On Wednesday, September 14, I happened to sit for lunch in the faculty common room of Harvard Law School (HLS) next to Professor Alan Dershowitz, whom I had not met before. Next to him was sitting Professor Robert Mnookin, with whom I had had previous discussions about the International Criminal Court (ICC), in particular whether the recognition of the State of Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) would allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to secure the ICC’s jurisdiction over potential crimes committed in the Palestinian territories.
Both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the PA President Abbas were scheduled to speak before the General Assembly the following week. The conversation at lunch drifted naturally from ICC jurisdiction to the Palestinian statehood bid, which was scheduled for discussion in my Public International Law (PIL) class the following week as a live case for testing the criteria of government and state recognition. The discussion was heating up politically and in the press, with the announcement that the United States would veto it at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), leaving a realm of uncertainty over whether the PA would seek full U.N. membership through an application to the UNSC, or recognition as a State from the UNGA.
As the discussion with Bob Mnookin started, I realized that my immediate neighbor was the famous (and in Arab and Palestinian circles, infamous) lawyer and professor who took on, and won, difficult and controversial First Amendment and criminal cases, and who is considered the most articulate defender of Israel in the United States. He told us he was seeing the Israeli Prime Minister for dinner on Friday, September 16, which made the conversation even more concrete. An immediate ice-breaking moment resulted from introducing myself as the lawyer of the Sabra and Shatila victims in their case against Ariel Sharon and others in Belgium. Alan Dershowitz’s reaction was nuanced, and he explained in a later conversation that he was on record saying that the 1982–83 Kahan Commission had not gone far enough because it did not contain a criminal prosecution component. In a further email exchange for the present article on December 6, he clarified his position as follows . . . .