Premature accords led to intifada, Mideast scholar says

"I think the widespread presumption is that Arabs have accepted Israel," said Middle East Forum director and award-winning columnist Daniel Pipes. "My explanation is that Arabs have never accepted Israel."

That false assumption was one of Pipes' key points he made March 21 before a packed but deeply divided auditorium at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, where he addressed Iraq, militant Islam and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Diplomacy and peaceful negotiations between Israelis and Arabs have made Israel appear weak in the eyes of the Arab world, Pipes contended.

"Thus grew the dream of destroying Israel," he said.

Pipes maintained that the failure of the 1993 Oslo accords hinged on Israel's perceived weakness, resulting in the resurgence of the intifada in 2000.

The Oslo negotiations, which laid the groundwork for Israel's handing over territory, he claimed, sent a signal to the Arab world that the "tough" Israel had disappeared and the Jewish state was now vulnerable.

Israel made the mistake of getting into negotiations with the Palestinians too early, he said. "We must get the Arabs to accept Israel," he added. "Once that happens, the Oslo negotiations can happen."

Pipes, a columnist for the New York Post and the Jerusalem Post, has served in various capacities in the State and Defense departments, and his analyses have appeared in numerous publications. He also has taught at the University of Chicago, Harvard and the U.S. Naval War College.

As war in Iraq arrests television screens throughout the world, sponsors Emanu-El, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, and the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco saw no better time than now to bring the Philadelphia-based Pipes to the Bay Area

"We're not sure there are many in the West who come with Pipes' particular insight and expertise," said Stephen Dobbs, the executive director of the Taube Foundation. Pipes, who is a regular on shows such as "Newshour With Jim Lehrer" and "Crossfire," lectures around the globe on fundamentalist Islam and the Israel and Arab conflict.

It is no secret that Pipes' perspective is often controversial, leaning toward the right. Dobbs contended that it was his strong, unambiguous views that continue to make Pipes such an international draw.

Nearly 200 showed up to hear Pipes following Shabbat services, apparently proving Dobbs right.

That said, the seats at Emanu-El were not overflowing with subscribers to Pipes' Middle East outlook.

"I think that his viewpoint is sound to the extent that we need to get the Arabs to accept Israel, but the assumption is that this acceptance can only be won by force is false," said Diana Black, an Oakland elementary school teacher who came to hear Pipes speak.

"One way to gain the acceptance of a Jewish state is to treat each other with mutual respect. Right now, there's a lack of compassion and respect on both sides."

Whether people agree with Pipes or not, she said, anything that leads to debate and introspection is good.

The relatively short lecture was followed by a question and answer session, offering up the chance for a cross-section of the community to vocalize varied perspectives on the war in Iraq and the future of peace in the Middle East.

"We are interested in his larger world analysis tonight," reiterated Dobbs. "We all support Israel, which is why bringing varied points of view to the discussion table is so valuable today."