- No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine by Yossi Alpher
While studying the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the early 1970s, I felt that I had penetrated its true essence with the discovery of a 1919 speech by David Ben-Gurion in which the young Labor Zionist leader proclaimed:
Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf, and nothing can fill that gulf. … We, as a nation, want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs. The decision has been referred to the Peace Conference.1
I was equally impressed by the forthright explanation of the conflict that Palestinian-Arab nationalist leader ‘Awni ‘Abd al-Hadi gave to Haim Arlosoroff, head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, four years before the outbreak of the Palestinian-Arab Revolt in 1936:
Some time ago [‘Awni] had come to the definite conclusion that there was no point whatever in negotiations or attempts to reach a mutual understanding. The goal of the Jews was to rule the country, and the aim of the Arabs was to fight against this rule. He understood the Zionists quite well and respected them, but their interests were fundamentally opposed to Arab interests and he saw no possibility of an agreement.2
Such frank, authentic expressions of the zero-sum nature of the conflict are rare in both academic and public discourse, buried under more upbeat versions fed by morale-boosting propaganda, self-delusion, sentimentality, or wishful thinking.
Like Ben-Gurion in 1919 and ‘Abd al-Hadi in 1932, the author of this slim but intense volume similarly concludes in 2015 that there is no solution. Internet followers of current events will recognize Yossi Alpher as the Israeli cofounder and codirector, with Palestinian Ghassan Khatib, of the dialogue website bitterlemons.org. The sad demise in 2012 of that collaborative project, remarkable for its honest and articulate exposition of conflicting perspectives, is symptomatic of the deterioration of relations that many observers find so discouraging these days. “I used to be optimistic,” Alpher writes. “Then I became realistic. Now I am so concerned regarding the future that I have written this book” (p. xiv).
Having recently published an academic study of Israel’s “periphery doctrine,”3 Alpher has now turned his attention to the core conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In this highly personalized account, he describes an ugly protracted stalemate that appears farther away than ever from a peaceful resolution. But Alpher’s concern is less with the nonresolution of the conflict per se than [End Page 677] with the future of Israel as a state that wants to be both Jewish and democratic.
The book draws most of its lessons and examples from the period since Israel’s victory in the June 1967 war and its capture of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Alpher’s somber analysis of today’s “slippery slope” toward an “apartheid-like” reality (pp. 123-24, 130, 141) in the territory that Israel continues to rule nearly 50 years later is, on one level, the cri de coeur of a liberal, American-born Israeli painfully witnessing the demise of hopes for a Jewish and democratic Israel living alongside a sovereign Arab Palestine — the two-state solution first proposed in the 1937 Peel Report. In this sense, No End of Conflict adds to the decades-old literature of introspection and stock-taking by Israelis and Jews regarding the direction of the Zionist project.4
But Yossi Alpher is no mere disgruntled armchair commentator. His views have the ring of authenticity and urgency gained from a career in the intelligence services of an insecure Jewish state implanted in an unwelcoming Arab and Muslim Middle East. As a “security dove” who has also played a role in peace negotiations, Alpher’s views resemble — but are more sharply stated than — those expressed by the six...