A veteran of the peace process discusses its failure
Decades of watching from a front-row seat as efforts toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement repeatedly fizzled have left Yossi Alpher less than optimistic about the prospect of a resolution.
The title of his new book is telling enough: “No End to Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine.”
Alpher’s resume spans decades of unsuccessful peace talks, as well as 12 years in the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency.
In the lead-up to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Alpher ran a think tank at Tel Aviv University, where he engineered a roadmap for peace that came to be known as “the Alpher Plan.” During the Camp David Accords in 2000, he acted as a special adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Now, Alpher, currently an independent security analyst, has soured on the idea of a lasting, Oslo-style peace.
“As we enter the 50th year after the occupation of the West Bank, with fully 10 percent of Israel’s population living across the Green Line [1967 armistice line], with Oslo having failed, it’s time to draw some lessons from that failure,” he told the Journal, speaking by phone from Israel.
On June 23, Alpher will be speaking at the InterContinental hotel in Century City at a 7:30 p.m. event hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council (lawac.org). In advance of the event, he talked about his book and the prospects — or lack thereof — for lasting peace.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jewish Journal: Tell us about your new book and what you argue in it.
Yossi Alpher: My contention is that we are in the post-Oslo era. There is no near-term sense for a successful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. … We find ourselves today on a slippery slope toward some sort of ugly reality, which might look in some ways either like apartheid or like a binational state. My contention is that the agenda of people who are interested in the peace process — in the diplomatic community, among journalists, think tanks — should be, “How are we going to deal with this slippery slope?” A realistic agenda would realize that it’s pointless at this point to talk about how to make the peace process work. … The most that can be done, and the most realistic approach for the coming years, is how to slow that dissent down that slippery slope.
JJ: What do you mean when you say a slippery slope? That sounds pretty alarming.
YA: If you take the totality of the Palestinian population, it is more or less at parity with the Israeli population between Jordan River and the sea, and with no prospect of an end of conflict, no prospect of a full-fledged two-state solution, with the messianic settler right wing increasingly the dominant and most dynamic element of the Israeli government. … The further away we move from any sort of progress, the more Palestinians and Israelis will say, “The two-state solution is a failure; we have to look at something else.”
JJ: How should the rhetoric of Diaspora Jews change to accommodate the new reality you’re describing?
YA: Diaspora leaders have to begin asking themselves: Is their agenda for discussing Israel with their children and grandchildren still a realistic one? … They have to begin to recognize that what is emerging on this slippery slope is not very pretty, and in terms of Jewish values is problematic. I would suggest that this has to be on the Diaspora’s educational agenda. … It’s not going to do any good to keep planning how to renew the Oslo process. This is what [Secretary of State] John Kerry did just three years ago: He tried to renew the Oslo process. It’s not only useless, but it can be counterproductive. We saw three months after Kerry’s peace initiative ended, in the spring of 2014, we were at war with Hamas and Gaza. There was a connection between the two. The Palestinian reaction to the failure of that process brought on an attack from Gaza.
JJ: Do you hear anything from the candidates for president of the United States that suggests they may be able to move peace talks forward?
YA: I don’t want to comment on the candidates. … I’m saying the way the diplomatic leadership talks, the rhetoric has to change, the rhetoric of statements like, “The outlines of a two-state solution are perfectly clear, and the parties just have to get back to the table.” People in this part of the world simply laugh at that. It’s pathetic because it indicates how detached the people that say these things are from the reality. … It indicates serious lack of knowledge and lack of understanding of just where we are and to what extent the Oslo process has failed, to what extent we need to draw some lessons and change the paradigm.
JJ: The French government has recently made overtures toward leading peace talks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently rejected them. Is there a place for France in this process?
YA: First of all, anyone who knows the Israeli and Palestinian leadership should conclude that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are not candidates for a serious peace process. This is what Kerry should have understood in 2013. It can’t possibly succeed, because Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is weak on the Palestinian side [and] doesn’t control the Gaza Strip … and Netanyahu repeatedly sets up coalitions that seek more and more territory on the West Bank, which is contradictory to any genuine attempt to move ahead. … [A peace process] should focus on post-1967 issues and set aside the pre-1967 issue of Palestinian refugees, a right of return and holy places in the West Bank. Oslo is built on a slogan of, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” The pre-1967 issues have made it impossible to reach any kind of agreement. … The current leadership is incapable of agreeing even on the post-1967 issues. It’s a very sad situation. People are very depressed on both sides of the Green Line because they do not see a way forward.