“No End of Conflict – Rethinking Israel-Palestine” by Yossi Alpher (2016) is an important read for anyone seeking clarity about the past and future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Alpher was an officer for 12 years in the Mossad, a former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a special advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the 2000 Camp David talks. From 2001-2012 he coedited an Internet dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians called “Bitterlemons.” Though he still believes that the only solution to the conflict is a negotiated two states for two peoples agreement that settles all issues, he has come to the conclusion that getting to this end goal cannot happen all at once and will require new thinking on both sides and a new paradigm that diverges markedly from the Oslo process that set the course for all negotiations since including the 2000 Camp David effort, the 2007 Olmert-Abbas secret negotiations and the 2013-14 Kerry Initiative.
Alpher critiques those efforts and all options that are now being considered among which are one democratic but no longer Jewish state, one Jewish but no longer a democratic state, two governments in a larger one state confederation, and two states for two peoples.
One would think that after more than 20 years since PM Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn that by now all issues would have been resolved. Alpher explains why this has not happened and quotes the clear-sighted David Ben Gurion from a speech he gave in 1919 to explain the fundamental source of the conflict:
“Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question … I do not know what Arab will agree that Palestine should belong to the Jews …We, as a nation, want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs.”
For the core conflict to be addressed successfully will require that the two conflicting narratives change in the spirit of compromise and peaceful co-existence.
The Palestinian narrative understands Israel as a foreign entity created “in sin” by colonial forces. Palestine is Islamic Waqf land and is sovereign only to Muslims. Jews are not a people nor do they have national or historic roots in the Holy Land.
The Zionist narrative dates Jewish origins in the land to the time of Abraham (3600 years ago – confirmed by archeological and literary evidence) and that Jews have an ancient and legitimate claim to the land of Israel as its historic national home. Jews understand Judaism as far more than a religion, that it is a civilization with an ancestral land, history, language, legal and literary tradition, ethics, faith, and culture.
As time has passed the two narratives have become more deeply entrenched leading the two peoples to regard the conflict as a zero-sum game. One has to lose for the other to win, and there is an ever-closing window that can accommodate a win-win compromise.
As Jewish settlements spread throughout the West Bank making a future contiguous Palestinian state more difficult to achieve, right-wing nationalist and messianic Israelis have taken over the Israeli government. In this Alpher worries that Israel is firmly on track to become a one-state bi-national reality. He warns that should this occur, the Jewish democratic state of Israel will come to an end.
Alpher carefully reviews seven suggested “solutions” and recalls Albert Einstein’s observation that insanity is defined as repeating actions over and over and expecting a different result. To change the result Alpher calls upon Israel and the Palestinians to initiate a new paradigm for negotiations that leaves for a later time the evolution of each people’s narratives to accommodate the other.
He identifies two very different sets of issues, one that emerged after 1948 and the other after 1967. All negotiations to date have failed, he says, because both sets of issues have been considered together and the parties have agreed that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed upon,” effectively dooming a resolution of the conflict. He argues that instead of completing the negotiations now, Israel and the Palestinians ought to work towards a partial two-state solution the conclusion of which will likely have to be negotiated by future generations of Israelis and Palestinians after a period in which peaceful co-existence will be achieved.
Post-1948 issues for the Palestinians include addressing their humiliating loss of their land and their flight and expulsion from the land with regard to the right of refugees to return to the homes they left.
Post-1948 issues for Israel include achieving recognition by the Palestinians of the legitimate right of the Jewish people to a national home of their own and to their security from terror and war.
Post-1967 issues for Palestinians include establishing a Palestinian state that includes sovereignty, borders, a capital city in Jerusalem, security and the final disposition of Jewish settlements and Jews in the state of Palestine.
Post-1967 issues for Israel include establishing final international borders between the two states that are roughly drawn along the Green Line with land swaps so as to include large settlement blocs in the state of Israel, thus assuring Israel’s democracy and Jewish majority.
In all past negotiations there has been much progress on post-1967 issues, but no progress on post-1948 issues. The Palestinians have refused to compromise on the right of every refugee to return to his/her home because compromising means having to accept the fundamental premise of the Zionist narrative that Jews have a legitimate claim to Israel as its national home. The Israelis insist that the Palestinians recognize the state of Israel as a “Jewish state” and that Israel will not allow an unlimited number of refugees to return to Israel. Alpher says those issues must be left to a later time.
He makes the case that negotiations henceforth ought to separate post-1967 issues from post-1948 issues and deal only with the former. Should negotiations be successful on those post-1967 issues, the Palestinians would achieve their state, sovereignty, national dignity, and security, and Israel would achieve internationally recognized borders, maintain its Jewish and democratic character, and dramatically reduce the risks of violence and war. Israel would also likely be received more openly by moderate Arab and Muslim states in the region, and its western allies’ relationships would be strengthened, the BDS movement’s appeal would diminish and the world Jewish community now fractured would rally as one to her support.
PA President Abbas has already agreed to demilitarize the future Palestinian state and to allow Israeli and international combined forces to be stationed along the Jordan River for a period of time, to be determined. PMs Barak and Olmert both already agreed that Jerusalem could become the capital city of both states.
Alpher insists that no more than this can be achieved at this time and that we continue with the status quo at our peril.
Is he correct? Or is it still possible for Israel and the Palestinians to compromise on their respective narratives to achieve an end-of-conflict two-state solution?
Alpher says “No!”
This book will challenge readers to think differently about this seemingly intractable conflict and what might be necessary to address the many concrete pragmatic issues (post-1967) between Israel and the Palestinians before it is too late and a one-state bi-national entity destroys Jewish and Zionist dreams.