Editor's Note: This debate originally appeared at the Daily Beast. Click here to see the original.
The battle between Israel and Hamas has sparked another conflict—between our columnists.
Steve Emerson thinks Hamas is a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Reza Aslan believes that by most definitions, Israel could be considered a terrorist state. The two recently debated their differences of opinion via their laptops.
Reza Aslan is a fellow at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy, Middle East analyst for CBS News, and a featured blogger for Anderson Cooper 360. He wrote the New York Times bestseller No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. Aslan is co-founder and creative director of BoomGen Studios as well as the editorial executive of Mecca.com.
Steve Emerson is Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and author of 5 books and countless articles on terrorism. His most recent book is Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S.
Aslan: Do you really believe that the New York Times is actually advancing Hamas' cause?
Emerson: I don't know that they're doing it intentionally, but there's a constellation of interests that is reflected in their biased reporting that basically humanizes Hamas, has a contrived even-handedness between Hamas and Israel and refuses to even label Hamas a terrorist group despite the fact that Hamas is responsible for thousands of casualties, many deaths and has been around since 1987.
Aslan: Let's go back to the original question: What is a terrorist, Steve?
Emerson: A terrorist group is a group that carries out attacks on civilians for political purposes, okay? And I know that in your column, you wrote that sometimes Hamas does it and sometimes it doesn't. That it may not differentiate. In fact, 99 percent of the time Hamas does differentiate. They go for attacking civilians all the time. That makes it a bona fide terrorist group. The fact that they have a social and a political wing is only a cover designed to provide it legitimacy. But it's really no different than Al Qaeda, or Hizballah, or any of the other radical Islamic terrorist groups or, for that matter, the IRA.
Aslan: But the larger issue is this: If the question of terrorism has to do with the targeting of civilians, then you must recognize that that includes a large number of state actors including Israel at this point, which has been targeting civilians.
Emerson: I think the end result here is just going to be a tragedy for the Palestinians, which I don't want to see. What I'd like to see is Hamas say ‘We're interested in working with the Israelis and the PA in developing a peace strategy.' And one that does involve the destruction of the state of Israel, which is Hamas' now present goal. I think Hamas can play a constructive role if they would renounce violence, stop the rockets and say ‘We want to cut a deal.'
Aslan: There are two paths available to the Palestinian people. There's the path advocated by Abu Mazen and Fatah, which is that through negotiations with Israel the possibility of a free, stable, economically-viable Palestinian state can become a reality. Then there's the path offered by Hamas, which is the only way that the Palestinians will achieve their freedom and liberation is through armed revolt. The one thing that cannot be denied is that thus far, the Fatah path has led nowhere. Despite these claims by the American media that somehow Hamas is the only one violating the so-called "Road Map to Peace," the fact is that at the most fundamental level, Israel has yet to do the one thing that is has been asked to do, which is cease settlement activity,
Emerson: The bottom line here is that Hamas is a terrorist group that believes in ultimately destroying the state of Israel. You can't negotiate with someone who wants your destruction. Number 2, Israel withdrew from every square inch of Lebanon, as you know, and then Hizballah came in and filled the vacuum and started attacking Israel. Same thing with Hamas in Gaza. They filled the vacuum when Israel withdrew unilaterally from every square inch, they took down all the settlements and they gave, even, Hamas the opportunity to run the industrial parks, which they destroyed. Number 3, Abu Mazen has gotten Israel to withdraw from 45 percent of the West Bank so far. Israel is now providing weapons and training to the PA police. The reality is, Hamas is not a player in the peace process. They are a destroyer, and you know that, given the fact that they've killed thousands of Israelis. Just the other day, Ismail Haniya said ‘I applaud you all in Gaza. We're going to continue the resistance – the jihad – until all of Palestine is liberated. You tell me that Israel can negotiate with that type of people? I'm sorry they can't.
Anyway, Reza, it's really been a pleasure talking to you. I hope we can do this many times in the future.
Aslan: Thank you very much for joining us, and hopefully this will be the first of many such discussions and debates on the Daily Beast.