After 17 years of leading the Mideast-focused think tank he founded, Daniel Pipes will be stepping aside as director. Efraim Karsh will take over the directorship of the Middle East Forum in June.
“Obviously it’s a big challenge to get into such big boots,” Karsh told me about taking over for Pipes. “And Daniel has made the forum, in my view, one of the foremost centers on the Middle East in the United States.”
Pipes, who will remain at the forum as president, has long been considered one of the most knowledgeable scholars on the Middle East and Islam. He established the forum in 1994, along with the Middle East Quarterly, the center’s journal of Mideast affairs, of which Karsh is currently editor. The forum has since added the Legal Project, to aid targets of Islamist “lawfare,” as well as campus programs.
Karsh is a research professor at King’s College London, and is the author of a bevy of books on the Middle East, including his most recent Palestine Betrayed, about the origins of Palestinian rejectionism of the two-state solution. Karsh spoke with me about the current state of affairs in the Middle East.
On the issue of the impending vote on the establishment or recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations General Assembly in September, Karsh said it is important to place this current bid for statehood in its proper context. “The story really begins in Oslo,” he said.
The Oslo agreements set the Palestinians on the path to statehood, which was the end goal of the process. “But then it turned out that Arafat was not interested in peace,” Karsh said, adding that the process continued on its course—negotiations with the Palestinians, despite the fact that Arafat never intended to put his name on a compromise.
That process has been derailed by the Obama administration, Karsh said, which has enabled the Palestinians to avoid negotiations entirely.
“Now since Obama came to power, and he began to put pressure on Israel, so he made life easier for the Palestinian leadership—which in the first instance was not interested in negotiations,” Karsh said. “And basically he allowed them to disengage. Since Obama came to power the Palestinians haven’t negotiated with the Israelis—something they continued to do over the past seventeen years even though they didn’t intend to reach a solution, but at least they were forced to negotiate. Now they are not.”
This is an important point, because the seeming futility of negotiations between the two parties often gives the impression that there are no benefits to the actual talks. As Karsh shows, there is something worse than circular and frustrating negotiations. “Why should they negotiate if they can get what they want without giving basically anything in return?” he said.
The Israeli strategy, then, should revolve around convincing the U.S. and much of the free world of the value of negotiations, that “the only way to peace is through negotiating between the two sides and agreeing on something, and then abiding by what they agreed.”
That’s on the diplomatic front. On the security front, Karsh expects Israel to continue to show restraint in the face of rocket attacks from Gaza, including the anti-tank missile that hit a school bus recently, killing a teenager. It’s one way the Palestinian threat of unilateral declaration ties Israel’s hands.