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Planet Chomsky

On November 29th, 2005, Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky met to debate at the Kennedy School Forum on "Israel and Palestine After Disengagement: Where Do We Go From Here?".

The Kennedy School has archived it, you can download it via bittorrent, read the transcript, or grab a drink and watch it:

In Dershowitz's closing statement he asks "Please, the other area where Chomsky and I agree: check his sources. Take him at his word. Go back tonight and google and read the sources. ... Email us both as to what the sources show." Earlier in the debate he argues Chomsky "knows you can't find his sources", yadda.

A fair request. We might check Dershowitz's sources while we're at it, if we run across any in his speech (in his opening he quotes some insults hurled by Chomsky and Finkelstein, e.g., comparing Peres to Idi Amin et al, we take them as given, as the source present acknowledges and then reaffirms the insult). His references are otherwise entirely sourced to personal discussions with, say, Bill Clinton or Dennis Ross. "History", Dershowitz informs us, "ought to be objectively verifiable and it doesn't become true because Professor Chomsky says it's true".

We would note that a personal discussion is off the record and not "objectively verifiable".

To save folks some time I'll expend some of my own and link to the sources, since we can "just google them":

  1. NC: "the question of where we're going now [is clearly stated] by the leading academic specialist on the occupation, Harvard's Sara Roy", from whom he quotes:
    under the terms of disengagement, Israel's occupation is assured. Gazans will be contained and sealed within the electrified borders of the Strip, while West Bankers, their lands dismembered by relentless Israeli settlement, will be penned into fragmented spaces, isolated behind and between walls and barriers.

  2. NC: "her judgement is confirmed by Israel's leading specialist on the West Bank, Meron Benvenisti", who writes "the separation wall snaking its way through the west bank..." a quote from "Founding a Binational State", published in Ha'aretz.

    For further comment from Benvinisti on comparisons between Israel and South Africa, as by the word "bantustan", there's his explanation of why he rejects them:

    The careless and tendentious use of the Israel-South Africa comparison blurs the major differences between the two societies and political cultures that make the comparison irrelevant. For instance, the mutual economic dependence of blacks and whites in South Africa bears no relation to the Palestinians' one-sided dependence on Israel. This interdependence made it impossible to create a true territorial division in South Africa. In addition, the significant black majority in South Africa is not similar to the demographic near-parity that exists west of the Jordan. In South Africa, blacks and whites share the same faith; even if some racist statements were made in the name of religion, there were still common values that allowed for the post-apartheid appeasement process. In Israel, though, the Jewish-Muslim clashes are becoming stronger.


    Newly published research by Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodlay comparing South Africa and Israel points out that the personal connection between blacks and whites in South Africa was much more intimate than the connection between Israelis and Palestinians. Although this relationship was effectively that between a horse and his rider, these connections nonetheless softened people's stances, prevented demonization and allowed for a successful transition to a multiracial nation.

    The research also notes that the South African government supported the creation of the bantustan institutions, funded them and subsidized their economy - in contrast to Israel, which destroyed Palestinian Authority institutions, smashed the economy in the territories and put the financial burden on the international community.

  3. NC: An EU report stated that "US-backed Israeli policies will virtually end prospects for a viable Palestinian state". He's referring to Report on East Jerusalem- Jerusalem and Ramallah Heads of EU Mission, described briefly here. Also made available by Ha'aretz.

  4. NC: HRW "recently concurred" with the above's conclusions.

  5. NC then quotes from Declaration of Judge Buergenthal, "the Fourth Geneva Convention, and international human rights law are applicable to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and must there be faithfully complied with by Israel". Chomsky quotes this with "faithfully" replaced by "fully", which is an appallingly gross distortion of the original meaning, or something.

  6. NC: "two months later Israel's High Court rejected that judgement": i.e. the Israeli High Court of Justice's ruling (HCJ 2056/04, Beit Sourik Village Council v. The Government of Israel).

  7. NC:
    Two months later, Israel's High Court rejected that [Buergenthal's] judgment, ruling that the Separation Wall "must take into account the need to provide security for...Israelis living" in the West Bank, including their "property" rights. This is consistent with Chief Justice Barak's doctrine that Israeli law supercedes international law. Technically speaking he is correct, as long as the United States continues to provide the required economic, military, and diplomatic support as it has been doing for 30 years in violation of the international consensus.

    The source on rejection is Yoaz Yuval, "The route less traveled" Ha'aretz, July 7, 2005 - originally here, I have a cache of the story, which says, accordingly:

    The International Court of Justice in The Hague may perhaps determine what the international law is in areas seen as having an "aggressive perception," but from the perspective of Israeli law, united Jerusalem was annexed to Israel and Israeli law applies there, not the military administration in effect in the territories.

  8. NC then quotes from Israeli historian Benny Morris. Thanks to a reader who pointed out where we could read page 341 of Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 online:
    Israelis like to believe, and tell the world, that they were running an "enlightened" or "benign" occupation, qualitatively different from other military occupations the world had seen. The truth was radically different. Like all occupations, Israel's was founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation. True, the relative lack of resistance and civil disobedience over the years enabled Israelis to maintain a facade of normalacy and implement their rule with a relatively small force, consisting of a handful of IDF battalions, a few dozen police officers (rank-and-file policemen were recruited from among the Palestinians), and a hundred or so General Security Service (GSS) case officers and investigators.


    Military administration, uncurbed by the civil rights considerations that applied in Israel, possessed ample measures to suppress dissidence and protest. These included curfews; house arrest, with resulting loss of wages; judicial proceedings, ending in prison terms or fines - the work of the military courts in the territories, and the Supreme Court which backed them, will surely go down as a dark age in the annals of Israel's judicial system - or expulsions; administrative detentions, or imprisonment without trial, for renewable six-month terms; and commercial and school shutdowns, usually in response to shop-keepers' strikes or disturbances by students.

    And it goes on like that.

  9. NC quotes himself, "It's as if someone were to argue that Jews don't need a second homeland, since they already have one in New York". Google offers us this, apparently from the preface to Werner Cohn's "The Hidden Alliances of Noam Chomsky", itself contextless. The source to check would be Letters from Lexington.

  10. Right around this point in the Q&A, after some stuff about the media, Dershowtiz says what he really thinks:
    Professor Chomsky, by selectively quoting and by picking tidbits out of context - knowing that you're not going to check up on him - tells you essentially that what you believe in the American media - whether it be the Washington Post or the Boston Globe or the New York Times - is not true. In order to get the true meaning of the world you have to move to Planet Chomsky, where the news reflects his perspective on reality. I urge you to move to the real world, read the real news. Don't read the selective Israeli journalists he talks about. ... Dennis Ross was there.

  11. Chomsky responds to the use of Dennis Ross as a reliable source:

    Dershowitz (having held up his map for some time): "This is Dennis Ross' map"

    Chomsky: "Dennis Ross was the US negotiator, his word is meaningless"


    He offers to go into it further. If he had more time one would expect him to repeat the same criticisms of Ross' account as he did in an Al-Ahram Weekly article "Reshaping History" - from which Dershowitz draws the Hilter-Amin-Peres anology - for what it's worth:

    [Judith] Miller's NYT version of these events is based on a highly-praised book by Clinton's Middle East envoy and negotiator Dennis Ross. As any journalist must be aware, any such source is highly suspect, if only because of its origins. And even a casual reading would suffice to demonstrate that Ross's account is wholly unreliable. Its 800 pages consist mostly of adulation of Clinton (and his own efforts), based on almost nothing verifiable; rather, on "quotations" of what he claims to have said and heard from participants, identified by first names if they are "good guys". There is scarcely a word on what everyone knows to have been the core issue all along, back to 1971 in fact: the programmes of settlements and infrastructure development in the territories, relying on the economic, military, and diplomatic support of the US, Clinton quite clearly included. Ross handles his Taba problem simply: by terminating the book immediately before they began (which also allows him to omit Clinton's evaluation, just quoted, a few days later). Thus he is able to avoid the fact that his primarily conclusions were instantly refuted.


    Ross's view is so lacking in independent support and so radically selective that one has to take with a heavy grain of salt anything that he claims, from the specific details he meticulously records verbatim (maybe with a hidden tape recorder) to the very general conclusions presented as authoritative but without credible evidence. It is of some interest that this is reviewed as if it could be considered an authoritative account. In general, the book is next to worthless, except as giving the perceptions of one of the actors. It is hard to imagine that a journalist cannot be aware of that.

  12. NC: "My maps are from the leading Israeli scholars, from [Ron] Pundak, the director of the Shimon-Peres Center".

    Chomsky cites an article from an IISS journal in 2001, i.e. "From Olso to Taba: What Went Wrong" also available from the Peres Center for Peace website as a PDF. At the end of the PDF file one finds a "Projection of West Bank Permanent Status, Camp David, July 2000" that is quite different from Dershowitz's copy of Dennis Ross' map of which he says, "Here is what a Palestinian state would have looked like had Camp David and Taba been accepted. It would be a completely contiguous area". (Dershowitz here appears to think that nothing signficant changed between Camp David and Taba.).

    The difference between the maps is the contiguity of the resulting Palestinian state. In Pundak's analysis:

    "For the average Palestinian during Barak's administration, the so-called 'fruits of peace' were hardly encouraging: [...long list...] the establishment of Bantustan-like areas, controlled according to the whim of Israeli military rule and on occasion dictated by its symbiotic relationship with the settlers' movement".

    Pundak concludes, regarding the peace process:

    The faulty implementation during Netanyahu's administration, and the problematic management of permanent status negotiations under Barak are the two main obstacles, which prevented the sides from reaching an agreement. Other obstacles included Palestinian insensitivity to the Israeli perception of the daily threat of terrorism to their personal security; Israeli insensitivity to the suffering of an entire people possessed with a collective pride and struggling to gain national liberation from continuing occupation; the destructive effect of anti-Israeli incitement and propaganda; and a fledgling Palestinian political system which acted negligently and employed a double language. These factors enabled the deterioration of the situation into violence.

    Nevertheless, the possibility of reaching an agreement remains.

  13. During the map debate there is a small altercation with a questioner who is said to be Tal Silberstein, "a former advisor to PM Ehud Barak." Chomsky has been citing Ron Pundak. Tal argues that Ron Pundak was 'nowhere close' to the Camp David process but only Olso, and thus isn't a reliable source on the former's proceedings. Chomsky retort's that Pundak was "in the background".

    According to Pundak's CV at the Peres Center "Dr. Pundak has continued to be involved in various policy planning frameworks of ongoing and future negotiations on bi and multilateral levels." Possibly relevant to his involvement through the 2000 Camp David summit would be:

    • 1996-present Co-Director of the Executive Committee of PIES (Palestinian-Israeli Environmental Secretariat) a joint Israeli-Palestinian umbrella organization for environmental activities.
    • 1996-present Member of the Israeli core team of the 'Lousiana Process' and the 'Copenhagen Group', a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Egyptian-Jordanian umbrella for the promotion of peace activities in the four partner countries.
    • 1996-2001 Led an Israeli team participating in an Israeli-Palestinian endeavor to identify and promote ways and means for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in health and medicine issues.
    • 1995-2001 Led the Israeli side of a joint Israeli-Palestinian Research Team regarding the future of Jerusalem.

    Pundak discusses his personal involvement 'in the background' at greater length in this interview [thanks to a reader]. The Peres Center further offers:

    During 1994 and 1995, Dr. Pundak played a central role in the so-called 'Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding', which provided a blue-print for negotiations and a detailed framework for agreement on all final status issues utilized in the Camp David II and Taba Negotiations. In parallel, and on an ongoing basis since then, Dr. Pundak has led and participated in numerous Israeli-Palestinian track two activities connected to final status issues, including the drafting of the Geneva Initiative

  14. Chomsky claims that Dennis Ross' account stops before Taba. This appears to be nearly the case: on page 757, in the third to last paragraph of a late chapter in "The Missing Peace" he gives it a very brief mention:
    During the first week of the Bush presidency, the negotiators on both sides went to Taba, Egypt. The real purpose was not to reach agreement, but on the Israeli side to try to constrain what Sharon could do and on the Palestinian side to try to get the Bush administration to buy into the Clinton ideas.

    Niether was going to happen. Did we come close? Yes. Were the Palestinian negotiators ready to do the deal that was available? Yes. Did we ultimately fail because of the mistakes that Barak made and the mistakes that Clinton made? No, each, regardless of his tactical mistakes, was ready to confront history and mythology. Only one leader was unable or unwilling to confront history and mythology: Yasir Arafat.

  15. NC: "'marching on the road to catastrophe by rejecting minimal Palestinian rights' I'm quoting the four former heads of Israel's Shin Bet security service". He is referring to the comments of the men referred to in this NYT article, from a joint interview published in the Israeli journal Yediot Ahronot, in November 2003:
    Together they have a total of 20 years in the GSS. The four - Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon and Ami Ayalon - under different governments and in different periods, headed the organization that knows better than any other organization the innards of both societies, the Israeli and the Palestinian.

    After reading their comments I daresay that Chomsky rather underplays the source.

  16. There seems to be, and the discussion revolves around, a great disconnect in this sequence of Camp David -> Taba -> "Road Map" -> Geneva. Dershowitz seems to endorse Tabba and then later attacks it for political irrealism (Sharon/Bush about to be elected, etc.) among other things. Cursory lookups on Taba gave me material endorsing Dershowitz's latter view from the Zionist Organization of American (via, thankyou) but not much else that agrees with it. Dershowitz hasn't cited anybody besides Ross so there's not exactly a lot to go on, and one might wish to take Chomsky's advice, in return, that one find Dershowitz endorsing, as he does in this debate, what Chomsky calls the "international consensus", Taba, and the Geneva Accords - or easier, check if he's attacked them, in which case one might suppose this debate is rather something of a breakthrough.

  17. NC cites, in discussing Taba during the Q&A, the European Union's account of the Taba talks, prepared by EU envoy Miguel Moratinos and published in Ha'aretz on February 14, 2002 for the first time, about which Akiva Eldar wrote:
    whose main points have been approved by the Taba negotiators as an accurate description of the discussions, casts additional doubts on the prevailing assumption that [former prime minister] Ehud Barak "exposed [Palestinian Authority Chairman] Yasser Arafat's true face." It is true that on most of the issues discussed during that wintry week of negotiations, sizable gaps remain. Yet almost every line is redolent of the effort to find a compromise that would be acceptable to both sides. It is hard to escape the thought that if the negotiations at Camp David six months earlier had been conducted with equal seriousness, the intifada might never have erupted. And perhaps, if Barak had not waited until the final weeks before the election, and had instead sent his senior representatives to that southern hotel earlier, the violence might never have broken out.

As to the substance of the debate Dershowitz and the moderator stand in favor of some unspecified "pragmatic peace", apparently to blow in the political wind and applaud whatever is happening, given his closing praises for Sharon and Peres and their plan, whatever it will be. Alan Dershowitz argues that the wall should "ultimately" be built on the agreed borders and thus ostensibly opposes the wall's encroachments past the '67 line, etc., but not enough to stand in the way of it. He rarely stoops, in bravely looking forward, to describe what is going on now, though he goes back to 1948 at length.

Some of Dershowitz's other claims as to his own position during the debate may require reference to his recent statements elsewhere.

For example he says "I do not favor, for example, house destructions". In The Case for Israel he appears to go out of his way to defend them.

He opines during the debate that "Israel gets a C+ or a B+ in its compliance with human rights in fighting terrorism which higher than any other country has gotten". He doesn't give us his grades for other countries so I'm not sure how he reaches this conclusion, let alone how he assigns such grades to begin with. Presumably it's written down somewhere with such specifics.

Dershowitz says in the debate that "The ultimate goal is to have a seperation fence that is on the accepted border". It isn't, according to the given sources, not even Dershowitz's. Even the map from Ross - which isn't a map of the wall but of the proposed Camp David settlement, which according to Pundak is erroneous - shows areas of Israeli settlment beyond the "accepted border". Previously he has said: "I just came back from a visit to the security fence. Not only is it not a barrier to peace I think it is essential to peace". Perhaps he should have brought a GPS unit so he could find out where on the map he was.

Dershowitz's conclusion is that "We both do agree that the proposals made at Taba do provide a useful basis for a peace process. Taba didn't end because Israel left. Taba ended because Arafat rejected Camp David thereby causing the election of Sharon over Barak." Taba wouldn't have happened if Arafat had accepted Camp David, so this doesn't make any sense. He goes on to say, "I think the prospects for peace based on the Taba proposals are quite realistic." In that case what Chomsky has been proposing - that is the end result of the Taba process in the Geneva Accords - is a fine, forward looking path to peace, yadda yadda yadda. Dershowitz seems to pretty much cede the substance of the debate there: on the question of "Where Do We Go From Here" he suddenly endorses Chomksy's position.

Dershowitz predicts that "if this [Peres-Sharon coalition] party wins the election, and invites the Palestinians to the table and the Palestinians don't miss another opportunity to miss an opportunity there will be a real prospect for peace" under the Taba process. That's a prediction that Sharon-Peres will pick up the Taba process, so we can weigh his assessment sometime in the future.

If we're to take it seriously then Dershowitz basically argues that Chomsky's preferred solution is more or less just super. On the other hand he just spent the entire debate conflating Camp David and Taba (there were some meetings during Camp David at Taba, but these were part of Camp David, not the January Taba process under discussion that occurred before the inaguration of George W. Bush and election of Sharon - perhaps he's just confused), so who knows what he might actually mean when he says he supports the Taba process.

Chomsky believes the answer to "Where Do We Go From Here?" is looking back to 1967 and towards the Geneva Accords. He refers to the "pragmatic peace" with respect to the Palestinian Right of Return: in that it was more or less ceded by the Palestinian leadership in return for compensation. [ed need to re-watch it to get more specific, he cites a report that uses those words...]. Dershowitz (who flips back and forth) and many from the audience apparently consider the Geneva Accords niether 'pragmatic' nor 'forward-looking' nor 'imaganitive', but don't explain their antagonism. I'm not at all clear what their objection is, as they don't raise any and Dershowitz seems to endorse its tenants.

I would merely opine that their 'pragmatic peace' - as it appears to be currently going forward with the expansion of West Bank settlements - is an imposed one that will exacerbate the existing conflict and ammeliorate little if anything, and is little more than a path towards further formalizing of a permanent clusterfuck.

Or, if you prefer, the pragmatic peace offered is one that bows to political realities as though they are deterministic and unchangable, without democratic input or recourse. It may well be, but hardly needs or perhaps deserves 'the power Chomsky wields', as Dershowitz informs us, to go forward as it is, in fact, going forward.

Would the Geneva Accords have to be imposed? If you consider the influence of a democratic public on said 'political realities' an imposition, I suppose it would be.

--josh buermann