Yossi Alpher's Death Tango: Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat and Three Fateful Days in March
"Anyone seeking to understand how Israelis and Palestinians traded the hopes of Oslo for something approaching hopelessness is well-advised to read this book. With penetrating analysis and elegant prose, Yossi Alpher has told the gripping story of three days nearly two decades ago that continue to haunt would-be peacemakers. Yossi’s faithful readers will not be disappointed with his latest effort."
Ambassador Frederic C. Hof, Bard College
"A riveting account of the crucial days in March 2002 when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was profoundly changed for the worse. The peace camp has never recovered from those wrenching days, and we live now without any hope of a just settlement. Alpher is a highly respected expert who has spent decades studying this conflict from both sides."
Bruce Riedel, Director of the Brookings Intelligence Project
"A critical assessment of a key period in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict never before presented in such detail. The best and most capable players at the executive and political levels proved unable to forge any resolution, final or partial, because both parties continued to maintain an insurmountable gulf between themselves. This is a MUST read for anyone daring to tackle the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and of Israel-Arab relations in general."
Efraim Halevy, former Head of the Mossad (1998-2002)
Oraib Khader and Avi Bar-On are youngish Palestinian and Israeli bachelors with security experience, readiness to do business with one another, a shared fondness for women and money, and total cynicism about the lack of peace between their two peoples.
Oraib and Avi can never become true friends: the cultural and political gaps are too wide. But as they confront a failed peace process and a bleak peace future, they readily become business partners: shady business that exploits a lot of naïve international peace aspirations.
As Oraib sums up on a visit to Sarpsborg, Norway, where the ultimately-failed Oslo peace talks were held, “There is a lesson here for those who still doggedly and hopelessly pursue a two-state solution in the Middle East. Get smart. Get out of the Israeli-Palestinian peace business. Step back and let the Jews and Arabs screw one another while making money.”
March 27 2023
Q. A few weeks ago, you wrote that Israel is in the throes of a revolutionary situation--not a revolution but rather a dynamic in which it is impossible to predict what happens next. Did that revolutionary situation reach a climax on Sunday night and Monday morning?
A. At the time of writing on Monday, we cannot tell whether the climax is behind us or ahead of us. In the last few weeks we have witnessed a ‘perfect storm’ of greedy political dysfunction that has hobbled Israel’s security and invited attack by its enemies. You have to go back 2000 years to the fall of the Second Temple to find such a suicidal drive within the leadership of the Jewish people, such folly.
We are looking at a catastrophic progression of events and egos played out over recent months, that goes as follows:
- Prime Minister Netanyahu, once a champion of Israel’s independent judiciary, reverses course after being indicted on corruption charges.
- Netanyahu joins forces with Likud politicians influenced by libertarian and neo-con thinking, along with Kahanist and fascist rightists, all dedicated to exploiting a right-religious Knesset majority in order to politicize Israeli justice: ‘judicial reform’.
- A significant majority of Israeli public opinion sees judicial reform as an anti-democratic takeover of the High Court of Justice. A major public protest campaign ensues. The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators against the reform are backed by educators, economists, health specialists and other sectors of public life.
- The high-tech sector, engine of the economy, warns that without an independent judiciary it is losing investments and manpower. The banking sector concurs.
- President Isaac Herzog calls on Netanyahu to freeze the legislative process and discuss alternatives, including his own proposals, with the opposition.
- Reserve pilots in the Israel Air Force warn that without an independent judicial sector they will not be protected from prosecution by international courts for civilian casualties caused in combat, for example in virtually every round of fighting with Hamas in Gaza. The reserve pilots begin to strike, followed by reservists in intelligence, cyber and other branches of the military who are apprehensive about serving a compromised democracy.
- Israel’s enemies take note of what appears to be a weakening of the societal fabric. Israel’s Intelligence heads warn that Hezbollah in Lebanon, along with Hamas and others in the West Bank and Gaza, all backed by Iran, are planning acts of aggression during Ramadan, which began last week and lasts a month. Two weeks ago a daring ambush attack 60 km. south of the Lebanon border was apparently launched by Hezbollah in an indication of weakened Israel deterrence.
- Meanwhile, Iran’s military nuclear program is reportedly now only months from producing a weapon. The Syrian arena heats up: Iranian proxies are attacking US units in Syria and the US retaliates against Iranian targets. The close American military collaboration envisioned by the IAF to support an Israeli operation against Iran seems inconceivable in view of US and other international concern and criticism over Israel’s anti-democratic turn.
- Unrest in the military spreads from reservists to the standing army. IDF Chief of Staff Halevi and Defense Minister Galant, along with head of Shin Bet Bar, warn the prime minister of looming security dangers, including a multi-front war the likes of which Israel has not seen since 1973. The security establishment, they warn, is in danger of crumbling at a time when the order of the day is to prepare both the IDF and the civilian rear for a multi-front war. Commanders of IDF elite units like 8200 appeal to their troops and officers to ‘hold the line’, continue to serve, and keep the security establishment out of the national crisis.
- Netanyahu persists last Thursday in backing legislation to politicize selection of High Court judges. Galant goes public Saturday night with a warning and vows “not to raise my hand” in a vote expected this week, thereby breaking Likud solidarity and inviting other relatively liberal Likud members of Knesset to join him in calling for a freeze in judicial-reform legislation. “What is happening in Israeli society affects the IDF,” Galant states. “From every direction I encounter feelings of anger, pain and disappointment such that I have never met before. I watch as the source of our strength is eroded.”
- Attorney-General Baharav-Miara declares Netanyahu to be in violation of his undertaking before the High Court, as a condition for taking office while under indictment, not to deal with related judicial issues. He is liable to be cited for contempt of court.
- Netanyahu on Sunday evening fires Galant. Spontaneously, a hundred thousand Israelis demonstrate all night, closing a major traffic artery for 12 hours. A few Likud MKs join the protesters and Galant in their call to stop the judicial reform. On Monday the Histadrut, together with the banks, leading industrialists and Likud mayors and activists, declare a general strike. Universities and local councils close. Ben Gurion airport closes. The country is seized by a sense of national emergency.
- In a very unusual act, Netanyahu’s own lawyer in his corruption trial refuses to represent him further unless he cancels the judicial reform.
- The ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) parties, adept at sensing which way the political wind is blowing, pressure Netanyahu to freeze judicial-protest legislation. Shas leader Aryeh Deri, whose legal problems forced him out of government, calls for a stop to efforts to legislate his way back to a ministerial position.
- At the time of writing, the country awaits a pronouncement from Netanyahu, who reportedly will announce a pause in judicial-reform legislation and will call for dialogue and consensus. So low is Netanyahu’s credibility that, for the time being, massive demonstrations against him continue, particularly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Pro-Netanyahu forces are planning to demonstrate too. Violent clashes between demonstrators look likely Monday evening.