Ali Abunimah debates Daniel Pipes on Australian TV’s “Lateline”

TONY JONES (LATELINE HOST): As we’ve just heard, the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be spreading. Is there a way back to the peace table and what role will the United States play? To answer those and other questions I’m joined now by Daniel Pipes. An expert in Middle Eastern affairs, he’s the director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

He joins us from New York.

Ali Abunimah is a respected and outspoken member of the Arab community in the US. He represents the Arab-American Action Network and he’s in Chicago.

TONY JONES: Welcome to both of you.

I want to begin by asking you both, if I can, to set out briefly where you see the conflict going now that it’s reached this level of intensity.

Daniel Pipes, first to you.

DANIEL PIPES, DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: Well, I don’t think it’s yet possible to say which way it’s going.

It could be a momentary flare-up of violence and then followed by return to negotiations.

This has happened before.

Or it could mean that this time the negotiations are over.

I think it’s too early to tell.

There’s a lot of attention being paid to very few deaths, frankly, or even rather modest violence.

Yesterday’s dramatic use of helicopter gunships by the Israelis battered away at empty buildings, there were no fatalities.

There’s a lot of attention, a lot of noise, but this is not warfare, this is communal problems and these have happened before and I’m not ready to say that the negotiations are over.

I think we’re far from that, actually.

TONY JONES: Ali Abunimah what do you think about that because there have been statements today by Palestinian officials suggesting that Israel’s actions are tantamount to a declaration of war?

ALI ABUNIMAH, ARAB AMERICAN ACTION NETWORK: Well, Palestinians are still reeling from the fact that in the past two weeks, nearly 100 of them have been killed by the Israeli army and settlers, 3,000 injured.

We have the most powerful army in the region telling us they have to use live ammunition against kids with rocks and bottles because rocks can be lethal and yet, in fact, it’s the Israeli army that’s been lethal.

We have the United Nations Security Council which condemned Israel’s excessive use of force and which reminded the world and reminded Israel that it is the occupying power and is bound by the 4th Geneva conventions.

We have Israel threatening the Palestinian population that if they don’t submit to military occupation quietly, then the whole population is subject to reprisals.

And we have Israeli generals going around telling the world that we haven’t even used 1 per cent of our power against the Palestinians yet.

This is, in fact, a Palestinian Tiananmen Square.

What’s happening is an outrage.

The Palestinians need international intervention and United Nations protection as soon as possible to stop this madness.

TONY JONES: The question still remains though, where do you see it going in the near future?

ALI ABUNIMAH: I think that the United States is absolutely paralysed by the election, as the report said.

US politicians are falling over each other to vilify Palestinians whereas when Serbs burned down their Parliament, every politician is rushing to call it a new dawn for democracy.

If a Palestinian dares to stand up against military occupation then they’re vilified as the regimented troops of Yasser Arafat.

So I don’t think we’re gonna see any leadership from the United States, unless the international community, which has condemned with an unequivocal voice what Israel is doing, turns that into action.

I think the situation is going to get much much worse and we’re going to see many many more Palestinians dying and more Israelis dying, unfortunately.

Although so far it’s been a pretty one-sided death toll, which is perhaps why Mr Pipes is so insensitive to it.

TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes what do you think say to that?

If the Palestinians, for example, had learnt the lessons of Kosovo, they may have some hope of international intervention.

Will it happen here, could it ever happen in Israel?

DANIEL PIPES: Well, I’m still reeling from Mr Abunimah’s filibuster.

He said so many things so fast.

Will there be international intervention?

No, there will not be.

What we have, let’s go back to the beginning.

Let me filibuster in turn — my turn.

Israel was repeatedly attacked in its early years until finally in 1967, it defeated its three opposing armies — Egypt, Jordan and Syria — and it took some land from each of them.

And since 1967, it has occupied parts of those lands, some of them have been returned.

Israel has repeatedly shown that it is willing to return virtually all those lands if only the Arabs will finally agree to live in peace with Israel, let’s say accept a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East.

TONY JONES: Can I interrupt you there?

DANIEL PIPES: This is my turn.

TONY JONES: This could end up being a very, very long history lesson, though, for our viewers.

What I’m trying to get to is what’s happening now?

DANIEL PIPES: But you let Mr Ali Abunimah filibuster, so I think I have a right to do a little of my own.

I wasn’t planning to do this but you allowed him so you’ve got to allow me to.

And that is to say we have seen the Israelis willing over and over again to give land, to give back territory, and all they’re asking in return is some acceptance as a sovereign Jewish state.

Now to turn to your question, is there going to be international intervention?

No, there won’t be.

This is a case of the Israelis trying to reimpose civil calm in an area which has seen riots, lynchings and other very unpleasant activities.

We have seen a concerted effort by the Palestinian Authority and by the street, the rabble to overturn the existing order through force and that’s not going to work.

TONY JONES: Ali Abunimah, let me turn to that terrible incident of the lynching, I know you think that is just one incident of many, as you’ve pointed out, but do you accept that your case that the Palestinian case was terribly damaged by what happened yesterday?

ALI ABUNIMAH: I was horrified by those images and I don’t know a decent person who wasn’t.

What surprises me, at least in the United States, is that for two weeks Palestinians have been pleading with the world to pay attention to the fact that they’ve been butchered by the most powerful army in the region, and the moral outrage that we’re seeing for these two soldiers has been absolutely absent.

Of course I’m horrified by it.

It sets us all back and it sets us back because every death sets us back.

But at the same time, that those images were being shown on TV, Palestinians in Gaza were burying another 9-year-old child who was on his way back from school when an Israeli rubber-coated steel bullet cracked his head open.

I haven’t heard any coverage of that.

This has been an almost completely one-sided death toll.

To take that incident out of context is ridiculous.

What are Israeli soldiers doing in Palestinian towns and villages anyway?

There is an occupation.

Until the occupation ends and Palestinians can live with some dignity on what little is left of Palestine, then I don’t think we can expect to see peace.

TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, what did you make of Mr Barak’s ‘no mercy’ statement in the now-famous interview he did with CNN yesterday.

He came across almost sounding like a medieval warlord rather than a modern statesman?

DANIEL PIPES: Mr Barak, and indeed the Israelis in general, have come to speak very toughly in the last few days.

However, if you look at their actions, I would say it’s weak.

I mean, look, you have a mob take over the Joseph’s Tomb, desecrate it, burn it, and the Israelis do nothing.

You have Hezbollah abduct three Israeli soldiers from the border region, Israel does nothing.

You have the lynching of the two soldiers, and the Israelis destroy a few buildings and hover over Lebanese territory and mock raids, as your report just described.

These are the minimum responses, or even sub-minimum responses of a state.

I would not pay so much attention to the rhetoric.

I would look at the actions and I would say these are the actions of a state that is doing its very, very best to keep lines open and the possibility of negotiations restarting.

TONY JONES: Ali Abunimah?

ALI ABUNIMAH: I think Mr Pipes is completely detached from reality.

There are 100 dead and 3,000 injured in two weeks from a very small society.

There isn’t a family or a village that hasn’t been touched by this violence, that isn’t under siege by Israeli tanks and soldiers right now.

I mean, he’s completely detached from reality.

Israeli generals are fond of telling us that they’ve been showing restraint.

If this is restraint, I’d like to see what a rampage looks like.

I mean, I would be terrified to see what a rampage looks like.

What I want to say — Mr Pipes keeps talking about riots and so on — in the past week there have been well-reported rampages by Israeli Jewish mobs inside Israel against Arabs in Nazareth and other towns — killing, burning mosques, burning houses, burning cars — and the Israeli police and army haven’t seen fit to fire a single shot at them.

What’s clear is going on.

The UN High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva voted 48-1 to open inquiry into Israel’s actions.

The one country that voted against it is the United States and Canada abstained.

I mean, the whole world can see what’s going on.

TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes what would it take to pull these two leaders in particular back from the brink here?

I mean, there are proposals, you alluded to them earlier to bring all these parties together in four-way talks in Egypt.

Will that happen, could that still happen?

DANIEL PIPES: The really crucial thing is not the moving of leaders, the crucial thing is that the Palestinians, in particular, and the Arab and Muslim worlds more broadly accept the permanent existence of a sovereign Jewish State in the Middle East.

The Oslo process since 1993 — the negotiations that have been under way — have been premised on the hope that that was in fact occurring, that there was an acceptance of Israel.

What we’ve seen so dramatically in the last two weeks is that there is no acceptance.

The Palestinians in particular are full of hate, are full of a venom, wish to destroy Israel, so even the most benign —

TONY JONES: If I can interrupt you there, one of the darkest signs for peace emerged today with Mr Barak suggesting that his war cabinet will include Ariel Sharon.

Having done that, is there any chance of bringing together parties to the negotiating table once again?

DANIEL PIPES: Of course there is.

Look back at Netanyahu Government and you see basic continuity with the Labor policies, there’s really not much difference in these terms.

What you find is Likud is more reluctant and a bit more dour about this, whereas Labor is smiling and quick.

But basically there is a consensus in Israel that they want to revolve this problem and they’re willing to pay a price for it.

What the price is and how they do it — there’s difference.

But I don’t think the formation of a national emergency government is going to be that major a change.

TONY JONES: I’ll have to leave it there.

Ali Abunimah and Daniel Pipes, thanks to both of you for joining us.