relaxed and it was only with the Intifadeh that things changed and got worse and worse.
It’s completely the Palestinian initiative. And the fact that Israelis are building towns on the West Bank I am completely indifferent to. If the Palestinians don’t wake up or see it, as change is on the way that is there problem.
If they want there to be no more Israeli towns or Israelis coming over, they have to take the steps that are necessary which is to reach an accord and stop the violence and show themselves to accept Israel and then they’ll have a voice in this.
That has been the Palestinian mistake for 40 or at least 20 years. I think 30,000 Israelis lived in the West Bank in 1987. The real increase came after that. Well, too bad Palestinians. You make your choice and you pay the consequences. So stop the violence but more importantly stop the rejection, accept Israel. It’s there, it’s the reality, 60 years there. Come to terms and move on and then great things could happen.
Nothing is going to happen that’s great until they do that.
Couldn’t this be considered an idealistic view?
I am saying a change of heart has to be accepted. No I don’t think that is idealistic. That’s the way wars end, when one side accepts the realities. I lived it through myself in 1975 in Vietnam. We lost 60,000 people, wrenching experience and we gave up. Okay we lost.
I would like the Palestinians to come to the conclusion that they have lost. It’s over. Israel is there; it’s permanent, move on. That’s how wars end. Nothing idealistic, it’s quite the reverse, it’s a very unpleasant experience as I can tell you from first hand experience, it’s a crucible you go through of reassessment and defeat. [It’s a] miserable experience.
Do you think Israel was justified in it’s military operations this past December-January?
I have lots of differences with the Israeli tactics and what they do. A lot of criticism. I wrote a piece in January called “Israel’s Strategic Incompetence.”
I disagree with plenty of what they do. What I think is justified is they protected themselves from the rockets and missiles. What they actually did both in Lebanon and Gaza I have many disagreements with. Did they do it smart do it well? No, it was incompetent in both cases
What specifically did you disagree with?
First of all they left Gaza in ’05, lost control of it. [What is] even more remarkable was that they no longer retained control of the [bordering] corridor and had no control over what weapons went into Gaza-just plain stupidity on the Israeli side
And the purpose of the war. Olmert never really defined what it was or anyone else but from what one could gather was to go back to the negotiating table with Abbas, which struck me as very strange. Going to war with Hamas in order to have negotiations with Fatah, what sense does that make?
The religious two-month interlude between the US Presidential elections and the inauguration: if the Israelis are going to use that time than what is Gaza insignificant in reality, Iran is the issue.
These and other levels I found it to be incompetent.
It was reported through numerous media outlets that the U.S. backed out of it’s own proposed resolution because of a phone call to President Bush made by former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert. Was that a correct move and why or why not?
I do think it was. I would like to see Palestinians accept Israel. As I said before, that is not a pleasant process. It is not just a matter of war but it is the squeezing of Palestinian people in realizing they cannot win.
The war in December-January was a sort of step in that direction. Overall, though there are many things that I disagree with it, I don’t think you should use military aircraft to fight this war; I do think the Israelis should have a free hand to win whatever that means in this situation.
So yes, I was in favor of Bush scuffling this resolution. I was amazed that Olmert said what he said.
Are you in favor of “winning” over the Palestinians while compromising peace?
I think victim of defeat are subtle concepts, not just a matter of killing people as in deed I experienced in 1975. It wasn’t that Americans were out of soldiers, out of guns or the economy had tanked, it was a sense of despair of defeat. We didn’t want to go couldn’t go on and that’s what I think.
The Israelis and we and everyone else should be sending the signal to the Palestinians that you know forget it you can’t win this. And ideally this takes place in a nonviolent way but I would suspect that there would violent aspects as well. But yeah the less violence the better.
The trouble is that no one is sending that signal to the Palestinians and therefore if the outside world, Arab states, Europeans, Americans, everyone else said, ‘you know Palestinians forget it. It’s unrealistic. We don’t support you.’
If the PLO or Hamas were as isolated as some African liberation movement that no one ever heard of, had no money, no arms, it would be much closer to collapse than it is today.
In large part because professors, editorialists, diplomats are supporting the Palestinians, there is a sense that they can go on. Therefore the violence becomes more necessary.
I would much prefer to see editorialists, professors and diplomats tell the Palestinians forget it and there will be a collapse of will and you could move on and not have the killing not have the fighting.
Do you think Palestinians have the right to defend themselves?
Absolutely there is no defense there. No in short. The Israelis have made it very clear they are not interested in attacking Palestinians they are interested in being left alone. If the Palestinians leave them alone then they will leave the Palestinians alone.
The same thing applies to the states; Israel has been at war with Egypt a number of times. When Egypt stopped making war Israel stopped making war being allowed to live. It’s not interested in this but being left alone. But over the course of the century they have developed sophisticated means to promote their defense through sharp offensive action and that is to be expected.
Strategically [it is] to be expected from a tiny state to go on the offensive to take the war on the other side. It doesn’t want to have war on it’s own tiny territory.
Well, leave it alone and it’ll leave you alone. It’s just the basic fact. Palestinians, leave it alone and they’ll leave you alone. That is just a basic fact. Egyptians left it alone for decades and they are not being attacked by Israelis.
What are your thoughts about the US role with Israel?
The money connection I would like to sever, I don’t think Israel needs American money. I don’t think it’s healthy for the relationship, I think Americans resent it. I have been calling for many years for the elimination of sub ventures.
But other than that, yes I am in favor of strong US-Israel relationship, from an American point of view I am interested in working with democracies with like mind and like cultures everywhere. An analogy would be Taiwan and China.
Always had a wish to work well with Taiwan and less with China. These are our people they have a system recognizable like ours and China is a tyranny.
Well, wasn’t Hamas voted on democratically?
Yes it was.
According to your logic, isn’t that enough reason to cooperate with them as well?
By analogy, Hitler was voted democratically. No, just because there was an election doesn’t make it a real democracy. Democracy means more than just elections, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, opposition, laurel opposition, means rule of law it means all these things none of which exist in Gaza today.
I think it was a troubled mistake to have those elections in 2005. The American response was foolish. It was one of the greater mistakes of bush presidency. No it doesn’t give it legitimacy in my eyes. It is a terrorist organization that is also skilled at winning votes.
What are your thoughts on AIPAC?
It is certainly a very impressive organization. They have many dedicated staff members and lay members but at the end of the day I am skeptical that it is that crucial. If you look at the polling over the decades, Americans are more sympathetic to Israel on the ranges of 6 and 3 to 1.
Plus ardent supporters of Israel, in particular modern Evangelicals, are not really part of a lobby. The lobby is tactfully important but I think strategically a minor factor for American sympathy to Israel.
What are your thoughts about the media coverage on this conflict in general as well as for the more recent December-January conflict?
I think overall the media coverage is fairly poor. I am all the time reading between the lines, understanding it my way and rejecting it the way media puts it. [Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor] Lieberman gave his speech earlier this month. He came out and very explicitly endorsed the road map, the full name of which is the road map for a two-state solution.
But the press, and I looked at a lot of press; unanioumously said that Lieberman rejected the two state solutions. That is a plain mistake.
And unless you are a specialist and you go back and look at the text of what he was endorsing you would know it. You have to rely on the press you cant do research on everything.
So unanioumously there was this defeat that Lieberman had rejected the two-state solution despite the fact that he explicitly endorsed it. That’s the kind of problem I have with the press. Unless you are a specialist and go back and check things if you have a large knowledge you get a mistake of understanding of what is taking place.
What are your thoughts on Israel forbidding journalists from entering Gaza?
There are two different levels. I don’t see anything outrageous about it. It’s a war zone and governments are always closing war zones to journalists so it’s perfectly standard practice.
Second level is, is it smart?
I don’t know. I suspect not but I don’t see anything outrageous about it. You don’t think the Egyptians Syrians or Jordanians, you don’t think those governments close areas when fighting takes place…
But that is another issue.
It’s routine. Nothing outrageous about it. Is it smart? Does it help Israel to do that I have my doubts but haven’t studied it in detail.
Do you think a three-state solution is possible in the near future?
It’s possible such that the Jordanians are quite eager for it and have shown that, it is left possible as the Egyptians are left reluctant, it is a matter for the Israelis to change their policies. It’s not clear what Netanyahu is up to, he has not endorsed a two state but not condemned it either. He is playing an ambiguous game.
It’s fluid at this point, I don’t know what he is up to. Conceivably it could turn in this direction, I think eventually there will be because a two-state solution is simply a total failure and eventually someone is going to come up with the idea and look at the alternatives. And what are the alternatives? A one-state solution? Give me a break. What else? It’s just back to the future scenario of Jordan and Egypt.
There are a number of quotes that could be controversial, for one, in an address to the American Jewish Congress on 10/21/2001, you said, “The increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims…will present true dangers to American Jews.”
I think had a piece about Tom Harkin there and I apply it there. The key words there are the present leadership meaning the Islamist leaders
Do you think those views can be considered controversial by some or even hurtful even if you are not Muslim?
I think I’ve made it clear over and over again I am not anti Islam but I am anti Islamism, and this was a Collin Inrad story …at the kind of leadership of ISNA, IQNA, CAIR, MPAC, MAS and so forth are all Islamist so long as leadership is Islamist this is a problem. Where if they if they were to be moderate, on our side of the war, patriotic, I would think differently.
I am not Anti-Islam I challenge you to find any statement that is anti-Islam it’s anti radical Islam. I get a whole lot of grief from people for making that distinction, a lot of people think that is facetious, cowardly, and self-wroth, but I insist on It. I fight for it. I am Islamistiophobic not Islamophobic.
Could you elaborate on the difference between the two?
Islam is a religion as you well know of 1400 years with a billion plus people. Islamism is an ideology that rose in the 1920s and that emphasized the application of Islamic law and the extension of Muslim power and I think that one comes from the other. I see the Islamist movement as an enemy like I saw the fascist and communist movements. I see the fascist and communist movements I absolutely vehement in my opposition to these types of movements.
An article was written regarding this conflict quoting both Mr. Pipes and British Member of Parliament George Galloway.