Security expert warns against descent
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.
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.
Yossi Sarid: Courageous friend of peace
by Yariv Oppenheimer, Secretary General of Peace Now
Rare are the leaders who, instead of swimming with the flow, choose the most difficult task of all and work to change its trajectory. Such was Yossi Sarid, a leader who made breakthroughs, who told the truth, who shaped public opinion and did not serve it. A role model, a loud piercing voice, which in times of confusion and dilemmas showed the way for many and served as an ideological compass for many thousands.
Yossi Sarid battled against settlements, battled against the right-wing, battled against polluters, battled against the wealthy, battled against religious coercion, but above all, Yossi Sarid battled against populism, against yielding to public opinion, to the position of the majority and the desire to please.
Sarid did not believe in the political center, he despised those public officials who were adapting themselves to the ideology of this and that. Of also wanting peace and supporting the settlements, of supporting human rights and supporting the occupation, of also wanting to strengthen the periphery and supporting massive investment in the Territories. Sarid would never have given a political speech about peace in Ariel (settlement), would never declare united Jerusalem together while supporting a Palestinian state and would not demand social justice within Israel while simultaneously accepting the lack of rights of Palestinians across the Green Line. Difficult is the life of a prophet of truth, it is not always pleasant to remain outside of the warm lap of consensus.
Sarid often found himself a lone voice in the opposition, but because he was a true ideologue, sharp and incisive, he got to feel the moment in which he had the ability to change public opinion, influence the path of the state and make a real difference. Very few politicians will have such moments and a place of honor in the political and social history of the State of Israel.
Alongside telling the truth and presenting clear and incisive views on any subject, he managed to do the almost impossible and remain both relevant and meaningful. Thanks to his tremendous knowledge, rhetorical ability, wit and personal example, Sarid managed to get beyond the delegitimization campaigns and present incisive and reliable stances that cracked the Israeli consensus.
Many of those who will eulogize him in the coming days, were the objects of Sarid’s relentless attacks … and they exposed their ideological nakedness. They, in turn, saw Sarid and often felt, deep down, great respect bordering on envy for the courage and determination to tell the truth and not to cut corners to please. This feature is what turned Sarid into a leader in his lifetime and it is what makes his legacy meaningful even after his death.
This article originally appeared in Maariv (Hebrew)
Some Recommended Reading
- Haaretz Investigation: U.S. Donors Gave Settlements More Than $220 Million in Tax-exempt Funds Over Five Years
Read more here
- As Israel’s current wave of terrorist violence enters its third month, long-simmering tensions between the country’s political leadership and its security branches are escalating and approaching what feels like a crisis level.
Read more here by JJ Goldberg, The Forward
- The Radicalization of Israel
Read more here
- Why Israel waits: Anti-solutionism as a strategy By Nathan Sachs, Brookings Institute
Read more here
Israel Now Conference to shine spotlight
on peace and democracy concerns
On July 24, 2015, Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) will host a large, one-day conference titled “Israel Now,” aimed at re-energizing peace and democracy efforts in the country. Funded by Canadian Friends of Peace Now, this program will be delivered on our behalf by our sister organization in Israel.
Some 500 participants are expected to attend the event in Tel Aviv, including many young people. Speakers will include prominent figures from the Israeli left and centre left, media and arts personalities and academics. They will discuss the implications for peace and Israel’s social fabric in the wake of the recent Knesset elections, last summer’s Gaza war, and tumultuous developments around the Middle East. Media coverage will bring the discussion to the public at large, as will the uploading to Peace Now’s web site of videos of all the sessions. Shalom Achshav hopes thereby to deepen public understanding of peace and democracy issues and promote greater civil society participation, which usually lags after an election.
Confirmed speakers include: MK Ayman Odeh (head of The Joint List), MK Zehava Galon (head of Meretz), MK Shelly Yahimovich (Zionist Camp), MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Camp), MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Camp) MK Yossi Yona (Zionist Camp), MK Revital Swid (Zionist Camp), MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz), Amnon Abramovich (Channel 2 News), Raviv Druker (Channel 10), Barak Ravid (Ha’aretz), Doron Tzabari (Film Director and Journalist), Dr. Tomer Persico and Dr. Alon Liel (Tel Aviv University), Nir Braam (author), Yuli Novak (Breaking the Silence), Dr. Tamar Hermann (Israel Democracy Institute).
Canadian Friends of Peace Now is proud to be sponsoring this important event. We thank our donors for making programs like this possible and welcome your continued support. We will report on the conference shortly after it takes place. We also hope to provide links to some subtitled video excerpts. (All sessions will be available in Hebrew.) Stay tuned for more on this exciting event later this month.
Seidemann Tour Sparks Media Interest
Thanks to substantial media coverage of his recent visit to Canada, peace activist Daniel Seidemann’s message about the dangers of continued Israeli rule over Palestinians has reached a potentially wide audience, particularly among Canadian Jews.
Seidemann, an internationally renowned lawyer specializing in conflict over Jerusalem, spoke in Toronto and Montreal on April 30 and May 3 under the auspices of Canadian Friends of Peace Now. Though not a household name, Seidemann has a stellar reputation as a progressive Zionist highly knowledgeable on Jerusalem issues. He is regularly consulted by high-level European and American officials working on the Israel-Palestine file.
During his public talks in Canada, Seidemann described Jerusalem as a de facto divided city, with most Israelis afraid to venture into neighbourhoods dominated by Palestinians and vice versa. Eruptions of deadly violence have become commonplace. He warned that Israel could never achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians and the Arab world while maintaining Jewish power over all Jerusalem and continuing to disenfranchise its Arab population. He believes the city must and can become a shared capital of both nations. Though it would be complicated to divide jurisdiction over Jerusalem, and although the Temple Mount would present a special challenge, Seidemann says this could be achieved with political will. He is certain Jerusalem would not be the sticking point if both parties were willing to negotiate an agreement.
The Toronto Star’s foreign affairs reporter, Olivia Ward, wrote a major feature on Seidemann’s analysis of the Jerusalem situation in the May 3 issue of the newspaper. The Canadian Jewish News covered his talk at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple and published a solid summary in its May 7 edition. The CJN is distributed to Jewish centres across Canada, while the Toronto Star is one of Canada’s largest circulation dailies. Both articles are online.
Read the Toronto Star piece here: Toronto Star
For the CJN article, go to page 18. Click here: CJN
Help us cover the costs of the Seidemann tour and organize more educational events on the two-state vision. Your donation receives a tax receipt.
Israel needs wake up call, Seidemann says
Israelis who ignore the consequences of the Occupation are “sipping cappuccino on the edge of a volcano,” according to Daniel Seidemann, a human rights lawyer and founder of the watchdog NGO, Terrestrial Jerusalem.
Speaking to a luncheon for major CFPN donors in Toronto, Seidemann warned that despite the current relative lull in Israel-Palestinian violence, tensions are simmering and could to lead to eruptions that mirror last summer’s. With the collapse of the U.S.-led peace negotiations and the election of a hard right Israeli government, Palestinians will feel they have nothing to lose. The long-term consequences of the status quo are even more dire.
“If Israel continues on its path to becoming a bi-national, occupying state, Israel won’t be. There’s no greater threat to the longevity and viability of the Zionist enterprise than the Occupation,” he said.
Though he firmly believes a peace agreement via a two-state solution is doable and even desired by the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, Seidemann sees big obstacles ahead. The U.S. is fed up with Netanyahu’s intransigence and not likely to renew a peace initiative in the foreseeable future. Leadership on the issue will more probably come from Europe through a U.N. resolution on a two-state solution or a Framework proposal for a final status agreement, or both. And Netanyahu will ring the alarm bells.
“He plays on the fears and anxieties of Israelis and Jews like a virtuoso on a Stradivarius,” Seidemann said.
Though he didn’t dismiss Israeli security fears as groundless, Seidemann argued that Israel needs “doses of reality” from its friends. It needs its western allies to react firmly against settlement expansion. Every year that sees more settlers in the West Bank makes eventual evacuations more costly and difficult, he pointed out. At a certain point it will be unfeasible and the two-state vision dies.
He also warned that Israel is marching towards pariah status. Increasingly, young people in the West are alienated by Israeli policies towards Palestinians. This gives oxygen to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and to anti-Semites.
Voices for moderation do exist in Israel, Seidemann stressed. Some of the most outspoken have been retired Israeli security captains. Their activism, as well as unease about the status quo among business and academic leaders, offers a glimmer of hope that there could be some forward movement on peace despite the politicians.
Your support is crucial to bringing voices like Daniel Seidemann’s to Canada’s Jewish community. Please make a donation if you have not already done so.