Israel and the Palestinians should create a new template to resolve their dispute, says Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher.
Both sides, having failed to achieve peace through protracted negotiations, must build a new framework for bilateral talks. If they fail to do so, he warned, they will find themselves on a “slippery slope” toward a one-state reality.
Alpher, the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, made these comments on May 5 in a speech in Toronto sponsored by Canadian Friends of Peace Now. He delivered a similar warning in speeches in Montreal and Ottawa.
Asserting that the Oslo peace process has run its course, Alpher criticized U.S. Secretary of State for having blindly tried to revive it in 2013, when he launched what would be another round of futile negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. After nine months, they collapsed in a welter of mutual acrimony.
“Kerry made no real effort to learn from the mistakes of Oslo,” said Alpher, whose latest book, No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine, was recently published.
The Oslo process, which effectively broke up following the eruption of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000, was crippled by the flaw that no comprehensive agreement ending the conflict could be reached unless all the issues at hand had been resolved.
“It was a mistake to hold the talks hostage to issues that could not be resolved,” said Alpher, a self-styled “security dove” who was a special advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. Organized by U.S. President Bill Clinton, it pitted Barak against Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
The two major issues that sunk the summit turned on the disposition of the holy places in East Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.
In a clash of national narratives, the Palestinian leadership refused to recognize Israel’s historic claim to the land, claiming there had never been a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount in eastern Jerusalem. By sticking to this position, the Palestinians rejected the notion that Israelis were an indigenous people living in their ancestral homeland.
The Palestinian Authority’s insistence on implementing the right of return for up to five million Palestinians was a shot across the bow, an implicit accusation that Israel had been born in sin and remains an illegitimate state.
In Alpher’s judgment, these issues are so unbridgeable that they should be set aside for now. Negotiators would then be able to focus on thorny issues where current gaps could be closed — final boundaries, security arrangements and the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Alpher, the co-founder of the bitterlemons.com website, was critical of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pays only lip service to the idea of Palestinian statehood, while PA President Mahmoud Abbas missed an opportunity to seal a deal with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.
Israeli Jews are skeptical about the prospects for peace with the Palestinians because three Arab states — Syria, Yemen and Libya — have imploded in civil wars. “They can legitimately ask: Is this the time to establish another Arab state?”
Israelis are also wary because Israeli unilateral withdrawals from southern Lebanon (2000) and the Gaza Strip (2005) failed spectacularly.