Security expert warns against descent
into one-state reality
Yossi Alpher speaks at a luncheon for CFPN supporters in Toronto
The Oslo peace process is dead and Israelis and Palestinians are heading towards an ugly, strife-ridden bi-national reality. This was the sombre message delivered by prominent strategic analyst Yossi Alpher to Jewish audiences in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto in early May during a three-city tour hosted by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.
Alpher is an independent analyst who draws on years of intelligence service with the Israel Defense Forces and the Mossad, along with his directorships of Israeli think tanks. He is also known for co-founding and co-editing bitter lemons, an online Israeli-Palestinian dialogue project, for several books, and for his weekly column for Americans for Peace Now. His tour coincided with the launch of his new book: No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel and Palestine***.(See review by Simon Rosenblum in upcoming issue of PeaceMatters.)
Almost 50 years of occupation and the settling of 1/10 of Israel’s Jewish population across the green line threaten Israel’s existence as a Jewish democratic state, Alpher said. This “internal threat” far out-shadows any external threat. Israel currently has good security relations with its Sunni Arab neighbours because of shared concerns over Iran and ISIS. But the occupation of millions of disenfranchised Arabs erodes the moral fibre of the country and will lead to increased internal friction and international isolation.
Alpher warned of the consequences of these developments for the Jewish Diaspora.
“The Diaspora has to think about identity issues connected to Israel… because it’s not the Israel that reflects liberal values.”
Alpher castigated the settler movement and Israeli governments that have acquiesced in the settler project “that covets the land more than it covets Israeli democracy” for the current state of affairs. But he also emphasized Palestinian responsibility. The Oslo process failed because it did not take into account the as yet unbridgeable gap between Israel and the Palestinians on two key issues: right of return and Jerusalem’s holiest site. The Palestinians insist that pre-1948 refugees and their descendants must have the right to return, not just to a new Palestinian state but also to Israel within the green line. They also do not recognize the Jewish historical presence on the Temple Mount. These two factors led to Mahmoud Abbas walking away from the peaceoffer made by Ehud Olmert in 2008, described by Alper as “the most far-reaching offer ever.”
These issues would almost certainly torpedo any future peace initiatives based on the Oslo formula that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” Alpher therefore called for interim measures that would slow the descent down the slippery slope to a bi-national reality rather than trying for a final status agreement now. But, he added, with the Middle East as volatile and unpredictable as it is, an unforeseen event could create riper conditions for a breakthrough down the road.
“In the meantime we have to keep alive the notion of a Jewish Zionist democratic state and we have to find ways to fight settlement expansion.”
Alpher stressed the importance of Peace Now and its supporters who “almost alone today are putting on the breaks regarding settlement spread and human rights abuses. And this is absolutely necessary if we’re going to keep alive any reasonable option for the future.”
A full-house audience at Darchei Noam in Toronto.
***Special Offer: Make a donation of $180 to Canadian Friends of
Peace Now by May 20, 2016 to receive a complimentary copy of Yossi Alpher’s new book No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel and Palestine.
If you have already made a donation of $180 or more in 2016 you are
also eligible to receive a copy of this book. To take advantage of this limited time offer please contact us at 416-322-5559or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please reference Yossi Alpher.
No light at the end of the tunnel?
*(Simon Rosenblum is a past co-chair and long-time board member of Canadian Friends of Peace Now. The views expressed in this review are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the whole CFPN board.)
There is an old Israeli “joke” about the difference between a pessimist and an optimist which has the pessimist saying: “Things are so bad they could never get worse” and the optimist replying “Oh yes they could”. A tired jest perhaps, but one to keep in mind when reading Yossi Alpher’s recently published No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel and Palestine.
Alpher has excellent credentials as an Israeli security analyst and as a long-time advocate of a far-reaching two state solution.
This is book will not meet with every peace campaigner’s satisfaction as it places much responsibility on the Palestinian leadership for failing to rise to the occasion in 2000-2001 and 2008, when a comprehensive peaceagreement was within reach. Nor will many be pleased with Alpher’s deep pessimism concerning the future. Truths can be inconvenient and uncomfortable. I find myself in essential agreement with Alpher on both these counts, but very puzzled by one of his main recommendations. But first things first.
The Failure of Oslo
Most of the book is taken up with Alpher’s analysis of developments within Israel, consequently he takes pains to note that this is “not to diminish the role of the Palestinians and the Arabs in general in bringing about the current dangerous situation.” Indeed, he convincingly demonstrates that, when push came to shove, the Palestinians carried the lion’s share of responsibility for the failure to bring the Oslo peace process to an honourable ending.
I am referring here to the Taba meetings in late 2000, where the Clinton parameters were up for grabs, and to the 2008 Annapolis process, where Israeli Prime Minister Olmert proposed a most generous peace offer. Yossi Alpher was involved in both these developments and reports, as have many others before him, that while the Israeli prime ministers involved (Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert) were ready to make the necessary concessions, the Palestinian leaders (Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas) could not bring themselves to say “yes”.
Even if one believes the Israeli offers could have been slightly improved upon – which I think is splitting hairs – one must recognize that, on the issues of refugees and Jerusalem holy sites, the Palestinian leadership was unwilling to sign off on the concessions that have been widely understood to be the counterparts to the concessions the Israeli leaders were prepared to make. That said, I think Alpher might have usefully devoted more attention to how ongoing Israeli settlement expansion and Palestinian violence contributed to poisoning the Oslo waters among both Palestinian and Israeli publics well before and after the decisive 2000 and 2008 opportunities.
The Way Forward
Alpher insists one must not repeat a strategy over and over again when it clearly isn’t working. In particular, he is frustrated by attempts to renew the Oslo process, such as the effort by American Secretary of State John Kerry. Simply put, Alpher believes this was nothing more than a fool’s errand given that neither the Netanyahu Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority gave the slightest indication that they had an interest/capability in making serious concessions. Things have only gotten worse – much worse – since the earlier failed peace initiatives, as the Israeli government is now largely controlled by powerful right-wing, ultra orthodox and settler interests and the Palestinian Authority is increasingly influenced and/or held hostage by Hamas. To expect anything by renewing Oslo type initiatives in this climate is, according to Alpher, nothing less than “pathetic.”
Nor does he hold out out much hope for intermediate measures that might slow the descent down a slippery slope to more entrenched occupation and festering conflict. In this picture the future looks extremely grim and eventually quite dangerous in a region that is increasingly unstable. Muddling through seems to be the best that we can look forward to. Not a happy story to be sure, but don’t shoot the messenger.
Alpher used to be a prominent advocate of Israeli unilateral withdrawals from parts of the West Bank. But his enthusiasm for such measures has understandably been tempered by the Gaza experience where Israel’s unilateral withdrawal resulted in Hamas taking over the territory and using it as a base to militarily attack Israel. Caution is clearly warranted in this regard. Still, I believe there might be some value in a modified form of unilateral withdrawal: one that removes settlements in the area in question but maintains an IDF presence. This is no panacea, but might prove to be a relatively safe and useful measure which would relieve some of the demographic pressure facing Israel and make life somewhat more bearable for the Palestinians living in the effected area(s).
The Wrong Lesson
I am very tempted to defer to Alpher’s experience on the viability of unilateral withdrawals, but not so when it comes to what he calls the #1 lesson to be learned from the failure of the Oslo peace process: the need to “separate and set aside pre-1967 issues.” Fundamental to Oslo’s final status negotiations was the principle that “nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed to,” but now Alpher argues for the separation of post-1967 issues (borders, settlements, Jerusalem and land swaps) from pre-1967 issues (refugees and Jerusalem holy sites). He believes that mixing the two “is the equivalent of confounding apples and oranges”.
I respectfully but strenuously disagree. The vast majority of Israelis will not – and should not be expected to – agree to significant concessions on borders etc. while the Palestinians are exempted from their share of the heavy lifting. Their share is to stop claiming a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees and to understand that an “end of claims” provision is central to any peace process. Alpher is not entirely clear in this book if he truly expects Israel to actualize its concessions while the Palestinians continue to be intransigent. It just doesn’t add up and will be received in Israel like a lead balloon. There is much of value in Yossi Alpher’s book, but his #1 lesson must be discarded.
All this said, let there be no misunderstanding: a two-state solution is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to realize this goal does not for a moment lessen the imperative to achieve it. At a bare minimum Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion must be stopped in its tracks. As Alpher has noted, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) is the only organization in Israel whose priority it is to do so and which devotes significant resources to the task. The notion that Israeli is fated to be a permanent occupier is just not acceptable.
Avi Buskila Named New Director of Israel’s Peace Now
On April 3, 2016, Israel’s Peace Now movement announced the hiring of Avi Buskila, a seasoned social activist and an advertising and public affairs professional, as Peace Now‘s new Director General. He is replacing Yariv Oppenheimer, who has been the leader of Peace Now and the most recognizable public face of Israel’s peace camp in the past 14 years.
In its statement Peace Now wrote:
“After 14 years of acting as General Director, Yariv Oppenheimer has decided to step down from his position in order to pursue new challenges. Yariv, one of the bravest, sharpest and most talented individuals in the Israeli peace camp, will soon be joining Peace Now‘s Board of Directors, and we are happy to have him continue to contribute to our important cause.
We are also happy and excited to welcome Avi Buskila, who will enter the General Director‘s position in the coming weeks.
In recent years, Avi has worked in advertising and was the CEO of the advertising agency Migzarim. He is an IDF reserves lieutenant, a leading social activist and one of the initiators of the struggle against discrimination of LGBT individuals in the Israeli army.
We would like to take this opportunity to wish, from the bottom of our hearts, the best of luck to both Yariv and Avi in their new paths. We look forward to continuing our important struggle together for two states and for the future of Israel.”
A recent Ha’aretz article notes that Buskila first came to public attention in January 1997 when, as a lieutenant in the IDF, he stopped a soldier from shooting indiscriminately at Palestinians in a Hebron marketplace. Benjamin Netanyahu, then serving his first term as prime minister of Israel, praised Buskila’s action. The handshake between them made the cover of the NewYork Times.
Though he was once a Netanyahu supporter, Buskila became disillusioned over the past two decades. In a Facebook post that went viral last December, he sharply criticized the prime minister for seeking “to solidify one-man rule” and for “permitting incitement and baseless hatred.”
Commenting on his Peace Now appointment on April 3, 2016, Buskila wrote:
“when I’m asked why I choose to take action instead of giving in, my reply is that I have no other country.”
Peace Now speaks out against Israel’s NGO Bill
Peace Now has scored an important communications coup with an opinion piece in Newsweek
, one of America’s premier newsmagazines. The article on the so-called transparency bill appeared January 10, 2016
and is by Anat Ben Nun, Director of Development and External Relations for Peace Now. In this piece, reprinted below, Anat lays out how lop-sided the bill is, with right-wing organizations given the green light to receive foreign funding, while NGOs such as Peace Now are stigmatized.
Israel’s NGO Bill is an Attempt to Crush Critics of the Government
By Anat Ben Nun
(Peacematters has highlighted some sentences.)
Unable to deliver real solutions to the ongoing violence, Israeli governments have been trying for years to blame the messengers rather than take responsibility for their own policies. Last week, this practice was taken to the next level when a ministerial committee approved the NGO bill, proposed legislation targeting specifically peace and human rights organizations.
Under the pretense of increasing transparency on donations received from foreign governments, the bill’s actual intention is to delegitimize any organization that criticizes the government’s policies. According to the proposed legislation, members of left-leaning organizations, who already submit quarterly reports on donations from foreign governments, will be obligated to wear special badges and to identify themselves as “foreign agents.”
If the proposed legislation is truly aimed at increasing transparency, it must require all NGOs to expose their funding sources, instead of denouncing left-wing organizations, which are already held to higher transparency standards.
A Peace Now study examining the funding of nine pro-settler NGOs reveals that 94 percent of the donations to these organizations in 2006-2013 were non-transparent. Out of 495.4 million shekels ($126 million) donated to them during the years studied, it was impossible to identify the names of the individuals or bodies who donated 464.8 million ($118 million).
While a majority of the donations to the organizations studied were received from individual donors-predominantly from the United States-many additional millions reached these organizations through Israeli government ministries and local municipalities. It is clear from this data that both American and Israeli taxpayers contributed to the right-wing agenda and the settlement enterprise, and not necessarily willingly. This occurs through the subsidizing of tax-deductible donations in Israel and the U.S. and through the transferring of state funds derived from taxes paid by every Israeli citizen.
Let us take for example Im Tirzu, an organization responsible for an inciting billboard and newspaper campaigns against specific human rights activists, whom it referred to as foreign agents and assisting terrorism. Only 12 percent of the donations to Im Tirzu in the years studied were fully transparent, and the vast majority of donations to this organization came from American organizations with a tax-deductible status, such as the Central Fund for Israel and the One Israel Foundation. It may be worth noting that the former fund also transferred donations to the Honenu organization, which receives tax-deductible donations even though it provides cash grants to convicted Jewish terrorists.
Or how about the ElAd organization, an NGO working to establish settlements inside Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem in an effort to prevent the possibility for a future peace solution in the city? In the years studied, 97.8 percent of ElAd’s donations came from abroad. A list of those donating over 20,000 shekels ($5,000), as required by law, has not been submitted to the authorities since 2005, and even then, the list was granted due to an investigation by the registrar for associations. Given that the origins of ElAd’s foreign funding sources are unclear, why is it that only left-wing NGOs are required to submit quarterly reports and are now told that even that is insufficient?
Finally, let us look at the Samaria Settler Council, a nongovernmental organization working alongside its local municipality in the Occupied Territories. The Samaria Settler Council is notorious for the video it published last year attacking left-wing organizations using Nazi motifs. This group is surprisingly 100 percent transparent,and no less than 97.6 percent of its funding comes from Israeli taxpayers’ money. The Council enjoys government funding from the budget of the Ministry of Interior, as well as from transfers originating in other government ministries. Thus, we Israeli citizens are forced into funding its inciting propaganda.
The NGO bill does not apply to any of the organizations above. The legislation looks specifically at funding from foreign governments, who donate only to organizations with whom they share values, and in sums much lower than those of the organizations we examined. Meanwhile, under the proposed legislation, right-wing organizations will continue to receive large sums of money from foreign funders with little to no accountability. With only 6 percent of all of the donations received by these organizations in the years studied being transparent, how can anyone buy the argument that the proposed legislation’s aim is to increase transparency?
The NGO bill cannot be taken at face value. Rather, it must be understood as part of an orchestrated campaign to silence dissent. This campaign is influencing the Israeli public discourse, and creating the type of toxic atmosphere which recently allowed a young Israeli to try to attack protesters in a Peace Now demonstration. Together with incitement against Israel’s Arab population, the modification of civics education, and the banning of a book describing a Jewish-Palestinian love affair from literature classes, Israel is sacrificing its essential democratic values on the altar of continued rule over the Palestinians.
Rosenblum straight talks on complexities of Israeli-Palestinian impasse
The best hope for a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off is via the Saudi-sponsored Arab League Peace Initiative, Prof. Mark Rosenblum told audiences in Toronto and Ottawa last week. Relations between the two peoples, both at the leadership and at the “street” level, have become so poisoned that neither side would be likely to trust overtures by the other, even if any such positive moves were forthcoming. But none are. Instead, both sides have become more deeply entrenched in hard-line positions than ever.
Prof. Rosenblum is founder of Americans for Peace Now and an award-winning historian at Queens College, City University of New York. His visit to Canada was organized by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.
A highly respected Middle East expert and compelling speaker, Rosenblum outlined the many obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, but he also offered a few glimmers of what he calls “hope without delusion.”
One huge obstacle is poor leadership, Rosenblum said. The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, demonstrated in his recent, highly mendacious speech to the UN, that he has no interest in reaching out to Israelis. He is scorned by Israel, but his failure to improve anything for Palestinians makes him a lame duck among his own people as well. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a consummate politician, rather than a statesman. He soon will have managed to stay in power longer than any of his predecessors, but he has no vision for his country, refuses to confront the reality of Israel’s self-defeating Occupation and engages in alarmist rhetoric and provocative tactics. He “plays to the hard right” of the Israeli electorate, because that is the greatest threat to his continuation in office.
Complicating the picture is the deep rift between Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas. The enmity between them makes it easy for Netanyahu to disengage and feeds Palestinian despair. Corruption in both Fatah and Hamas, along with the hardship of Occupation, has led to Palestinian despondency and cynicism, which in turn have helped birth the latest “knife intifada” – the daily acts of violence by “lone wolf” Palestinians against Israeli Jews. The new wave of violence shows Israelis “what a one-state solution would look like,” Rosenblum said. It is a preview to the never-ending civil war that would result from de facto annexation of Palestinian territory.
In addition, the violent conflicts in various Arab countries are having dangerous ripple effects throughout the Middle East. The collapse of nation states – most notably Syria – has enabled the proliferation of lawless, warring, uncontrollable terrorist groups and created a huge refugee problem. The wider chaos has overshadowed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. International interest in brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been diverted to the bigger catastrophes. And so the Palestinian issue has been allowed to fester, which does not serve Israel’s long-term interests.
However, the changing Arab world also opens up an important opportunity, Roseblum said. Saudi Arabia, fearing Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, is interested in a strategic alliance with Israel. Its Arab League Peace Initiative, launched in 2002 and amended three times, offers Israel peace with a large swath of the Arab world in exchange for implementing the two-state solution. The latest amendments provide for land swaps between Israel and Palestine that would allow large settlement blocs to remain in Israel. Plus, there is language that could be used to resolve the thorny “right of return” issue. With such wider Arab backing, a Palestinian leader could be persuaded to stick his neck out and take a chance on steps towards peace. Unfortunately, Netanyahu has not recently shown any interest in encouraging this opportunity.
Prof. Rosenblum’s glimmers of hope also included a couple of outstanding individuals in the Israeli-Palestinian drama. One is Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, the new unified Israeli Arab party, who could potentially lead a movement of greater cooperation between Israeli Arabs and Jews. If he could win Jewish trust and be considered a partner in a governing coalition, the right-wing stranglehold on Israeli politics could be broken. Rosenblum qualified his praise of Odeh by saying the Joint List leader needs to speak out more strongly against the daily knifings of his fellow citizens to gain credibility among Jews. Another bright spot is Bashar Masri, a Palestinian entrepreneur who has built Rawabi, a planned, modern and “stunning” city in the West Bank and who has financed other major Palestinian state-building enterprises. Masri has done all this in cooperation with Israelis on the “right side” of the green line, in contrast with the general trend among Palestinians to spurn anything that smacks of “normalization” with Israelis. By doing so Masri has demonstrated courageous, far-sighted leadership.
Masri’s initiatives are an endorsement of the two-state solution – the only way forward – Rosenblum stressed, though it must be built step-by-step, with solid security arrangements to ensure a viable, peaceful Palestine alongside Israel.
Events with Yuval Rabin fill halls, draw media interest
Yuval Rabin, son of Yitzhak Rabin, spoke to capacity-filled venues in Montreal and Ottawa on Oct. 14 and 15, in events organized by Canadian Friends of Peace Now to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the late Israeli prime minister’s assassination.
Rabin stressed the need for negotiations and diplomacy in dealing with the Palestinians, rather than relying on force alone. Continuing the Occupation and merely “managing” the situation through mailed-fist tactics is the road to disaster, he said. He called for a regional approach to breaking through the stalemate by enlisting support from a number of Arab countries whose strategic interests have become more aligned with Israel’s in recent years. The idea is the core of the Israeli Peace Initiative, which Rabin, along with a number of prominent Israelis, launched in 2011 to prod their government towards a new paradigm for seeking peace.
“There’s no hope for Israel from the Sea to the Jordan Valley controlled by a Jewish minority – that’s not the Zionist vision,” Rabin said. “There’s no hope to end the conflict without a Palestinian state. There will be no Palestinian state without regional arrangements.”
Regional support is essential, he said, because the Palestinians on their own are incapable of making the necessary concessions that would lead to an agreement. The backing of significant Arab powers in the region could make such concessions more possible and help bridge the deep Israeli-Palestinian divide.
Rabin said his father was uncompromising on Israel’s security and committed to its military strength. But he also understood the need to end Israeli rule over the Palestinians to preserve the existence of a democratic Jewish state. In paying homage to his father’s legacy, Rabin also spoke of the poisoned atmosphere – the right-wing incitement – that “paved the way for the assassin.” Tragically, he said, such incitement against more moderate Jews continues today, along with violent sentiments and sometimes violent acts directed at Arabs.
Equally tragic is that most Israelis are stuck in a dangerous rut. In times of quiet, they ignore the Palestinian issue and when violence breaks out, they argue “there is no partner.” For its own interests, Rabin said, Israel must take pro-active steps towards peace.