No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine
No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine by Yossi Alpher (Rowman & Littlefield, 160 pp. $36)
There is an old joke about a Jewish telegram that reads, “Start worrying, details to follow.” For anyone who still harbors the belief that a conflict-ending agreement can be reached soon between Israel and the Palestinians, start worrying. Yossi Alpher’s latest book provides a plethora of details explaining why, tragically, it just isn’t going to happen. (Alpher’s previous book was Periphery: Israel’s Search for Middle East Allies.)
Israel is a nation of monumental contradictions, writes Alpher. In many respects, he observes, Israel is less corrupt and far more liberal today than it was before the 1967 Six-Day War, which, along with Jerusalem’s reunification, also brought with it the occupation of territories populated by millions of Palestinians. On the other hand, he sees an Israel devoid of a sense of purpose, with extreme messianic elements in the national religious sector entering society’s mainstream through politics and the military. This latter trend, he argues, inevitably will lead to continuing erosion of support from Diaspora Jewry.
Despite being an early supporter of Palestinian statehood, well before it became a consensus position in Israel and among American Jews, Alpher—who spent 12 years in the Mossad and was director of the Jaffee Center of Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University—is no starry-eyed dove. He paints a realistically bleak picture of a dysfunctional region, with Israel surrounded by Islamist enemies bent on the country’s destruction.
The Jewish state, he predicts, will be forced to fight difficult asymmetric wars against radical nonstate actors for a long time.
The book details the factors that prevented successful outcomes in previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, from barriers set up by the United Nations to a lack of understanding and empathy on both sides as well as a failure of leadership. An entire chapter is devoted to Secretary of State John Kerry’s unsuccessful 2013 peace initiative.
Alpher’s bottom line: For the foreseeable future, the conflict is not solvable, but potentially manageable if certain interim steps are taken.
The heart of the book is Alpher’s description of these alternative short-term steps for what he calls “muddling through”: a “hopefully coordinated” major Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank; a negotiated arrangement giving Jordan authority over Jerusalem’s holy places; an international initiative, perhaps by the United Nations Security Council, setting forth the broad principles that should guide future negotiations; launching talks based on the 2002 Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative; and Israel entering into a long-term cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza.
Alpher, however, does not believe any of these ideas will be implemented. However, good things might happen. “In Israel’s part of the world, nothing is written in stone,” he writes. But Alpher is convinced it is more likely than not that negative international, regional and local trends will prevail, placing Israel under “extreme duress and adversity.”
Will the Israeli public, looking into the abyss, elect a more progressive government? Will the Arab states, fearing Iran and radical Islam, find common ground with Israel in the absence of improvement in the Palestinian situation? Will some unforeseen cataclysmic event reshuffle the cards altogether? All of these scenarios are possible, though unlikely.
This is not a feel-good read, but an essential one for those who care about Israel’s future as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.
Martin J. Raffel served for 27 years as senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. He also served as director of its task force on Israel, world Jewry and international human rights. He is currently an independent consultant.