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By Hope A. Jones

Hope A. Jones ’08, a Government concentrator from Leverett House, graduates from Harvard College this year.

Ravaged by three wars in the last thirty years, Iraq—to some—seems beyond salvation. Religious terrorists across the country pose a grave threat to the country’s future. Sectarian violence, once political or territorial in nature, has become increasingly religious across the Middle East, from Algeria, to Gaza, to Pakistan. Against this deteriorating backdrop, religious violence in Iraq is not the exception, but the expression of a regional phenomenon of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam.

Despite such a bleak outlook, there is an undercurrent of attempts at religious reconciliation in these same troubled countries. Brave Iraqi leaders have brought together key religious and secular figures, underscoring the importance of intra and inter-religious dialogue. Some religious leaders have renounced violence and pledged to work together for a peaceful Iraq. These peace-building efforts would not be possible without the presence of a mediator welcomed by all sides. As the vicar of Baghdad’s only Anglican parish, Canon Andrew White is exactly this kind of mediator. Over the past ten years, he has been in a unique position to develop a nuanced understanding of religious factionalism in Iraq, and his tireless work with the religious leaders of the country is a testament to the importance of mediation in any effort to stabilize war-torn Iraq.

Understanding Violence in Iraq

Religious conflict in Iraq is multifaceted in nature and cannot be fully separated from nationalist concerns. The well-documented Sunni-Shi’a tensions comprise one of several crosscutting religious conflicts in the country. Iraqi nationalist religious groups have battled radical Iranian Shi’a for control of Iraq while all moderate groups, Sunni and Shi’a, have fought back against Sunni Al Qaeda in Iraq radicals. Furthermore, intra-Shi’a religious conflict has increased, as militias such as Sayyed al-Hakeem’s Badr Brigade and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army have sought to dominate Iraqi political affairs.

Finally, Iraqi Christians, whose presence in Iraq dates back 2,000 years, have been persecuted and driven out by both Sunni and Shi’a extremists. [1] While the exact numbers are uncalculated, it is estimated that 600,000 of the 700,000 Christians in Iraq have been killed or displaced since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. [2] Some have immigrated to Jordan and Syria and others have been displaced to the north of the country, leaving behind only poorer, less mobile families. [3] It is estimated that there are nearly 5 million Iraqi refugees, both outside and inside the country. [4]

Canon White’s Method of Mediation

Canon White presided over practical conflict resolution and prevention work in the Middle East peace process for the Anglican Church from 1998 until 2005. His work in Iraq began when he was invited by President Saddam Hussein’s Deputy Prime Minister and close confidant Tariq Aziz in 1998. [5] From 2001 to 2003, he was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Representative to the Middle East, [6] the first to hold this position following the five-year imprisonment of his predecessor Terry Waite by Hezbollah. [7] Since the Coalition invasion, White has developed rescue aid initiatives, negotiated hostage releases, and brought previously hostile religious leaders together for compromise agreements.

The personal relationships he forged prior to the 2003 war have enabled him to engage Sunni and Shi’a religious leaders in the fight for peace and stability in Iraq. White’s work and positive results demonstrate the potential for Iraqis to work towards national reconciliation from the bottom up and to reduce the religiously sanctioned sectarian violence that has destroyed much of the country. He strongly believes that inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation in the Middle East “may well lead us into a complex engagement between different religious communities that in time could save the world.” [8]

Currently, Canon White is the President and CEO of the non-profit Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), the chaplain of St. Georges Church in Baghdad, and the Anglican and Episcopalian chaplain of the International Zone in Baghdad. He is also the coordinator and international director of the Iraqi Institute of Peace (IIP) and an advisor to the Iraqi National Security Council, acting as its liaison with Iraqi religious leaders. In 2005, he published a book entitled Iraq: Searching for Hope. He also wrote a previous book on Iraq in 2003 entitled Iraq, People of Hope, and Land of Despair. [9] Canon White couples his peacemaking with enormous relief efforts for Iraqi citizens, including Baghdad’s minority Christian and Jewish populations. He provides families with basic food provisions, creates spaces for children to play safely, ensures that young boys and girls receive lifesaving surgery, and provides widows with information on support services. He has also been responsible for humanitarian projects such as the establishment of Iraq’s first bone marrow transplant center. Canon White has received numerous international awards recognizing his work, including the International Council of Christians and Jews Prize for “Sustained Intellectual Contribution to Jewish Christian Relations.” In 2003, he was also made a Grand Commander of the Order of Merit of the Knights Templar of Jerusalem.

Building New Bridges

Canon White advocates political peace initiatives through religious reconciliation in the Middle East. He spearheaded the Alexandria Declaration, a pledge by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders to use their religious authority within their respective communities to work for peace and stop the bloodshed in the Holy Land. [10] Directing the initiative since 2002, White has played an active role in engaging Israeli and Palestinian leaders in reconciliation talks. In addition to being one of the main negotiators involved in resolving the siege of the Church of Nativity in the spring of 2002, he also was integral in resolving food shortages in Bethlehem, Beit Jallah, and Beit Sahour. In 2004, Canon White was responsible for bringing together twenty-six leading Palestinian clerics with prominent orthodox rabbis in Cairo. For many of the clerics this was the first time they had ever met a rabbi. [11]

Canon White’s interest in Iraq predates the 2003 American invasion. Starting in 1998, he visited Iraq frequently and acted as a mediator between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the West, while forging ties with many of Iraq’s most influential religious and political leaders. [12] In testimony before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom last year, he explained, “the whole mechanism of dealing with religious leaders is based on long-term relationships and an awareness of who they are and where they are coming from.” [13] Canon White believes that his presence in Iraq before the war “is the very reason I can engage with people now because they knew me before and have not just seen me as part of the coalition. From those days even amongst foreign religious leaders I am the only one still here and if I had not been in several years before the war I would not be trusted now.” [14] His close ties with religious leaders prior to the war has earned him legitimacy in the minds of many Iraqis, allowing him to avoid the “occupier” label with which many Iraqis designate American envoys.

The Need for a Trustworthy Mediator

Following the 2003 invasion, the United States and its allies failed to adequately anticipate the outbreak of sectarian and religious-based conflict in Iraq that would force so many of Iraq’s religious minorities out of the country. With the removal of Saddam Hussein’s iron fist, decades-long religious conflict between and within Sunni and Shi’a communities erupted. While Shi’as targeted Sunnis for revenge after many years of repression, Sunnis attacked Shi’as in ill-fated attempts to remain in power. Furthermore, explains White, Iraqi Christians are “bearing the brunt of any resentment over the invasion of Iraq by the ‘Crusaders’ of the West.” [15] Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, many Iraqis proclaimed the Ba’athist party line on Sunni and Shi’a Muslims—“we are all the same”—and there was a considerable degree of tolerance for Iraq’s Christian minority population. What once appeared to be a secular-minded population without serious or violent religious differences soon became a battlefield for sectarian violence and inter-religious brutality. [16] Some argue that by ignoring the need for religious harmony and reconciliation, U.S. forces unwittingly exacerbated the violence and deepened the divisions.

“If religion is the cause of much conflict,” White says, “it can also be the cure to it.” [17] In the words of the British Foreign Office, the commanders in charge wanted only “to sort out the basics such as water and electricity.” Because of the immediate need for basic infrastructure, “dealing with these other issues [such as religious tensions] came a long way down the list.” [18] From the outset, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) did not make any effort to reach out to Iraq’s religious constituencies, nor did they make the effort to establish relationships with the major Shi’a or Sunni religious leaders of Iraq who hold considerable influence over the Iraqi people. [19] Once it was realized that religious leaders needed to be consulted on the reconciliation between warring religious groups, the formation of a new Iraqi Constitution and government, the CPA had little knowledge of the network of religious leadership, particularly in the Iraqi Shi’a community that had been excluded from the previous regime. CPA officials also did not know whom to work with or trust when countless individual Iraqis came forward falsely claiming prominent standing and leadership within their religious communities in order to solicit US funding. The CPA accepted many of these claimants at face value and often ignored the true community leaders.

To the detriment of religious reconciliation, Sunni Muslims were excluded from the effort to establish a new constitution and government. The de-Baathification process was powered by the belief that Iraqi Sunni leaders were the equivalent of the leadership of Nazi Germany, so the CPA disbanded Iraq’s Sunni-led army, ignored the Sunni religious and tribal leaders, and denied pensions that Sunnis had earned over a lifetime of government service. Instead, the CPA concentrated on satisfying the majority Shi’a at the expense of creating a unified Iraqi government because they were seen as victims of the Sunni minority under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Reconciliation under Mediation

Early on, Canon White lobbied the CPA to engage in dialogue with all Iraqi religious leaders in the process of reconstruction. [20] Ignored at first, he continued his own discussions with religious leaders in an effort to bring them together. In 2004, after the CPA’s initial strategies proved ineffective, the Coalition asked Canon White to act as an intermediary between the Coalition leadership and Iraqi religious leaders in the drafting process of the Iraqi Constitution. His familiarity with the tribal divisions among Iraqi religious groups made him a unique advocate of reconciliation and reconstruction. [21]

In his earlier work with Shi’a and Sunni religious leaders, Canon White had been responsible for the establishment of the Iraqi Centre for Dialogue, Reconciliation, and Peace (later re-named the Iraqi Institute of Peace). He also drafted the original Baghdad Religious Accord that marked the first major meeting between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’a leaders. [22] At the risk of his own personal safety, he has also been deeply involved in negotiating hostage releases. His foundation (FRRME) has become a leading mediator of hostage negotiations in Iraq and has the most successful track record of any entity. Canon White admits, however, that this is difficult work and that he is successful in far too few of these cases. He stated in his July 2007 testimony before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom that, “in the past month, thirty-six of my own congregation have been kidnapped. To date, only one has been returned.” [23] In the years since the Coalition invasion, Canon White and his negotiating team have left Iraq several times following the issuance of death threats against them.

Despite such setbacks, Canon White has seen an unprecedented response among Iraqi religious leaders to his efforts to develop the first joint Iraqi fatwa issued by major Sunni and Shi’a leaders, mandating an “end [to] terrorist violence, and to disband militia activity in order to build a civilized country and work within the framework of law.” [24] Religious leaders have met at conferences organized by Canon White, giving them the opportunity “to listen to and engage one another.” The conferences have attracted top Iraqi clerics including many members of the Iraqi parliament, advisors to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shi’a prelate in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi militia, and equivalent Sunni and Kurdish figures. [25] According to journalist Robert McFarlane, they have shown a clear interest “in fostering reconciliation, and in the process, reducing violence, disarming the militias and enacting into law a framework for a fair distribution of political and economic power in Iraq.” [26] These conferences have taken place in Amman, Baghdad, Cairo, and Copenhagen, with several more scheduled before August 2008. [27] The aim of this initiative will be to isolate religious radicals, dampen intra-religious competition, allow conflicts of religious views to be solved through dialogue and, finally, quell religious warfare, thus allowing a state to emerge and once again operate effectively.

In addition to the issuance of a fatwa to end violence, those involved in the process are in discussions to establish a “council of wisemen” consisting of intellectuals, scholars, and clerics to form a common understanding for religious communities. This council will be facilitated by the Iraqi Inter-Religious Council (IIRC) steering committee. It will assist the transition of Iraqi society following the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops. The council will not be a part of the Iraqi government, but will be supported by all the religious elements of Iraq. Positions will rotate approximately every five years and include the most senior Iraqi religious and intellectual figures.

Participants in this process have noted the rise of sectarianism across the Muslim world. The joint fatwa will call for a reduction in tension, highlight the current work of reconciliation by IIRC, and issue a call for Iraqi sovereignty and freedom. Negotiators are planning another preparatory meeting including a more representative group from Sunni and Shi’a communities. The meeting is likely to discuss and develop the joint fatwa and expand reconciliation discussions to the wider Gulf region.

Canon White’s Unique Appeal to Muslims

White’s success in instigating intra-Muslim reconciliation is based on his pluralist understanding of the role and interaction of religion and religious traditions in the world. White is firmly grounded in his Christian faith, and he honestly acknowledges the violence and destruction that have sometimes occurred with the support, or tolerance, of fellow Christians. “I can never forget the fact that in the heart of Christian Europe the Holocaust recently took place with the clear support of many Christian lead,” he reflects. White also has a deep respect for other religious groups and their differences. His philosophy and respectful manner are fundamental to his success in encouraging the cooperation of people from diverse and different traditions. “They know they will not be threatened by us,” White reflects.

Setting his sights on the “reduction of religiously inspired violence and [capitalizing on] the willingness of religious leaders from varying backgrounds to work together,” Canon White is beginning to see results, but he admits that, “it has taken a lot longer than we originally thought it would.” [28] Nonetheless, he sees signs that people are willing to engage with each other not only to end extremist religious violence, but also to protect all communities of believers. He has enlisted Muslim support and protection for his Christian congregation in Baghdad. He explains that the only way his congregants are able to worship at St. Georges is because they “are taken there and looked after by the Iraqi army all of whom are Muslim, [and] the decision to enable this comes from Muslim political leaders.” Some leaders, such as Prime Minister Maliki, will even lend their office spaces as places of worship when it is too dangerous to hold services at St Georges. [29]


Canon White has pursued religious dialogue and reconciliation in Iraq against all odds. Fundamental to his work has been his ability to use his relationships with the Shi’a and Sunni religious leaders to maintain a dialogue aimed at reconciliation. His persistence in the face of distrust and bitter hostility between warring religious sects has encouraged other religious leaders to realize they too have to act to achieve reconciliation. He notes that “in order to move forward it is essential that [these groups] are given something that they have ‘lost’ back. This concept is fundamental to proceeding successfully.” [30]

Canon White’s role is one of a peacemaker. He says of Iraqi religious leaders: “In many respects it is just because I am a religious leader that they will deal with me.” His own devoutness makes him a more credible and respected mediator between religious leaders. He is a valuable mediator, trusted by both the Sunni and Shi’a communities which he has coaxed into dialogue and cooperation.

In today’s Middle East, there can be “no peace among the nations without peace among the religions,” White argues. [31] Canon Andrew White and his tireless mission to bring relief, stability, and reconciliation to a war-torn Iraq demonstrate that dialogue between battling religious groups can sometimes yield important successes. As a neutral mediator, White succeeded in forging a leadership group and promoting dialogue among religious leaders because of his fearlessness, his initiative, his philosophy of pluralism and respect, and his development of prior relationships with Iraqis. Canon White deserves an honor on the scale of the Nobel Peace Prize for his relentless work in dangerous and challenging times.


1.    Andrew White, Iraq: Searching for Hope. (New York: Continuum Books, 2007), 83.
2.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
3.    Andrew White. “An extraordinary message of hope and humanity from the dangerous parish of Baghdad.” Daily Mail: The Mail on Sunday. December, 22, 2007.
4.    http://www.unhcr.org/iraq.html
5.    White 2007, 2.
6.    Andrew White. Iraq: People of Promise, Land of Despair. (United Kingdom: Sovereign World Books, 2003), 9-10.
7.    Jerry Jones. Personal Interview. 2 January 2008.
8.    White 2007, 97.
9.    The biographical information in this paragraph has been paraphrased from the Biography of Canon Andrew White provided by his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
10.    White 2003, 9-10.
11.    The biographical information in this paragraph has been paraphrased from the Biography of Canon Andrew White provided by his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
12.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
13.    Andrew White. “Testimony by The Reverend Canon Andrew White.” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Public Hearing on “Threats to Iraq’s Communities of Antiquity.” 25 July 2007. Washington, DC. Russell Senate Office Building.
14.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
15.    White 2007, 21.
16.    White 2007, 95-96.
17.    White 2007, 83-84.
18.    White 2007, 21.
19.    Jerry Jones. Personal Interview. 2 January 2008.
20.    Biography of Canon Andrew White provided by his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
21.    Jerry Jones. Personal Interview. 2 January 2008.
22.    Biography of Canon Andrew White provided by his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
23.    White, Andrew. “Testimony by The Reverend Canon Andrew White.” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Public Hearing on “Threats to Iraq’s Communities of Antiquity.” 25 July 2007. Washington, DC. Russell Senate Office Building.
24.    Robert McFarlane. “A Fatwa Against Violence.” The Wall Street Journal. August 25, 2007.
25.    Robert McFarlane. “The Iraqi Nation.” The Wall Street Journal. June 27, 2007.
26.    Robert McFarlane. “The Iraqi Nation.” The Wall Street Journal. June 27, 2007.
27.    Jerry Jones. Personal Interview. 2 January 2008.
28.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
29.    White 2007, 147.
30.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
31.    White 2007, 95.


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By Cindy D. Tan

Cindy D. Tan ’08, a History of Art and Architecture concentrator from Eliot House, graduates from Harvard College this year.

Iran’s April 8 announcement that it plans to install 6,000 centrifuges at its main enrichment site at Natanz comes without surprise given the regime’s flagrant posturing in recent years. After breaching its October 2003 agreement with France, Britain, and Germany to suspend all enrichment activities, [1] Iran has taken to boasting openly about its rapid nuclear developments and its aim to enrich and process uranium. Restating on multiple occasions its unwavering intentions to pursue nuclear technology, Iran is eager to advertise its gains, and even overstate the speed and scale of its nuclear program. Iran’s public exaggeration of its nuclear capabilities allows it to make valuable, short-term political gains. Iran believes it can purposefully embellish its nuclear progress without provoking a military response because it believes that the United States and Israel are unlikely to wage preemptive military strikes. Moreover, Iran’s minimal cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also allows it to exploit the indecisive and ineffective response by the international community. Regardless of whether Iran will divert its civilian nuclear program into a weapons program, creating the impression that it has an uncontrollable and rapidly advancing nuclear industry brings Iran closer to its aspiration of achieving regional hegemony.

Iran’s Nuclear Crisis

Iran operates key nuclear sites at Arak, Bushehr, Isfahan, and Natanz, with several additional research and laboratory facilities across the country. [2] Of central concern to the international community is the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), where Iran resumed assembling and testing centrifuge components in 2004, when it defiantly removed seals placed by the IAEA. Nuclear experts believe the Natanz site is comprised of a small pilot plant, which performs centrifuge tests and small enrichment functions, and a larger, commercial-scale plant that can house up to 50,000 centrifuges. [3] The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian dissident group, first discovered covert underground operations at the site in August 2002 and exposed what many insist is a nuclear weapons program. [4] The NCRI’s disclosure forced the government to admit, in a public statement by Iranian Vice President Rahim Aghazadeh, that Iran was “embarking on a long-term plan to construct nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 6000 MW within two decades.” [5] Although, according to the IAEA, Iran was not under obligation to disclose its nuclear facilities at the time, the reports attracted public criticism and speculation about the program’s intentions. Since the IAEA’s 2003 discovery that Iran had been conducting undisclosed uranium-conversion and plutonium experiments, [6] Iran has taken limited steps toward making its program more transparent and it has minimally cooperated with international agencies. Iran contends that its civilian program does not violate the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and it has responded to UN sanctions with boastful public announcements about its nuclear achievements. [7] The November 2007 United States National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) corroborated the IAEA’s finding and claimed that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in 2003. In order to evade such accusations, Iran has shrouded its current nuclear activities in mystery and performed propagandist media stunts that complicate efforts to understand its intentions.

The reality of Iran’s nuclear progress is probably far too inglorious to warrant Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claims of a “nuclear victory.” His announcements are often at odds with the findings of the United Nations and the IAEA. Iranian officials have frequently avoided addressing the UN reports that expose the primitiveness of their nuclear program. Nuclear analysts and experts frequently remark that the public portrayal of Iran’s nuclear progress is vastly inaccurate and overblown. [8] David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former UN weapons inspector, says that Iranian claims are “little more than vacuous political posturing meant to promote Iranian nationalism and a sense of atomic inevitability.” [9]

Announcing Progress

In a nationally televised broadcast, the Iranian President declared that April 8 would be a “national day of nuclear achievement.” [10] Standing at a podium before an Iranian flag imprinted with the atomic symbol, Ahmadinejad said, “today we have started the installation of 6,000 new centrifuges,” pausing in suspense before adding, “I will announce more achievements tonight.” [11] If Iran succeeds in installing the new generation of centrifuges, it will triple its current operating capacity. [12] However, little is known about the new centrifuges or how long it will take before they will begin operation. Ahmadinejad did not specify the model or the capacity level of the new centrifuges, arousing speculation that they are the same P-1 centrifuges currently in use, and a far cry from the “breakthrough” that he claims marks the “beginning of a speedy trend to eliminate the big powers.” [13]

The “achievements” Ahmadinejad mentioned most likely refer to an enigmatic claim he made later in his speech that Iranian scientists are testing a new type of centrifuge which works five times faster than the P-1 centrifuges at Natanz. [14] It is highly unlikely that Iran actually possesses such technology. In early 2006, the IAEA investigated Iran’s acquisition of designs for a modified, thinner centrifuge called the P-2 and Iran voluntarily provided details about the new model’s improved capabilities. [15] The P-2 was more difficult to produce and sustain, leading Iranian engineers to develop their own version, called IR-2. Diplomats familiar with the inspections believe that Ahmadinejad was alluding to this specific model. The IR-2 centrifuge, a modified and more reliable version of the P-2, can spin uranium hexafluoride gas at two or three times the speed of the P-1. [16] According to the most recent IAEA report released in February 2008, Iran reported that it was in the process of planning its first subcritical centrifuge and it provided designs for an IR-2 test cascade. At that time, Iran had not yet successfully processed uranium in the IR-2 and was still running mechanical tests on the P-1 generation, thereby contradicting its own public statements. Earlier this year, according to the IAEA report, the IR-2 had still not reached operational capacity and the series of P-1 cascades still required new testing due to repeat malfunctions. [17]

U.S. intelligence sources have been aware of the IR-2 technology since January 2008 when Iran announced that it was using ten of the new machines. [18] However, the report issued by the IAEA a month later found that only one machine had been fed uranium. [19] Contrary to Ahmadinejad’s earlier claims, the IAEA reported that the 10-machine IR-2 centrifuge was not operating and that uranium was being tested in only one P-1 machine cascade. This finding implies that fewer than two hundred of the 3,000 centrifuges Iran has installed are actually functional. [20] Given that Iran is still testing the IR-2 model and is experiencing significant difficulties operating the P-1 generation, it is unlikely that the country will possesses technology capable of operating faster centrifuges than the IR-2. Some IAEA officials have leaked that “Iran has exaggerated its progress and seen problems operating the 3,000 centrifuges already in place.” [21] Unannounced inspections at multiple facilities throughout the country document numerous schedule setbacks and technological malfunctions that present a vastly different image of Iran’s nuclear progress from that painted by its firebrand president.

Ahmadinejad’s pattern of unsubstantiated rhetoric regarding the nuclear enrichment program makes the veracity of his recent claims improbable. The April 8 announcement follows Ahmadinejad’s April 2007 proclamation that Iran had reached enrichment capacity at an “industrial scale.” He claimed that Iran had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz and would ultimately reach 50,000. [22] Ahmadinejad appeared before a similarly oversized billboard of the Iranian flag encircled by the nuclear symbol, stating: “with great pride, I announce as of today our dear country is among the countries of the world that produces nuclear fuel on an industrial scale.” [23] The following day, government-owned newspapers ran headlines reading “Nuclear Power.”

The National Nuclear Technology Day, as it was called, did not actually herald any tangible accomplishment. On 17 April 2007, days after Ahmadinejad’s international broadcast, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the IAEA, said that Iran was only operating several hundred centrifuges, not the 3,000 which it reported to have activated. [24] A confidential IAEA document produced later that month reported that Iran had installed only 1,300 centrifuges and was unable to complete the full installation due to technical setbacks. The IAEA report was produced after a short-notice inspection. A diplomat speaking on anonymity added, “They are at the stage where they are doing one cascade a week.” At this significantly reduced pace, Iran was projected to complete installation by June and to reach 8,000 by the end of the year. [25]

Reza Agazadeh, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, responded to the report by “confirm[ing] that our technical efforts are going ahead appropriately,” restating that “improving nuclear technology and the installation and operation of 50,000 centrifuges are our aim.” [26] However, he never stated explicitly the actual number of functioning machines at the facility.

In the face of skeptical responses from nuclear analysts at the IAEA, Iran did not issue another public statement regarding its nuclear program until September 2007, when it again claimed that it had installed 3,000 centrifuges. However, the September 2007 IAEA report, released a few days after the announcement, found that only 2,000 centrifuges were functioning, significantly short of the claims made months earlier. [27] The November 2007 IAEA report also noted that the P-1 machines that had been installed were operating intermittently and enriched minimal amounts of uranium. Only two of the planned six groupings of centrifuge cascades were actually in use. [28]

Former Iranian government official and political analyst Saeed Laylaz remarked in April 2007 that “the president’s announcement was mostly important from a propaganda and political standpoint.” But he also noted that “that doesn’t mean the centrifuge goal is not reachable.” He argued that Iran could potentially have 3,000 operating centrifuges “in a matter of months.” [29] His statements are symptomatic of the general ambiguity and confusion surrounding Iran’s nuclear activities.

Strategic Propaganda

As the international community continues to debate the long-term aims of Iran’s nuclear program, it has underestimated Iran’s short-term strategy. Simply by exaggerating Iran’s capacity to build nuclear warheads, the regime has gained the country honor and political influence, and it has come closer to achieving its geopolitical goals. Ahmadinejad’s public exaggerations, which have been flippantly disregarded by nuclear specialists as empty boasting, serve to propel Iran into a position of political and strategic strength, even at the cost of international isolation. In February 2007, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei proclaimed that “nuclear energy is the future and destiny of the country” [30] and he was quoted earlier this year as saying that God will punish Iranians who do not support the country’s nuclear program. [31]

Iran exaggerates its nuclear progress because it believes it can make short-term political gains. The appearance of a highly advanced nuclear program with potential military capabilities bolsters deterrence by intimidating weak regional neighbors. As Iraq’s new government focuses on establishing internal order, Iran is in a strong position to assert its control over the region, namely by fueling, funding, and arming Shi’ite militias, most importantly those in Iraq. Iran will continue to extend its influence in Afghanistan and Iraq as it gains greater support among the Shi’a resistance groups in both of these countries.

Moreover, Iran can spread its influence by instigating intra-Muslim conflict in the Gulf Arab states, where many of the Shi’ite populations there identify with Iran’s Shi’ite majority. In 2006, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2006, said “most of the Shi’ites are loyal to Iran and not to the countries they are living in.” [32] By developing a base of support in other states, Iran can undermine the economic and technological superiority of the Gulf states and politically threaten several governments in the region.

The Iranian government also stands to gain significant domestic. Ahmadinejad’s ideological rhetoric and boastful announcements serve to inspire confidence in the government and pride in the country’s defiance of international sanctions. Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, says, “Our people feel great pride because our young Iranian scientists can produce nuclear fuel, the most important part of the fuel cycle, despite all of the sanctions and pressure from the West.” [33] This sense of nationalism is driven by Ahmadinejad’s claims that “every problem we [Iranians] have will be solved by global Islamic rule.” The desire for nuclear technology forms only part of Ahmadinejad’s call for expanded power. On multiple occasions he has told the Iranian people, “we must prepare ourselves to rule the world.” [34] To maintain the credibility of its expansionist aims, Iran must demonstrate constant progress in its pursuit of nuclear technology.

Iran is also eager to convince the international community that its acquisition of nuclear power is inevitable. If Iran can demonstrate that its nuclear program has already reached advanced degrees of development, then it can fend off demands to shut down the program. The idea of “atomic inevitability” contributes to widespread concern that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. While there is no explicit evidence that Iran has plans to build a bomb, it is approaching a ‘nuclear threshold,’ at which point it will have enriched enough uranium to be able to divert nuclear material from its civilian program to weapons manufacturing with speed. Israel’s Military Intelligence predicts that Iran will reach the ‘nuclear threshold’ by 2009. [35] However, Iran can only reach this ‘point of no return’ once it has resolved its technical issues. In the meantime, Iranian officials effectively deny the reports that its program is underdeveloped and continue to announce milestones on a yearly basis. The resolution deadlines issued by the UN Security Council pass without significant penalties, only further encouraging support for Iran’s nuclear industry. Even when the program fails to achieve tangible results, Iran will work to display its technical competency and enhance its renegade status on the way to its inevitable acquisition of nuclear power.

Iran’s political aspirations are intertwined with its deep-seated antagonism toward Western powers, especially the United States and Israel. Iran believes that it will not be able to compete with the West for influence unless it has nuclear weapons, although it is already exploiting political and ethnic conflict across the region. Iran antagonizes the West and destabilizes the Middle East through a combined approach of using propagandist rhetoric and terrorist sponsorship. Iran’s readiness to project as great a nuclear threat as possible and transgress the limits of a semi-transparent civilian program is based on its calculation that there is a low risk of preemptive attacks from the West.

Minimizing Risk

Iran has determined that it can afford to risk provoking a preemptive military attack because it believes that the United States is politically and operationally constrained by the lukewarm domestic support for such a move and existing military engagements. Because of the intelligence failures in Iraq, the U.S. government will struggle to convince Americans of the need for preemptive military strikes against Middle Eastern states assumed to possess weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, the U.S. may already have drafted preliminary plans for attack. [36] In May 2004, the House of Representatives passed a resolution allowing the U.S. government “to use all appropriate means to deter, dissuade, and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” [37] Despite some support within the Bush administration for the use of military force against Iran, a preemptive strike is likely impossible, given the overextension of U.S. forces already deployed in the region. Moreover, an attack on Iran would invariably put the large number of U.S. troops in the Middle East in danger of direct Iranian retaliation as well as by militias within Iraq. In 2007, Admiral William Fallon, former commander of the United States Central Command, rejected plans to send a third aircraft-carrier strike group to the Gulf as a threat to Iran. [38] He expressly stated that war against Iran “will not happen on my watch.” [39] Furthermore, Iran has buried its main enrichment facility, intended to house 50,000 machines, deep underground in order to avoid attacks similar to the 1981 Israeli air raid on the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor or the 2003 American “Shock and Awe” opening to the Second Gulf War.

Iran has also generated a multi-pronged strategy that it thinks will deter Israel from striking its nuclear facilities. First, Iran has invested heavily in its ballistic missile capabilities in order to demonstrate that it can attack Israel with its 1,200-mile range Ashura ballistic missiles. [40] Second, Iran employs the Shi’ite terrorist organization Hezbollah in Lebanon as a proxy force, which threatens to bombard or invade Israel from the north. For now, Israel has adopted a reticent public stance. Israeli President Shimon Peres has expressed emphatically, “I would prefer to stop the development of the atomic bomb without getting thrown into a war.” [41] While Israel could be waiting for further developments before making a decision, Iran currently exercises great liberties in its implementation of its “civilian” nuclear program and can continue to taunt and confuse the international community.

Staying the Course

Currently, Iran is in violation of three UN Security Council resolutions that demand the suspension of all nuclear enrichment activities. [42] It vehemently defends its right to develop nuclear technology under the NPT and defiantly advertises each stage of the process, however minor. For the Iranian government, defending the right to own nuclear technology has taken on such dramatic importance that political considerations have overshadowed the facts, and government officials have become adept at exaggerating nuclear developments instead of disclosing its actual setbacks.

Although the intentions of Iran’s nuclear program remain unclear, the political and cultural significance of a nuclear Iran has enormous international ramifications. Any evidence of Iran’s encroaching regional domination further inspires its growing militant Shi’a base, both domestically and internationally. Hassan Abbasi, the Director of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps says “approximately 40,000 Iranian estesh-hadiyun (martyr-seekers)” will carry out suicide attacks against “twenty-nine identified Western targets,” should the U.S. strike any Iranian nuclear facility. [43] National prestige and the promise of regional power drive the regime’s ambitions. It therefore chooses to employ such rhetoric in the short term as long as the risks of actual military strikes remain low.

In defiance of international sanctions, Iran will continue to pursue this short-term strategy because it perceives high payoffs and only minor risks. However, this strategy is predicated on the belief that Iran’s sensitive nuclear sites, oilrigs, refineries, and military facilities are safe from attack. As long as the international community is disinclined to threaten or undertake military action, Tehran will race toward regional domination based on both rhetorical and real nuclear power.


1. “Iranian Entity: Farayand Technique,” Iran Watch, July 21, 2004.
2. Esther Pan, “Iran: The Nuclear Threat.” Council on Foreign Relations, September 6, 2005.
3. Ibid.
4. “The New Mullahs’ Nuclear Site Under Scrutiny by International Media,” Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, September 28, 2007. <http://www.ncr-iran.org/content/view/4142/152/&gt;
5. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. June 6, 2003.
6. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. Novermber 10, 2003.
7. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. March 24 2007; United Nations. Security Council. “Security Council Imposes Sanctions on Iran for Failure to Halt Uranium Enrichment, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 1737 (2006).” Department of Public Information. December 23, 2006.
8. William J. Broad, Nazila Fathi and Joel Brinkley. “Analysts Say a Nuclear Iran is Years Away.” The New York Times, April 13, 2006.
9. Ibid.
10. “President Visits Natanz Enrichment Site.” Fars News Agency, April 9, 2008.
11. “Iran is Installing 6,000 Enrichment Centrifuges.” Fars News Agency, April 8, 2008.
12. Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran Claims to Install New, Faster Centrifuges.” The Washington Post, April 9, 2008.
13. Ali Akbar Dareini, “Ahmadinejad: Iran Has Tested New Generation of Advanced Centrifuges.” The Ledger, April 8, 2008.
14. Nazila Fathi and William J. Broad, “Iran Says It’s Installing New Centrifuges.” International Herald Tribune, April 8, 2008.
15. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. November 8, 2007.
16. Ibid.
17. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. February 22, 2008.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. “Iran Tests Advanced Centrifuges.” Associated Press, April 8, 2008.
22. Nazila Fathi, “Iran Says It Can Now Enrich Uranium on Industrial Scale.” The New York Times, April 10, 2007.
23. Ibid.
24. “Iran Enrichment ‘in early stages.’” BBC News, April 12, 2007. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6549185.stm&gt;
25. David E. Sanger, “Inspectors Cite Big Gain By Iran on Nuclear Fuel,”The New York Times, May 15, 2007.
26. “Iran official: Nuclear Program Going Ahead as Scheduled.”Associated Press, May 20, 2007.
27. Azadeh Moaven, “A Nuclear Boast: The View from Iran.” Time, April 10, 2007.
28. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “Iranian Boast is Put to Test.” The New York Times, February 4, 2007.
29. Azadeh Moaven, “A Nuclear Boast: The View from Iran.” Time, April 10, 2007.
30. “Nuclear Energy Iran’s ‘Future and Destiny’: Khamenei.” Lebanon Wire, February 17, 2007.
31. “Iran Leader Says God Protects Nuclear Program.” Associated Press, February 17, 2008.
32. Lionel Beehner, “Arab Views of a Nuclear Iran.” Council on Foreign Relations, April 20, 2006. < http://www.cfr.org/publication/10491/&gt;
33. George Perkovich, “For Tehran, Nuclear Program Is a Matter of National Pride.” Yale Global, March 21, 2005.
34. Alireza Jafarzadeh, “The Man of a Thousand Bullets to Address the UN.” Fox News, July 20, 2007. <http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,290208,00.html&gt;
35. Amos Harel, “MI: Iran Will Cross Nuclear Threshold by 2009.” Haaretz, July 11, 2007.
36. Michael T. Klare, “The Iran War Buildup.” The Nation, August 8, 2005.
37. United States. Cong. House. “H.CON.RES.398, Concurrent Resolution.” 108th Cong., 2nd sess. May 6, 2004.
38. Gareth Porter, “Commander’s Veto Sank Gulf Buildup.” Asia Times, May 17, 2007.
39. Andrew Exum, “Here’s Why the US Might Not Attack Iran.” Daily Star Beirut, August 31, 2007. Admiral Fallon has since resigned and President Bush has nomiated General David Petraeus as the new U.S. CENTCOM commander.
40. Robert Wall, “Pentagon Sees Iranian ‘Ashura’ Missile as Worrying Development.” ABC News Technology and Science, November 20, 2007. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Story?id=3936604&page=1
41. “Peres: Israel Won’t Attack Iran Alone.” The Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2008.
42. UNSCR 1803 (2008), UNSCR 1747 (2007), UNSCR 1696 (2006).
43. Ali Alfoneh, “Iran’s Suicide Brigades.” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2007.

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By Jonathan S. Greenstein

Jonathan S. Greenstein ’10 attends Harvard College and is an Economics concentrator in Currier House.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks by Al Qaeda, the United States Government has heightened its focus on global cash flows. Vast and increasing amounts of money travel across international borders on a daily basis, generated and funneled by a wide range of sources, including charitable, as well as criminal and terrorist, organizations. A close look at the political economic aspects of terrorism and its relation to the state suggests that terrorism presents an opportunity for rentier states in the Middle East to benefit directly and indirectly from terrorist-related rent generation.

According to The Economist, rent-generation is figuratively the act of cutting yourself a bigger slice of the cake without making the cake bigger. [1] Hazem Beblawi, a noted political economy theorist, explains that a rentier state is one that relies on substantial external rent, keeping in mind that there is no purely rentier economy. Few people generate the rent, but the government is a major beneficiary. [2] One effect rentierism subsequently has on a state is to undermine the idea of work-reward causation, as it is unearned income, and to create an exploitative mentality where layers of beneficiaries emerge as groups take advantage of their special situations. [3] A rentier mentality consequently damages a state’s commitment to real economic development and its accountability to citizens. Instead, the rentier state becomes a “welfare” state that allocates resources based on political patronage, [4] thereby fostering cronyism and corruption. Several states in the Middle East exhibit these tendencies to varying degrees. Whereas the Saracen countries of North Africa, formerly known as the “Barbary States,” can be seen as historical examples of rentier states, Saudi Arabia and Syria are modern-day examples.

While these ideas of the rentier state were initially formulated to describe the behavior of oil-producing states, [5] the rent dynamic and its effects can be applied to things other than natural resources. It is important to note then that rents were a source of income for Middle Eastern and North African countries centuries prior to the discovery of oil. In the eighteenth century, for example, the Barbary States de-manded ransoms, or external rents, to allow ships safe passage on trade routes through the Mediterranean Sea. “Styling themselves as mujahideen—warriors in an Islamic holy war—Arabic-speaking pirates preyed on Western vessels, seizing their cargos and enslaving their crews,” among them, three American ships in the mid-1780s. [6] When Massachusetts Federalist and then-future U.S. president John Adams approached officials from Tripoli in an attempt to negotiate safe passage for merchant ships, he was advised that “no nation could navigate [the Mediterranean] sea without a treaty of peace.” It is difficult today to estimate the real monetary value of rents generated by Barbary piracy, but it is known that the proposed price of the “treaty of peace” with Tripoli, together with the price of treaties with other North African pirate states, totaled approximately 10 percent of America’s annual budget. [7] This cooperation between the mujahideen and North African governments was an early form of state-sponsored terrorism, designed to produce revenues for the state.

Today, terrorist rent-generation can take several recognized forms. The first form is state terrorism, whereby governments seek rents from other states, as Nazi Germany did by annexing Austria and looting its gold. The second form can be called the “rent-seeking” model. Gordon Tullock, the economist who coined the phrase “rent-seeking,” cites as a simple example a protection racket in which a gang takes a cut from the shopkeeper’s profit. [8] On a broader scale, “rent-seeking” terrorist organizations compete with governments for rents [9] and are therefore likely to advocate their overthrow. The third form is state-sponsored terrorism. This model is distinct from state terrorism as the state distances itself from terrorist organizations while secretly benefiting from them and assisting them. Under this model, terrorist organizations are “engaged in gains from trade” and seek to obtain sponsor-ships by providing “disruptive services” for governments. Governments proceed to capture external rents while limiting their own exposure. [10]

In the first case, it is easy to condemn state terrorism internation-ally and to hold states accountable in various ways. For example, Nazi Germany was held accountable by having to pay reparations to those whose property it confiscated. In the second case, governments them-selves have an interest in controlling competing terrorist organiza-tions, although, paradoxically, they can and do sometimes benefit from them. In the third case, where states and terrorist organizations are nominally separate but actually closely connected, states deny their complicity in terrorism and it becomes difficult for other coun-tries or international institutions to hold them accountable. State sponsorship of terrorism has therefore proved an effective way to achieve a state’s foreign policy goals and further its economic objec-tives, while shielding itself from international condemnation. [11]

It is a paradox of terrorism that the “rent-seeking” model, in which terrorist activity is considered a threat to a government’s monopoly on power and resources, can sometimes benefit the government. This paradox is best illustrated by Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Al Qaeda. To achieve its aim of “bringing down the royal family,” Al Qaeda has targeted the regime’s principal rent generator: its oil infrastructure. In 2006, Saudi Arabia’s oil industry accounted for 10 percent of world oil supply and 75 percent of Saudi Arabia’s revenues. Since 2000, the value of its oil exports has increased from $71 billion to $191.5 billion. [12] Somewhat ironically, Saudi Arabia generates addi-tional oil rents from Al-Qaeda’s activities because “the fear of attacks is a key factor in oil prices remaining high.” [13] In addition, the U.S. has showered Riyadh with aid and arms for counter-terrorism as a direct result of the threat Al-Qaeda poses to the Saudi royal family. [14] While Saudi Arabia appears to be taking Al-Qaeda’s domestic threat seriously, it uses some of the additional oil rents to finance terrorism abroad. [15] The Saudi Arabian case shows that when rent-seeking terrorism is contained and successfully prevented from toppling a regime or triggering a global recession, it can produce rents for the state.

The state-terrorism model can describe Syria’s militaristic behavior before the rise of Hezbollah in the 1980s, but the “gains-from-trade model” of state-sponsored terrorism [16] is a better description of Syria’s behavior since then. A comparison of Syria’s two strategies reveals the benefits and costs of each. Historically, Syria has generated significant strategic rents through militarization and aggression. By maintaining a military conflict with Israel and acting as the Soviet Union’s client state for much of the Cold War, Syria generated a war dividend through financial transfers estimated at $12-13 billion, between five and six percent of its GDP. [17] By stationing troops in Lebanon from 1976 onwards, Damascus furthered maintained its military opposition to Israel. But these policies exposed the Syrian government to Israeli retaliation. Syria sustained catastrophic losses in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which demonstrated that although the threat of war may generate rents, direct confrontation can be costly. The result ever since has been Syria’s adoption of a de facto “no war, no peace” policy. [18]

Further, Syria’s occupation of Lebanon allowed it to generate addi-tional rent from criminal activity. In the 1980s, the Syrian army was involved in significant drug cultivation and trade in Lebanon. [19] While the exact drug-trade revenues are unknown, one study reports that in 1985 the participation of Syrian troops in looting, taxing, and re-exporting Lebanese goods generated $5 million per day in rents. [20] Although Syria’s armed forces formally retreated from Lebanon in 2005, Syria’s proxy, Hezbollah, built up a growing political and military presence in Lebanon, which has facilitated Syria’s ongoing rent-generation. Syrian officials, including the former Minister of Defense and chief of Syria’s intelligence operations in Lebanon, have continued to be involved in drug trafficking. The same intelligence chief was later implicated in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. [21]

A comparison of public responses to the 2005 Hariri assassination and the 2006 Second Lebanon War with Israel demonstrates the differences between the two strategies and the benefits of Syria’s indirect rather than direct involvement in Lebanese affairs. Following the assassination, the U.S. condemned the attack, recalled its ambas-sador to Syria, [22] and demanded a comprehensive UN investigation. [23] In contrast, during the 2006 war, Lebanon and Hezbollah bore the brunt of Israeli military might, while Syria remained unscathed. In fact, Syria was regarded as a positive force and was congratulated for opening its borders to refugees and providing humanitarian aid to displaced Lebanese people. [24]

Ultimately, state-sponsorship or facilitation of terrorism can be a rational economic choice for a state that relies on rents. Such behavior can give a state access to additional external rents that would other-wise be unavailable without placing its regime at risk. As a result, however, terrorism perpetuates the unproductive behavior, corruption and cronyism that are characteristic of a rentier mentality and that are among the main causes of political and economic underdevelopment in the region. The Saudi Arabian government’s schizophrenic relation-ship with terrorist organizations that claim to want to overthrow it and Syria’s ability to generate revenue through criminal activity in Lebanon are demonstrative of terrorism’s economic appeal. Only when the potential economic motivations of terrorism are understood and terror-sponsoring regimes are held directly accountable for the actions of their proxies will there be any chance of overcoming the regional problem of rentierism and defeating terrorism.


[1] Matthew Bishop. Essential Economics. London: Profile Books, 2006. Available at http://economist.com/research/Economics/alphabetic.cfm?letter=R#rent-seeking

[2] Hazem Beblawi. “The Rentier State in the Arab World,” in Luciani Giacomo (1990), Pg. 87-88

[3] Ibid, Pg. 96-97

[4] Giacomo Luciani. “Allocation vs. Production States: A Theoretical Framework,” in Luciani (1990), Pg. 71

[5] Beblawi, Pg. 86

[6] Michael B. Oren. Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. Pg. 18

[7] Ibid, Pg. 26

[8] Gordon Tullock, “The Fundamentals of Rent-Seeking.” The Lock Luminary 1, no. 2, Winter 1998, Part 2.

[9] Richard M. Kirk, “Political Terrorism and the Size of Government: A Positive Institutional Analysis of Violent Political Activity.” Public Choice, no. 40 (1983). Pg. 44

[10] Ibid, Pg. 48

[11] Louise Richardson, What Terrorists Want. New York: Random House, 2006. Pg. 51

[12] “Saudis Round Up 172, Citing A Plot Against Oil Rigs.” The New York Times, April 28, 2007.

[13] “Saudi Arrests Stoke Oil Facility Worry.” The Wall Street Journal, April 28-29, 2007.

[14] International Affairs Congressional Budget Justification for Fiscal Year 2008. February 14, 2007. Available on the U.S. State Department Web site. http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/80701.pdf. Pg. 514

[15] Matthew Levitt, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad. New Haven:Yale University Press, 2006. Pg. 188

[16] Kirk, Pg. 48

[17] Perthes, Volker. “Si Vis Stabilitatem, Para Bellum, State Building, National Security, and War Preparation in Syria,” in Steven Heydemann (2000), Pg. 158

[18] Ibid, Pg. 160

[19] Picard, Elizabeth. “The Political Economy of Civil War in Lebanon,” in Steven Heydemann (2000), Pg. 305

[20] Ibid, Pg. 298

[21] Feinberg; Benjamin, Sarah Marek, and Jan Snaidauf. “Hizbullah and its Worldwide Crime/Terror Infrastructure.” December 20, 2005. http://www.american.edu/traccc/resources/publications/feinbe01.pdf. Pg. 9

[22] “U.S. Recalls Ambassador to Syria.” International Herald Tribune, February 17, 2005.

[23] Mehlis, Detlev. Report of the International Independent Investigation Commission Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1595 (2005). United Nations Security Council. Beirut, October 19, 2005. http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=S/2005/662. Pg. 61

[24] Raman, Aneesh and Hala Gorani. “Lebanese Refugees Pour Across Syrian Border.” July 20, 2006. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/07/20/lebanon.refugees/

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Interviewed by Julia I. Bertelsmann and Joel B. Pollak

Julia I. Bertelsmann ’09 attends Harvard College and is an Economics concentrator in Eliot House.

Joel B. Pollak ’99 is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Cape Town. He was a political speechwriter for the Leader of the Opposi-tion in South Africa from 2002 to 2006 and is a second-year student at Harvard Law School.


Dr. Sari Nusseibeh is the President of Al-Quds University in East Jerusa-lem. He earned a Ph.D. in Islamic Philosophy from Harvard University in 1978 and has taught at Birzeit University in the West Bank as well as Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He played a prominent role in the first Palestinian Intifada and represented the Palestine Liberation Organiza-tion in East Jerusalem during the second Intifada in 2001. In 2003, together with former Israeli internal security chief Ami Ayalon, he launched a peace campaign called The People’s Voice that gained hundreds of thousands of signatures among both Israelis and Palestinians. He published an autobiography, Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) in 2007. He is married to nonviolence activist Lucy Austin and has four children. New Society interviewed him in his office in East Jerusalem in July 2007

New Society: What do you think the prospects for peace are, now that Hamas has taken over in Gaza?

Dr. Sari Nusseibeh: It’s hard to talk about the future because it’s not laid out already. It’s something you can create. One doesn’t know what people are prepared or willing to do. Looked at from a distance, one would think we were in the worst possible situation with Hamas in control of Gaza and a schism in Palestinian society at every level. But it is also possible to think that maybe, because it is so bad, the society would be able to determine what is in it’s best interests—namely, peace—and therefore we could come out more strongly in favor of peace with Israel than we could five years ago.

NS: What do you think the prospects are for the two-state solution?

Nusseibeh: I think it depends on us. Nothing happens by itself. Politics is a construct of human action. We can always create a two-state solution. We can always create a one-state solution, a three-state solution. Any kind of political structure. It is really within our power.

NS: But which do you think is ideal?

Nusseibeh: I personally am not a nationalist. I’ve never really been in favor of an Arab Palestinian state per se. I’ve only been in favor of a Palestinian state—and therefore the two-state solution—because of my sense that Israelis and Palestinians want this solution, and that it is therefore the least bad scenario. I think the two-state solution can be used to construct other scenarios for the future, including a one-state solution, but any solution must be arrived at by consent. If people decided that they wanted a one-state solution or a larger structure that included states like Jordan and Lebanon, then I’d support those suggestions as well. If they wanted to create a system based on a federation of smaller city-states, then I’d support that too. It may come to that. If one looks at the clusters of different populations—Jewish and Muslim—maybe one can think of separating and combining those clusters at different levels.

NS: In 2002, you and Ami Ayalon signed an agreement based on six points. If I remember correctly, you suggested that all Arabs in Israel should get Palestinian citizenship and that all Israelis in Palestine should get Israeli citizenship.

Nusseibeh: No. We did not say that. We said that Israel should be the only Jewish state and that Palestine should be the only Palestinian state. That does not mean that people of different nationalities shouldn’t live in each. We said that, with regard to returnees, Pales-tinians should return only to Palestine and Jews should only return to Israel. After the border adjustment and agreement, we said there should be no more settlements in the Palestinian state—and by settle-ment, we meant large clusters and planned developments—but Jewish families should certainly be allowed to live in the Palestinian state. Ayalon wanted to allow Israel to annex Israeli settlements into Israel, and I agreed on the condition that Palestine would be compensated and would be able to receive an equal amount of land in return.

Realistically speaking, if the Palestinian government went and asked Arabs from Nazareth or Umm al-Fahm to take Palestinian citizenship, most would probably refuse because they are happy to be Israelis. They don’t want to become Palestinian citizens. Sometime in the future, there could be sufficient openness between the two communi-ties that could enable individuals from either group to enjoy the fullness of the entire region so that they would not feel any longer that by belonging to one part they are barred from enjoying freedoms in the other. This is really an ideal kind of situation. It will take time. In order to achieve it, we have to focus on education, on economic development, on cultural development, on developing an open society of tolerance between people.

NS: One of the other requirements may be building Palestinian insti-tutions. In your book, you talk about your efforts to build many institutions in the early 1990s towards a state. To what extent does that remain a challenge today?

Nusseibeh: It is not really such a challenge. Although we failed to build a proper state structure between 1994 and 2000, I don’t think that our failure was due to genetics. There are different reasons why we failed, but I think we are still capable of building a state structure and sound institutions. I think so mainly because of the fact that over all these years, particularly since 1967, the Palestinians have had to look after themselves. And they have been able to look after them-selves. I’ll give you some examples. Take, for instance, the major hospital that we have in the West Bank, Al Maqasid, near East Jerusa-lem. This health provider was not a product of the government but of civil society. Palestinian people got together and created it. And they created many similar institutions: universities, colleges, and schools. You name it, we created it. The government did not create those things. Ordinary people did. And this makes me believe that we are indeed capable of building institutions. We did fail to build pre-state institutions between 1993 and 2000, for many reasons. One should study those reasons, and then work again towards success. I think that in the next few years, if we are helped to develop our institutions, we may be able to build a state. And even if it doesn’t result in a state, it’s important anyway to have good institutions.

NS: We spoke to Bassem Eid and he said: Who needs a state? Pales-tinians need work permits, food, and services. Do you agree with him?

Nusseibeh: That’s a good thing to say in the following sense: I think one should keep in mind that the state is not an end in itself. One must ask the questions: What are states for? You have to think about your concerns and values. And you have to prioritize them. You have to say, for example, my main concern is that I be free. And by that, I mean, having the social space within which I can grow, develop, and achieve happiness. In such a place, I have to feel equal with others. I don’t want to infringe upon others’ space, nor do I want my space infringed upon. But also, in this sense, there must be equality. You have to think of the balance, of what is most important. Freedom of travel, being able to vote freely, being able to go to school and be educated, having good facilities in school, having access to good services. Do you know Amartya Sen’s concept of living standards? People have basic needs. One must ask: how do I achieve all these things? Can I achieve them through a state? If the answer is yes, then I want a state. But if a state does not provide me with those things, then I do not want it. This is what I say personally. This is my position. I am not for a state, I am not a nationalist, but I want a space for myself as a human being, a space in which I will be provided with the things I need. Now, I do think it is possible to do that in the context of a state. And maybe achieving those things in the context of a state allows others to achieve them in the contexts of their states—Israelis, for example. This is why I think that maybe a two-state solution is a good thing. But it is an open question.

NS: What do you think is the major obstacle preventing Palestinians from achieving those aims? Many Israelis would blame the Palestinian Authority’s corruption, use of violence, and desire that Israel disap-pear rather than exist peacefully alongside it.

Nusseibeh: There are many Palestinians who either don’t want to have peace with Israel or who think that peace with Israel is not possible. And there are likewise many Israelis who feel that peace with the Palestinians is not possible. The numbers vary. It probably goes up and down on both sides. The numbers are probably not synchronized. The numbers might be in inverse proportion.

I think one of the reasons why this attitude might exist on both sides is the lack of vision. If all you see is the rigid mountainous landscape surrounding you, if you feel imposed upon, only then is it difficult. You need to free yourself in order to start imagining. Then you can move forward. The obstacle is the lack of imagination on both sides.

NS: Do you think it will be difficult for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians so long as those negotiations are undermined by Iran?

Nusseibeh: I don’t like to believe that Iran has such an influence on how I as a Palestinian think. It certainly has an influence on Hamas—it pays them money. But Hamas is not Palestine. Nor is the Hamas ideology something that is rigid. It is a bit more complex.

What is Hamas? It is a virtual construct. Behind Hamas are indi-vidual human beings. Now individual human beings are open sys-tems. In other words, one day they may adopt the ideology of this virtual construct and another day they might adopt something else. Hamas is itself, full stop. It believes, for instance, in the liberation of all of Palestine, in the creation of an Islamic state. The question to ask is who is the person who adopts those beliefs and is such a person also somebody who will continue holding those beliefs. My feeling is that that is not the case. I think a majority of Palestinians are prepared to accept a two-state solution based on 1967 lines, East Jerusalem as a capital, compensation for refugees, all those things. If the Palestinians are given this offer, they will take it.

So I don’t believe it’s a question of Iran. It’s not Iran that prevents them from doing this. So, you might ask me, what does prevent them? And there are a number of different reasons.

First, we don’t really know what Israel’s intentions are with re-spect to the Palestinians. We are not sure what their intentions are regardless of the statements they make. But if, for instance, Israel were to make a promissory note, saying, “We are prepared to come to peace with the Palestinians on the following terms,” and if [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert were to state very clearly Israel’s ultimate positions with regard to a two-state solution, I personally believe that the majority of Palestinians would take this offer.

That is why Ayalon and I came up with the destination plan. We said the Road Map [for Peace] would not move anywhere unless we outline a destination.

NS: There are some who say that the path of the security barrier is the destination, that the line will be a “plan B” and become the border to which Israel withdraws.

Nusseibeh: I said that a few years ago at a talk. I said this would be a good plan B option for Israel’s security regime. When Sharon first put up this wall, I argued with my colleagues and told them that I thought this would be Israel’s plan B. I think if I were him I might have done the same thing—if I were also a military kind of guy who didn’t really believe in peace with neighbors, if I was only guided by security concerns and a short-term vision. But this is not going to work. Mili-tary solutions never work. No matter how clever, military solutions always fail as solutions.

NS: In your book you described how you protested the route of the security barrier to prevent it from being built on Al-Quds campus grounds. I have not been in Jerusalem for several years, but what strikes me since the erection of the wall is how much more integrated West Jerusalem seems. Since the barrier has gone up, people seem to feel safer and less suspicious of one another. There have been some articles about how Arabs from East Jerusalem have been moving to West Jerusalem as people have been moving from one side of the barrier to the other.

(Nusseibeh walked us over to the window and pointed out the barrier to the west.)

Nusseibeh: Now we’re looking due west. There’s Beit Hanina. This is part of East Jerusalem. Now, if we look west, you see in the middle of the hill another part of Beit Hanina—a continuation of the same community. But between the two parts, there is now a barrier. So it’s all a kind of jigsaw. It doesn’t make any sense from our point of view, although it makes sense from the point of view of the Israelis.
So what are the Israelis doing? They are building a highway that will partly go through and under Arab areas. So that east and west are joined. At the same time, the Arab habitations are disjointed. They are separated even though—if you look from a bird’s eye view—they are in the same area. Now, does this make Israelis feel more integrated? It is possible. But the Arab inhabitants are certainly more scattered. The living standards of the Arabs are nothing to write home about, except if you are doing a kind of tragic-comic kind of story.

I do think that Israelis feel more secure since the erection of the barrier. You probably know about logical fallacies, though, and one of the first one learns about is post hoc ergo propter hoc—after the fact therefore because of the fact. Because B follows A it is a result of A. So people think now that it is the wall that has stopped suicide bombings, because suicide bombings stopped after the wall. But I do not think this is the case.

NS: Tomorrow is the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, the commemora-tion of the destruction of the first and second Temples. You write very emotively about Jerusalem in your book. Is there any kind of shared sense of mourning for the city? Are Palestinians developing rituals around Jerusalem in the same way?

Nusseibeh: You know, there’s a competition between Israelis and Arabs to see who holds the strongest connection to Jerusalem. When the Arabs see the Israelis commemorating events that assert the connectedness between Jerusalem and the Jewish people, the Arabs get very upset and say “no, no, no.” Or they say, “Yes, but that was 3,000 years ago. Maybe 3,000 years ago the Jewish people were con-nected to Jerusalem but the people here today, Israelis who claim to be Jewish, have nothing to do with the Jews who once lived here.” So they’re very angry about any kind of assertion that Jews have a claim to Jerusalem. And I suppose likewise with Israelis. Many look down on the assertions Muslims make that they have a claim to the city, and make fun of stories like the flying donkey. Many like to repeat that Jerusalem is not the first, not the second, but the third holiest city in Islam whereas it is the first holy city in Judaism.
But the truth is that after I wrote my book I had second thoughts about Jerusalem. I think we are giving it too much importance. I think that the two sides have gone crazy about Jerusalem in that we’re giving far more weight to things like space and stone, location and geography, than we are to human beings. We are prepared to sacrifice human beings for the sake of location, which is a crazy notion.

I was thinking the other day, going back to the story of when Abraham wanted to sacrifice his son and God said here is a lamb instead. The whole point was—I mean, I imagine—that God’s message to Abraham was that he should not sacrifice human blood over that rock, over Jerusalem, over that specific location where we have been spilling blood, Jews and Muslims. This is a contravention of God’s message.

NS: Are you hopeful for the future?

Nusseibeh: Yes. I’m hopeful for the future and even about the present. I keep thinking that the world is much larger than our fooleries. There is much more than the mistakes and miscalculations we make, than the connivance or whatever we do to suppress other people. So in the end, the world is still much bigger than us. There is more to the world than what we see, is almost how Shakespeare put it, although I think he did so better.

NS: How do you like speaking at universities to students? How did you like speaking at Harvard?

Nusseibeh: I enjoyed the talk at Harvard because the community was a more mature audience than one usually finds on a campus. But I’ve come across audiences in the States and Europe where I’ve felt very sad to find that the war is raging out there. And it’s like we here are fighting and we go out hoping that we can be finished with this war. What we find instead is that the war is just spreading outwards and replicating itself, becoming the war of Jewish and Arab communities everywhere. What I would like to find when I go abroad is people making peace or people at peace with one another who can help me here to make peace with the party I’m at war with. I don’t want to go out and see even more war. Why should I go out? I sometimes get depressed when I see that.

NS: I remember that when you spoke at Harvard the moderator and several students seemed to be pushing you in one direction.

Nusseibeh: (Laughing) I seem to remember they pushed me to the bathroom!

NS: (Joking) I don’t know whether you did that on purpose—

Nusseibeh: Of course not! Not every peaceful Palestinian action is a contrivance!

NS: —but I thought it was brilliant. You effectively said, “Let’s let reality intrude for just a while.”

Nusseibeh: (Laughter) It was very embarrassing. There was the next president of Harvard sitting in the front row and I said to myself “this is Harvard. Can I do this kind of thing?” And then I thought, “Hell, why not?”

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Interviewed by Joel B. Pollak

Joel B. Pollak ’99 is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Cape Town. He was a political speechwriter for the Leader of the Opposition in South Africa from 2002 to 2006 and is a second-year student at Harvard Law School.


Bassem Eid is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), which tracks human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, regardless of who commits them. He is a former fieldworker for B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization focusing on the occupied territories. Eid’s work at PHRMG has concentrated on documenting violations by the Palestin-ian Authority against its own citizens. In recent years he has also moni-tored abuses committed by the Fatah and Hamas factions in their internec-ine struggles. Eid has received numerous human rights awards and frequently addresses Israeli and foreign audiences about the human rights problems facing Palestinians. Earlier this year, he teamed up with left-wing Israeli politician Yossi Beilin at the Doha Debates, arguing that Palestinians should abandon the right of return for the sake of peace with Israel.

New Society: Tell me about your life—where you are from, and how you came to be where you are today.

Bassem Eid: I am Palestinian and I was born in the Old City in East Jerusalem. I lived there for eight years, but then in 1966, for no reason, the Jorda-nian government established a refugee camp called Shuefat Refugee Camp near the French Hill in Jerusalem. The Jordanian government removed 500 families from the Old City, mainly from the Jewish Quarter. It was exactly one year before the 1967 war. I lived in the refugee camp for 32 years from 1966 until 1999. For the past four years, I have been living in Jericho.

I finished secondary school in one of the municipality schools in East Jerusalem. Then I attended Hebrew University for two years and studied journalism, but I couldn’t continue for financial reasons. After leaving the university, I worked as a freelance journalist for Palestin-ian and Israeli newspapers until 1988 before joining B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that investigates rights violations in the occupied territories. In mid-1996, I resigned from B’Tselem and founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), which is where I still am today.

NS: Why did you leave B’Tselem?

Eid: When the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established 1994, I noticed that most Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations continued monitoring the Israeli occupation, but that nobody wanted to pay any attention to the PA’s violations. In a meeting held in March 1996, the board members of B’Tselem decided that they would not concern themselves with PA abuses. That’s why I left. I wanted to fill a role that I thought was very important, but that was empty.

NS: So you left that same year?

Eid: Yes. The decision came out in March, and I left at the end of July 1996 to set up the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Our main aim is to observe the Palestinian Authority’s violations. Between 1996 and 2000, our publications did not cover Israeli violations at all. All of our reports and press releases responded to Palestinian Author-ity abuses. We only started collecting data on Israeli violations after the second Intifada broke out in September 2000. Then we started to investigate Israeli killings, assassinations, house demolitions, and the use of the excessive force. In the meantime, we continued to collect information about Palestinian Authority violations.
Today, we are probably the organization with the most extensive data on internal killings among the Palestinians. I believe we are the only organization, for example, that investigates the murder of col-laborators by Palestinians. We also investigate long-term imprison-ment without charge, torture, the conduct of the state security court, and deaths that occur in Palestinian detention centers. We collect information on these issues and update our reports everyday.

NS: Why do you think B’Tselem chose not to monitor the Palestinian Authority?

Eid: In my opinion, that was a wise decision. At that time, there were still large areas under Israeli occupation and B’Tselem still had a lot of work to do to expose rights violations by the Israeli army in the occupied territories.
On the other side, I think that if the Palestinians want to form a successful civil society, live in a democracy, and respect human rights, we will have to build institutions with our own hands. We should not lay our fate in other people’s hands. We have done so quite enough over the past sixty years. We are still demanding a state from the international community instead of building it ourselves. I think that it is the time for the Palestinians to start building their own democracy right now. I believe that democracy has never been offered by leaders or governments. Democracy is determined by the people themselves.

NS: How did the Palestinian Authority react to your new organiza-tion?

Eid: Creating a human rights organization under an Arab regime is like committing suicide. Yasser Arafat was used to doing whatever he wanted without being criticized or monitored. When I started watch-ing, investigating, criticizing, he started to look at me in a very bad light. The Palestinian Authority defamed us and slandered us. Among other accusations, they said that we serve the enemy’s interests.

When we started to publish reports on PA human rights viola-tions, the reports became sexy news material for the international community. They were particularly well-reported by the Israeli media. The issue was especially sexy because, as you know, I had spent the past seven and a half years criticizing only Israel. Arafat saw me as a traitor.
We had a very tough period and had to get through many tough moments. Sometimes, ironically, these fears and difficulties gave us more energy and made us become even more committed to the sub-ject. We decided to continue in spite of all the danger surrounding us. And here we are! We still exist.

NS: Has your work become easier or more difficult since Arafat’s death?

Eid: Well, I think the PA does not really exist anymore. It exists in the pages of newspapers rather than on the ground itself. The PA com-pletely destroyed itself during the past seven years. They got them-selves into huge trouble.
As far as my work is concerned, I feel very secure right now. Eve-ryone knows me where I live in Jericho. I’m very satisfied with what I’m doing.

NS: What do you think of the prospects for Palestinians right now? Will there be a Palestinian state? Is the two-state solution still viable?

Eid: It must be possible to create a Palestinian state. The question is how. How will we deal with it? How will we build it? How will we unite to establish good institutions?

In my opinion, the establishment of a Palestinian state is not only related to the Israelis. It concerns the Palestinians. We have had a very bad experience with building a state, developing it, and keeping it alive.

That brings me to the September 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza. Everybody thought that the Israeli disengagement would be a kind of test for the Palestinians. It would test whether we are really able to build our own state and manage our daily lives ourselves. In my opinion, we totally failed to manage Gaza, develop it, and build infrastructure.

Today, fewer and fewer Palestinian voices speak up in favor of es-tablishing a state. Everybody has his own horrible troubles. The only people calling for a state right now are the politicians.

Politicians around the world are buying and selling blood. This is the only income that they have. And that’s exactly what Arafat prac-ticed with the Palestinians. I remember with great sadness what happened when he started creating an Intifada and threatening the Israelis. Palestinian security workers went to the schools, ordered the schoolmasters to close the schools, and then sent the schoolchildren to throw stones at the Israelis. That was a very horrible thing to do. Politicians sacrifice their people to achieve their political interests. This is unfortunately the Palestinian attitude.
Look at Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, who is saying, “No more resistance!” This is a huge change. One can resist, but one must also protect oneself and one’s survival. People were born to live, not to die. When you are alive, you can choose to resist, but you can also choose to build, to achieve things, to reach for what you want. When you die, you just die. This is a good lesson for the Palestinians right now: sacrificing ourselves will not help us achieve anything. We won’t achieve anything with violent resistance.

We are having to face the consequences of our actions over the past seven years. In my opinion, the Palestinians totally lost their way during the past seven years. Things will get worse if we continue in the same way. We will have to change our direction.

NS: What do you think should happen in Gaza?

Eid: Gaza is a big problem for the Palestinians, Israelis, and Egyptians. The international community becomes more and more afraid of the Palestinians because Hamas reflects such a negative side of Palestinian politics. I don’t think that Hamas will ever offer Gaza to back to Abbas.

The question is: Who is going to control Hamas? Hamas right now oppresses the Gazan people. But who will contain Hamas? I don’t think that dialogue will solve the problem.
We will all be watching whether Hamas can manage Gaza and keep it functioning. The Arab countries should put more effort into solving the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. The problem is that the Arab countries are so divided, some supporting Hamas against Fatah and some supporting Fatah against Hamas. This won’t help the situation.

I don’t think the international community can do very much on this issue, besides continuing to provide important humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. On the whole, though, it’s too early right now to tell what will happen to Gaza and Hamas.

NS: What about Hamas in the West Bank. Are they a factor?

Eid: They do exist in the West Bank, but what’s happening in Gaza could never happen in the West Bank.

This is not only because Fatah is stronger than Hamas, but also be-cause of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Israelis will never allow Hamas militants to take over Jenin, facing Afula.

Of course, Hamas will still threaten to occupy the West Bank, to jeopardize any peace agreement, and to harm the Palestinian Presi-dent and government in the West Bank. I don’t think we will see peace in the near future.
Daily life in the West Bank will become a little bit easier, though, according to the promises of Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. But I think the peace process will take much longer than anybody expects.

NS: What do you think is the main reason that the conflict continues?

Eid: I think there is a lack of good will and leadership on both sides. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also tends to become a commercial conflict. Everybody is making something off this conflict. There are countries that have an interest in perpetuating the fighting. The Iranians, for example, are trying to provoke a regional war using Hezbollah and Hamas.

I don’t think the Palestinians will have the same opportunities for peace that we were offered between 1947 and July 2000. Palestinian violence has probably caused some countries to want not to get involved anymore. The foreign policy of the international community is totally biased.

NS: When you say that foreign policy is biased, you mean in which direction?

Eid: Well, the problem is that the international community is not united. Countries are divided. Policies are divided. So many different biased policies are involved in this conflict. In this kind of situation, I don’t think that the Palestinians or the Israelis will be able to reach a kind of final peace or a final agreement between themselves.

NS: Do you think there’s a possibility that Israelis and Palestinians will be able to build something out of the cooperation that still exists between them in some areas? Are these areas of cooperation possible foundations for peace?

Eid: Small-scale cooperation is very important. But I don’t think a permanent solution is possible right now. Let us talk about a tempo-rary one, instead. This is what Abbas and Olmert are doing right now. Let us release few thousand Palestinian prisoners, let us evacuate a couple of checkpoints, let us open the gates of the wall between villages and clinics or schools, let us issue a couple of tens of thou-sands of work permits to Palestinians so that they can work in Israel—this is what we are negotiating with the Israelis now.

When you talk about the state, the settlements, the borders, and the water, the Israelis say, this is so complicated, let’s leave it to the end. In the meanwhile, let’s do things step-by-step. That is how we are today negotiating with the Israelis. Many of these small things will probably continue to be delivered in the future.

NS: How do you feel about the situation? What motivates you?

Eid: I’m very angry and frustrated. I’m hopeless. I know my ideas provoke people, but I’m not a politician. I care much more about people’s lives rather than their lands. Land you can get everywhere in the world, but you can never replace lives. I don’t want to hear about killings, I don’t want to hear about shootings. I hate violence.

I am 48 years old. I had never, ever in my life seen a tank shooting until the past six or seven years. Since then, when I’ve gone to Ramal-lah, Bethlehem, Jericho, I’ve been so afraid. I’ve seen the kinds of things I never want to see again. I don’t like the way we are militariz-ing the conflict. It’s horrible. And I don’t like the way we’re making it religious. That brings great danger.

Looking back through history, one finds several examples of con-flicts that were solved without any kind of bloodshed. So I do believe that we can solve our conflict. We will have to learn from the experi-ences of others.

NS: What did you learn when you went to South Africa this year?

Eid: South Africa is very interesting. But it couldn’t be a model for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are some very good things in the South African case that we can learn from. The Truth and Reconcilia-tion Committee, for example.
The most important lesson is that the people in South Africa built their democracy and institutions with their own hands. Nobody offered it to them. I hope Palestinians will learn from that.

But otherwise, the South African case is very different from our situation. It involved people fighting against one apartheid govern-ment. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you are not talking about one government or one nation. It’s totally different. We are not fighting for a one-state solution. Of course we are not.

What I learnt in South Africa is that some Islamists in South Africa are totally disconnected from the realities and still believe that the solution will be one state—an Islamic state. I found that very horrible.

NS: Do people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem want one state or two states, or do they want something else entirely?

Eid: At the moment, I think the Palestinians want a three-state solu-tion for two nations—Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. Of course, there are still some disconnected Palestinians and Israelis who believe in a one-state solution. But I think that the Palestinians dream of creating our own independent, democratic, anti-Islamist country. And I think the Israelis want their own Jewish, Zionist country. I think both people have a right to their own states.

NS: What do you think the role should be of the Palestinian Diaspora, people in other parts of the region and other parts of the world?

Eid: That’s a really a big problem right now. I don’t believe that all the Palestinian refugees would like to come back. Israel will never open its doors to those refugees. The Palestinians shouldn’t have to continue sacrificing themselves for the right of return, a dream that will never be applicable on the ground. There are refugees around the world. All nations have refugees. This is an international problem. Refugees should be able to move to the West Bank or other countries. They should be more realistic about the situation.

NS: How are your ideas received by other Palestinians?

Eid: I don’t think that most Palestinians agree with me. And politi-cians are completely ignorant of my ideas because they don’t serve their political interests. We are a totally unstable society. Our opinions change ever day. Sometimes we feel powerful and energetic; some-times we feel tired and hopeless. I prefer talking to people when they are tired. Then they are more likely to listen to new ideas.

NS: What are your perceptions of Israeli human rights groups? Are they succeeding in their work?

Eid: I think they are doing a good job. We, the Palestinians, have learnt a lot from the Israeli organizations. There are Palestinians who are critical of the Israeli organizations, but mostly they are people who have no real idea of what is going on. I know what happens inside the Israeli organizations. I think that they are doing the maximum they can do to improve the daily lives of the Palestinians. If you go to the High Court, you will realize that most of the appeals made on behalf of Palestinians have been presented by Israeli groups and Israeli lawyers, not Palestinian ones.

NS: Are you able to monitor what’s going on in Gaza right now?

Eid: That’s very, very difficult. Don’t forget that we are living under a Taliban regime in the Gaza Strip. Our fieldworker hesitates before investigating cases there. The situation for human rights organizations sometimes reminds me of the Saddam Hussein regime. We can’t monitor the Gaza Strip the way we used to monitor it when it was PA territory. We are trying to collect data from newspapers and other organizations that operate in the area. We are in touch with some journalists there. But we face serious opposition and danger.

NS: What advice would you like to give to the Palestinians?

Eid: The best opportunity for us to make peace with Israel was probably in 1978 or 1979 when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Israel. He suggested that Yasser Arafat join him, but Arafat refused.

The most important thing for us to do now is learn from the mis-takes we made between 1947 and today so that we don’t repeat them. We should put these mistakes on the table and study them well. After studying our mistakes, I think the solution will be very easy to create.

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Observations from an American in Iran

By Cindy D. Tan

Cindy D. Tan ’08 attends Harvard College and is a History of Art and Architecture concentrator in Eliot House.

Iranian police cars are recognizable by their clean, white bodies, cobalt blue strips and, most notably, the silver Mercedes medallions perched on their hoods. Often they sit in the shade of a string of tall, leaning pine trees, a few hundred meters behind a clearly marked sign in both Farsi and English announcing their presence. Traffic builds up on the single lane roads at these police roadblocks, and old Peugeots and Renaults wait impatiently to be checked for stashes of opium before being released. The enormous fleet of police cars guarding the roads is comprised of expensive, German-built cars that were purchased some years ago as a result of bloated state budgets and an expanded security program. However, after years of use, damage and deterio-ration, the police budget could no longer meet the cost of basic repair replacement parts. These “Iran super cars” as many locals sarcastically call them, are now used until they become dilapidated old jalopies and are then replaced with Iranian-made cars. There are even YouTube videos of now-censored Iranian TV talk shows that make fun of them. No one was scared of the police then. In fact, it seemed there was very little to be scared about. I was surprised to see how fearless many Iranians were about political and social issues. To an unimaginable degree, the Iranians I met were happy to discuss with me their thoughts and personal feelings on their way of life, their government’s policies and the future of their country.

With the support of an academic fellowship, I traveled to Iran this summer to conduct my senior thesis research on medieval Shi’ite tomb architecture. The nature of my project led me through the desert and mountains and into the most populous cities and remote villages. However, my reasons for traveling went beyond the scope of my academic research. I wanted to see how Iranians, whose country maintains a tenuous position between deep tension with the U.S. and international isolation, saw themselves in light of their country’s controversial stance. I imagined that Iranians were hideously misrep-resented in the media based on discussions I’ve had with my Iranian friends at Harvard who are dual citizens, and overwhelmingly, I found that to be true. Despite travel warnings and pleas by my friends and family not to travel, my month-long sojourn in Iran this summer was marked by the surprising hospitality and warmth with which I was received.

Certainly, people looked on curiously as I walked by, mainly be-cause of my ridiculous ensemble. I wore a heavy raincoat and a thick, black pashmina wrapped tightly around my face. Embarrassingly, I knew that many of the women on the street, by whom I was dread-fully outclassed, stared in wonder at my hot struggle with a constantly slipping headscarf. Fortunately, water was constantly available at mosques and it was common practice to stop on the street and take a sip from tin cups chained to the side of communal fountains. At first I was concerned about how potable the water would be, but I soon I learned to trust the tea and water I was given. I received many invita-tions to have tea and biscuits in the homes of kind strangers. Seeing how exhausted and sunburned I was, Iranians were deeply sympa-thetic; it was an expression of the natural hospitality I found common to Iranians. With each positive experience, my preconceptions of Iranian life were gradually transformed.

State authorities never singled me out for being an American. However, on the streets, my presence often caused a great commotion. When I arrived in the village of Nayriz, it was already twilight and the air had begun to cool. The rounded roofs of the small adobe houses glowed in the warm sunlight and children played in the streets. The afternoon siesta had just ended and life had revived with bustling activity. The shops were open, women bargained for groceries, and old men played chess on the sidewalks. Many families sat on carpets and blankets under the shade of trees and drank tea. It made me happy to see these rich scenes of provincial desert life. I felt fortunate to be among so many people as I passed by brightly colored shops and fragrant bakeries.

My work for the day was near its end and the last site I visited was a dilapidated mosque dating back to the 11th century. The front doors were bolted and I followed a dirt path around the mudbrick structure. I saw a group of young boys playing soccer in the adjoining open lot and as soon as they saw me, they ran up and excitedly shouted, “What’s up? What’s up?” Their greeting, translated from a sitcom on Iranian television, must have been the only English they knew. They all wore short-sleeved button-down shirts, khaki shorts and rubber sandals. The eldest boy pointed to my camera and demanded to know what I was doing in their town. Though my guide explained that I was an American researcher, they kept asking me to take their pictures so they could be in the movies. I asked about the mosque and a few of the youngest boys guided me through a collapsed entrance into the courtyard, where a majestic cypress tree stood at least four stories tall. They were all too excited about having their faces in Hollywood movies to appreciate my own curiosity and I soon resumed taking their pictures, which I promised would make it to the U.S. for many people to see.

My encounters with women never lasted as long. Young Iranian women are fashionable and carry themselves with confidence. They do not wear full burkas or cover their faces. They wear heavy makeup and let carefully placed strands of dyed hair frame their faces. Every young woman I met smiled easily and spoke with a bright voice that rung with lyrical clarity. Many were university students studying architecture, though some were training to become doctors, nurses, and officers in government agencies. While many women wore long black chadors, others dressed in fitted jackets and colorful silk scarves. At the trendier cafes in Isfahan, particularly in the Armenian quarter known as the hip part of the city, women smoked cigarettes and drank espressos. The Beatles’ “Come Together” played in the background, as the women nodded indifferently to the beat of the song.

The general apathy toward authority in Iran does not carry a defi-ant tone. The modes of resistance to the imposed behavioral laws were passive but visible. Alcohol and pop music were readily available but no one talked about such things publicly. Little girls rode on bicycles and men wore short-sleeves. The rural areas are unsurprisingly more conservative, but even in these areas the most educated people we spoke with were not afraid to offer their opinions on their quality of life.

One woman I spoke with kindly invited me to her home for tea. A delicate woman in her thirties, she lived in a rented two-room mud-brick house with her mother and her two children. She never told us the whereabouts of the children’s father but she insinuated that he was not a part of their lives. She spent her time weaving carpets that are sold in the western parts of the Middle East and, although she did not know their selling prices, she imagined they went for much more than the pittance she received. She expressed how difficult it was for a woman to find work and she explained that her only two options were to live at home and weave or work in a factory, because she could not afford the vocational training necessary for finding a different job. She also explained that she could not leave her town easily and that Iranians often raise their families and live their whole lives in the place where they are born. She never expressed resentment towards her government, but she did express the belief that life is harder now than it was for her when she was a child, perhaps a subtle comment about what life was like under a different regime.

Almost everyone is poor. The Iranians I spoke to recognize the reality of their circumstances and know that the world is watching. However, the media attention that Iranians receive does not directly affect their everyday life. Iranians don’t believe the international community will intervene on the behalf of dissidents. There is little movement towards change, mainly because Iranians struggle to achieve minimal stability and fear the consequences of escalating internal conflict. Once, I was surprised to see a small bumper sticker of the Swedish flag on a cargo truck. I soon spotted these small flags on many trucks. To many Iranians, Sweden, not America, is the land of freedom. The U.S. and its policies were frustrating to the Iranians I met who could not understand why they were being targeted for evildoing. If anything, Iranians consider themselves among the most peaceful people in the world, albeit only when disassociated from their government. The Iranians I spoke to have a powerful sense that they lack political representation and they have the suspicion that Americans are given an inaccurate view of their country. Many of the people I met felt surprised that there was any U.S. antagonism at all. They could not comprehend why they were being judged based only on the words of their president.

The feeling of awe I first felt when I arrived was soon mingled with a sense of consternation. Here was a vast, peaceful country in which the people, who are more educated than many of their neigh-bors in the region, take a largely passive stance towards a government they do not support. Instead, to circumvent government censorship, many Iranians use American IP addresses to connect to the internet. One Iranian told me that if his government mobilized the army for war no Iranian man would stand up and volunteer to fight. He said that maybe Iran should declare war and then the world could see how peaceful Iranians actually are.

Verses of the Qur’an are painted in enormous white letters on the sides of hills and mountains so that they will be visible from the highway and nearby villages. The highway is also dotted with signs that remind pious Muslims of proper behavior and proclaim praise for the Prophet and the coming of the Twelfth Imam. In my early days in Iran, feeling that I was a witness to spiritual communication, I concen-trated on each message I passed. When I learned that industrial corporations also use mountains to advertise their products, I discov-ered that I was often staring not at a message from the Prophet but at an advertisement to purchase bulk steel at low prices. Here was a small intrusion of secular life into the world of religious proselytizing.

While Islam pervades all aspects of life, there exists an equally pervasive secular way of life rooted in Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage. Every Iranian I met was proud of the country and its history. But I was fascinated to learn how deeply Iranians revered the memory of pre-Islamic Persia. The guides or curators I met at museums and historical sites always referred to pre-Islamic building practices and Achaeme-nian kings in explaining the influences on more recent constructions. (It is also worth noting that the Achaemenian king, Cyrus the Great, who ruled over 2,500 years ago, issued one of the world’s first declara-tions of individual rights, including the right to freedom of religion.) In the teahouses and restaurants, I was told which foods and spices existed before the introduction of Islam and I observed young men and women holding hands in the bazaars where the mosques were mostly locked. There was no clear dividing line between the religious and the secular. They seemed intertwined and Iranians traversed these fine lines at their convenience.

I was fortunate enough to be present for a three-day national holi-day celebrating the birthday of the Twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi, and I saw the country burst into excited celebration. Islam unified the country and on those three days, everyone was a believer. Mosques, lavishly decorated in ribbons, flowers and posters of Imam Khomeini and Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, were attended in unprecedented num-bers. Elderly men came up to my guide and me to offer us sweets and invite us to join their prayers and celebrations. Food and brightly colored syrup drinks were handed out along the road and streamers hung from every tree. The typically quiet streets were flooded with people shouting happy greetings to one another. Even then, in the midst of that chaos, I never felt unsafe as a female traveler, but walked easily in the streets among the cheering people who were queuing for food handouts. Despite our enjoyment, both my guide and I recog-nized something sad in this. We had met so many independent-minded, generous people desperate for more freedoms and greater knowledge of their world, but here they were, standing in line, jostling each other for a free meal.

Perhaps it was a sign of the cultural divide that I could not appre-ciate the full import of that momentous holiday. The serious human rights violations, torture, and suppression of free speech that I read about before coming to Iran were a constant thought in my mind. Yet what I saw before me was the momentary relaxation of cultural restrictions and the appearance that people enjoyed life and were content with their circumstances. Every experience I had in Iran confirmed this new observation, however incongruous it was with the presentation of the country I received in the media.

It greatly surprised me that, in the course of my experience in Iran, I found myself feeling safe, welcome and comfortable. Once in the company of locals, I was embraced. It is a horrible shame that Ameri-cans are presented such a dark view of Iran. What little I saw of it in a month demonstrated to me that this was a country with deep-rooted, vibrant traditions to which people cling, either to maintain a sense of national pride or because, in the face of serious criticisms by other nations, there was little else to hold the country together. An artist I met in Isfahan expressed his frustration that a country as hypocritical and corrupt as the U.S. could judge his country. This level of national-ism seemed prevalent and might have altered how Iranians ap-proached me. Women pride themselves on the freedoms they enjoy, however limited they may appear to us. Young urbanites consider themselves fashionable and rebellious. The cities move at a pace that reminds me of home, and the countryside, beset with poverty, reveals immense faith and an appreciation for a traditional way of life.

I left Iran feeling sad to go and treasuring the memories of all the things I had seen. The sun sets with an orange intensity that makes the entire desert look like it is on fire. In the cities, the mudbrick houses begin to cool and the colossal domes of the mosques emerge with splendor, glittering in the fading light.

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By Joel B. Pollak

Joel B. Pollak ’99 is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Cape Town. He was a political speechwriter for the Leader of the Opposi-tion in South Africa from 2002 to 2006 and is a second-year student at Harvard Law School

JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER AND STEPHEN M. WALT, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

ABRAHAM H. FOXMAN, The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007)
The late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a memoir, A Dangerous Place, [1] about his brief stint as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in the mid-1970s. He recalled that in the debates leading up to the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution in 1975, [2] Arab diplomats often found it convenient to attack the “Israel lobby.”

In one debate, during which Arab ambassadors attempted to de-fend the anti-Israel fulminations of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Moynihan recalled: “The Libyan representative…read excerpts from a New York Times article of August 8 on the Israeli lobby and its influ-ence on Congress.” [3] Arab diplomats, confident of the backing of the Soviet Union, were certain that Americans would reject the “Israel lobby” once alerted to its nefarious presence. But U.S. support for Israel, based on shared values and interests, remained solid, even in the face of a crippling OPEC oil embargo.

Three decades have passed, and the old scapegoat has been resur-rected, not by hostile foreign emissaries but by two esteemed Ameri-can professors. This time the crisis is not an oil embargo, but the debacle in Iraq. Americans, the majority of whom favored the Iraq war at its inception, [4] now oppose it by similar margins and wonder how it happened in the first place. [5]

Enter Professors John J. Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Stephen M. Walt (Harvard University), who provide a fantastical, familiar, and handy explanation: blame the “Israel lobby.” Denounced by some, their argument has been judged “persuasive” by others. [6]
In The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer and Walt have updated their infamous 2006 paper somewhat. [7] They even nod, prophylactically, in the direction of some of their critics (which is not the same as answering them). Fundamentally, their claim—that the “Israel lobby” is bad for America—remains unchanged and unproven.

Their argument has three parts. First, they argue that the U.S. of-fers Israel “extraordinary material aid and diplomatic support.” [8] (This is true.) Next, they argue two separate but related claims: that “the lobby is the principal reason for that support,” and that the relation-ship—which they describe as “uncritical and unconditional”—is “not in the American national interest.” [9]
And what is “the lobby”? It turns out to be “a loose coalition of in-dividuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” [10] This broad, amorphous definition allows the authors to blame “the lobby” for anything done by any pro-Israel individual or group.

True, Walt and Mearsheimer do admit that not everyone in “the lobby” agrees with everything “the lobby” does. But this is merely a superficial admission, made for the purposes of deflecting criticism, and is contradicted by the rest of the argument, which relies on this calculated imprecision. Such vagueness is typically the hallmark of conspiracy theories. To put it charitably: this is a polemic, not a schol-arly work.

Setting aside the absurd claim that U.S. support for Israel is “un-critical and unconditional,” [11] the authors argue that the alliance is against American interests because Israel’s policies are a motivating force for anti-American terror and that Israel has goaded the United States into invading Iraq, isolating Syria, and confronting Iran.

How do the authors prove that “[t]he United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it has long been so supportive of Israel”? [12] They don’t. They simply state that Palestinian terror groups “do not attack the United States” [13] (a claim that is demonstrably untrue), [14] but assert that Al Qaeda does because of Israel. [15]

The latter claim is denied even by the University of Chicago’s Pro-fessor Robert Pape, whom the authors rely on for many of their conclusions. In his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Pape argues that groups that use suicide bombing have the common goal of pushing a foreign military to withdraw its forces from territory that the terrorists consider theirs. [16] Whatever the merits of this argument, Pape clearly believes that what motivates Al Qaeda is the presence of U.S. troops in the region, not the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. [17] But Mearsheimer and Walt distort Pape’s views, adding that those who disagree with their arguments want to protect “unconditional” U.S. support for Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. [18]

Walt and Mearsheimer include such people as Dennis Ross and Alan Dershowitz in this group, both of whom are critical of several Israeli policies, particularly the settlements in the West Bank. [19] Here, and elsewhere, Walt and Mearsheimer indulge in the labeling and slander that they claim Israel’s defenders mobilize against critics of the Jewish state.

How do the authors prove that “the lobby” has brought the U.S. to war with half of the Middle East? They don’t. They cite newspaper reports, op-ed articles, after-dinner speeches and the like, elevating these bits of hearsay to geopolitical importance rather than presenting any concrete evidence of causation. As in their 2006 paper, they hardly cite any U.S. government documents, aside from the Iraq Liberation Act and a handful of letters and speeches. [20] They also ignore almost anything said or done by Arab states, Iran, and international terror groups.

Consider their theory that Israel and “the lobby” influenced the decision to invade Iraq. Exhibit A is a visit to Washington by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [21] Exhibit B is an interview in a Cleveland newspaper by Ariel Sharon’s press spokesperson. [22] Exhibit C is an appearance on CNN by former Prime Minister Shimon Peres. [23] Exhibit D is an op-ed by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. [24]

The utterances of these former Israel prime ministers and press secretaries—none of whom was in any position of real responsibility at the time—are credited with decisive influence. And “the lobby”? The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—Mearsheimer and Walt’s primary target throughout the book—never came out in support of the Iraq war, so they have a hard case there. [25] Instead, they point to the Jewish “neo-cons” in the administration, shifting the definition of “the lobby” to fill their empty argument.

Walt and Mearsheimer are on even shakier ground when it comes to Iran, downplaying the imperial ambitions of the regime and the apocalyptic fanaticism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both of which are a threat to U.S. interests whether or not Israel’s security is at stake.

On Syria, they describe Israel as the villain; they ignore Syria’s ex-plicit threats towards Israel and its destructive policies in Lebanon. Not even the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in which Syria was directly implicated by the UN Security Council in 2005, merits mention. [26]

In the end, the authors resort to the foregone conclusion that lurks at the heart of any conspiracy theory: they announce that opposing “the lobby” is foolish because it is too powerful. Instead, they argue that Americans should focus on “[r]edirecting the lobby’s agenda,” backing leftist elements of “the lobby” that support a two-state solu-tion (as if the rest do not). [27] It’s a wimpy end to a very, very weak book.

Perhaps the “taboo” the authors break is not, as they claim, criticiz-ing the role of the “Israel lobby” in U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps, as the cover of the book suggests—with the red, white and blue of the U.S. flag replaced with the Israeli azure and white—what they are really suggesting is that the “lobby” controls much more.

Either way, as Moynihan might have said, we have heard it all be-fore.


Abe Foxman, who heads the Anti-Defamation League, attempts a response to Mearsheimer and Walt in The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control. [28] His targets include Jimmy Carter and Tony Judt along with Mearsheimer and Walt. The book is written in a simple, sing-song style, which may strike some readers as some-what pedantic.

Foxman’s attack is perhaps predictable, beginning with a descrip-tion of anti-Semitism in the U.S. He hits the mark, however, when he challenges Mearsheimer and Walt to “[w]in the policy debate” rather than attack the “lobby,” noting that instead they resort to “complain-ing about the process and suggesting that their opponents . . . are somehow using unfair tactics to withhold the victory that Mearsheimer and Walt believe they deserve.” [29]
Foxman presents several recent examples of cases in which the ADL and other Jewish groups actively opposed and criticized Israeli policy: the annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981; the (unsuccessful) attempt by Ariel Sharon to establish a Jewish settlement in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem; and a law preventing Palestini-ans who marry Israelis from living in Israel. [30]
Next, he turns to historian (and former IDF soldier, now turned anti-Zionist) Tony Judt. [31] He tells his side of the infamous cancellation of Judt’s speech at the Polish consulate in New York last year, [32] saying it should not have been stopped and denying that he was responsible for the decision to call it off: “I never actually called the Polish consu-late to complain about the Tony Judt speech.” [33] He did not “censor” Judt, he says, nor does he equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, though he believes some criticism of Israel is illegitimate.

Finally, Foxman turns to Jimmy Carter and Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. He points out the fallacy of the Israel-apartheid analogy, and says Carter deliberately provoked controversy by using the word “apartheid” in his title.

Unfortunately, Foxman uses rather sloppy language himself: “The Jews of Israel don’t want to rule the Palestinians—they want to live apart from them.” [34] The Israeli desire to separate from the Palestinian polity (as opposed to Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, who form twenty percent of the population and enjoy equal political and civil rights) has no resemblance to apartheid. Apartheid South Africa created a system of racial domination in which the existence of sepa-rate nations was a self-serving illusion reinforced by segregation laws throughout society. Nevertheless, anti-Israel partisans will make a facile feast of Foxman’s use of the word “apart.”

Foxman attacks Carter’s historical revisionism and one-sided recol-lections, drawing on criticisms provided by former Carter associate Kenneth Stein, and documents some of Carter’s apparently relig-iously-based hostility to Israel. He acknowledges that Carter is “a good man,” but argues that he, like Mearsheimer and Walt, will “give comfort and support to bigots and opportunists” who hate Jews and Israel. [35]
The “comfort and support” line of argument is somewhat disturb-ing. It can be used all too easily to shut down debate. Critics of Zim-babwe’s tyrannical government, for example, are routinely lumped with racists. But that does not mean the motives of Mearsheimer, Walt, Judt, and Carter should be entirely beyond question. Why only Israel? Why Israel more than others?

Foxman closes with an appeal to Jews—particularly “‘liberals’ or ‘progressives’” to join communal debates on Israel. Ironically, this is the same audience targeted by Mearsheimer and Walt. One is tempted to wonder why “progressives” have been elevated to such high political importance by both sides; if any group is exerting dispropor-tionate influence on the debate, it is apparently this self-regarding left-wing minority, whoever they are.

The most powerful part of Foxman’s book is actually the foreword, written by former Secretary of State George P. Schultz. In clear prose, Schultz debunks the idea that the “Israel lobby” controls American foreign policy, and defends the U.S.-Israel relationship:

We are a great nation, and our government officials invariably include brilliant, experienced, tough-minded people. Mostly, we make good decisions. But when we make a wrong decision—even one that is recommended by Israel and supported by American Jewish groups—it is our decision, and one for which we alone are responsible. We are not babes in the woods, easily convinced to support Israel’s or any other state’s agenda. We act in our own interests. [36]

Mearsheimer and Walt deserve no more than this simple, elegant and truthful response.

[1] Daniel Patrick Moynihan with Suzanne Weaver. A Dangerous Place (Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1975).

[2] G.A. Res. 3379, U.N GAOR, 30th Sess. (Nov. 10, 1975), rescinded by G.A. Res. 46/86, U.N. Doc. A/RES/46/86 (Dec. 16, 1991).

[3] Ibid. 161.

[4] Richard Benedetto, “Poll: Most back war, but want U.N. support.” USA Today, Sunday, 16 Mar. 2003, available at http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2003-03-16-poll-iraq_x.htm. 58 percent of Americans were said to support the war

[5] Dalia Sussman, “Poll Shows View of Iraq War is Most Negative Since Start,” New York Times, Friday, 25 May 2007, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/25/washington/25view.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1192979227-EoHrzxr5um1tUAnXylkxLA. 61 percent of Americans said that the U.S. should not have invaded Iraq.

[6] See, e.g. Sasha F. Klein, “’Lobby Authors Confront and Transcend Controversy,” Harvard Crimson, Friday, 12 October 2007, available at http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=519981.

[7] John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Kennedy School of Government Working Paper Number: RWP06-011, 13 March 2006, available at http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011.

[8] Mearsheimer and Walt, 14.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 5.

[11] There is ample evidence to the contrary, including, most recently, the U.S. State Depart-ment’s public conclusion that Israel may have violated the conditions of an arms sales agreement with the U.S. when it used cluster bombs in the closing stages of the Second Lebanon War. See Sean McCormack, “Daily Press Briefing,” United States Department of State, 29 January 2007, available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2007/79467.htm. Other examples include numerous American protests against Israeli settlements in the occupied territories in the early 1990s, angry American reactions to Israeli arms sales to China, American objections to Israeli bombing raids against the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut in 1982, American condemnation of Israel’s attack against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, and so on.

[12] Mearsheimer and Walt, 64.

[13] Ibid., 63.

[14] Palestinian and Lebanese terror groups have often targeted Americans, when such targets have been available. On October 15, 2003, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip used a roadside bomb to kill Americans traveling in a diplomatic convoy. See “Three killed in Gaza convoy blast,” Guardian, 15 October 2003, available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,1063311,00.html. Hezbollah, which the authors claim is a local phenomenon that only attacked the U.S. when American troops were in Lebanon, has hit targets overseas on occasion. Most notoriously, It has been accused of carrying out the July 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Interpol recently issued warrants for five Iranians associated with the bombings. See Philip Sherwell, “Iranians named over Buenos Aires bombing,” Telegraph.co.uk, 12 November 2007, available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/11/11/wiran211.xml. In November 2006, Hamas called on Muslims worldwide to attack the United States. See Associated Press, “Hamas calls on Muslims to attack American targets,” International Herald Tribune, 8 November 2006, available at http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/11/08/africa/ME_GEN_Palestinians_Hamas.php.

[15] Ibid., 64-70.

[16] Robert Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (New York: Random House, 2005).

[17] Robert Pape, “Why the War on Terrorism Goes South?”, lecture at the 2007 Middle East & Central Asia Politics, Economics & Society Conference, University of Utah, Friday, 7 September 2007.

[18] Ibid., 64

[19] Ross said of Israeli settlements in 1999: “We [the U.S.] see settlement activity as very destructive to the pursuit of peace precisely because it predetermines and prejudges what ought to be negotiated.” See Dennis Ross, quoted in Foundation for Middle East Peace, “Settlement Timeline,” May-June 1999, available at http://www.fmep.org/reports/vol09/no3/05-settlement_timeline.html. Dershowitz has also criticized Israeli policies in the occupied territories, including the Israeli security barrier: What I don’t like is the idea of creating a security wall with political implications and implications for the ultimate resolution . . . I surely would not build a wall around the Ariel settlements or any of the other external settlements. I think that would be a terrible mistake.” See Alan Dershowitz, Speech at Royce Hall, University of California at Los Angeles International Institute, 21 October 2003, available at http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=5071.

[20] Ibid., 426-38.

[21] Ibid., 234.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ron Kampeas, “Groups tackle all issues but Iraq war,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 23 March 2007, available at http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/31956/edition_id/596/format/html/displaystory.html.

[26] United Nations Security Council, Report of the International Independent Investigation Commission established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1595 (2005), U.N. Doc S/2005/662, 20 October 2005 (prepared by Detlev Mehlis).

[27] Mearsheimer and Walt, 354.

[28] Foxman’s attack is directed against Mearsheimer and Walt’s original article, not their book, although the release of his book was timed to coincide with the release of theirs. Much of his critique remains relevant, since Mearsheimer and Walt did not fundamentally change the premises of their argument.

[29] Foxman, 89-90.

[30] Ibid., 113-15.

[31] In 2003, Judt declared his support for a binational state as an alternative to present-day Israel. See Tony Judt, “Israel: The Alternative,” New York Review of Books, 23 October 2003, available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16671. Despite vociferous criticism, he has continued to defend his position and to speak out on behalf of other critics of Israel, including Mearsheimer and Walt.

[32] For a thorough critique of Judt’s response to this incident, see Christopher Hitchens, “How Uninviting,” Slate.com, 23 October 2006, available at http://www.slate.com/id/2152032.

[33] Foxman, 160.

[34] Ibid., 185.

[35] Ibid., 214.

[36] George P. Shultz, in Foxman, 17.

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