JERUSALEM — Ron Pundak, an Israeli academic who took part in secret talks with Palestinian officials that led to the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s and who remained an ardent advocate for peace even after relations between the sides unraveled, died on Friday in Tel Aviv. He was 59.
His death, after a long period with cancer, was confirmed by his daughter, May Pundak.
“There are war heroes. Ron was a hero of peace,” Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister and the government’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, said in a statement on Friday.
Mr. Pundak, whose older brother, Uri, was killed in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, was the general director of the Peres Center for Peace, a nongovernmental organization focused on improving relations between Israelis and Palestinians, from 2001 to 2012.
He was a little-known Middle East historian and policy researcher when he was drawn into the peace process.
In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War and the Madrid peace conference of 1991, Israelis and Palestinians were engaged in formal but fruitless negotiations, hampered by the fact that Israeli law prohibited the country’s officials from any contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the umbrella group led by Yasir Arafat that was widely considered the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
In late 1992, Terje Roed-Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat, helped arrange meetings in London between Yair Hirschfeld, a founder of a policy institute in Tel Aviv, the Economic Cooperation Foundation, and Ahmed Qurei of the P.L.O. When the talks moved to Oslo, Mr. Hirschfeld brought in Mr. Pundak, who was the executive director of the Economic Cooperation Foundation, and Mr. Qurei brought associates of his own.
Mr. Hirschfeld and Mr. Pundak drafted a six-page document of understanding with the Palestinians, according to a memoir, “The Missing Peace,” by Dennis Ross, a longtime United States envoy to the peace process.
Top Israeli officials had given their approval to pursue the discussions. By May 1993 Israel decided to make the clandestine talks official, sending Uri Savir, the director general of the Foreign Ministry, to participate. That led to the signing of a Declaration of Principles on Palestinian self-government in Israeli-occupied Gaza and the West Bank between Israel and the P.L.O. on the White House lawn in September 1993.
Recalling the first meeting in Oslo, Mr. Pundak wrote in the newspaper Haaretz last year that, “Even in our wildest dreams we did not imagine that this meeting might lead to a process that would eventually culminate in the signing of a Declaration of Principles.”
That and subsequent interim agreements led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and were supposed to pave the way to a permanent peace treaty. Instead, negotiations in 2000 dissolved into a second Palestinian uprising and an Israeli military clampdown. Subsequent rounds of negotiations have failed to deliver an agreement.
Born in Tel Aviv, Mr. Pundak studied the history of the Middle East at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and earned a Ph.D. from the University of London. He worked as a journalist at Haaretz for about a year.
Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Tula; a son, Aram; a sister, Michal; and his parents, Herbert and Sussi Pundak.
Mr. Pundak remained at the forefront of peace efforts, helping to negotiate the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan of 1995, a draft proposal for a final status agreement written by Yossi Beilin, an Israeli deputy foreign minister, and Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), who succeeded Mr. Arafat. He also helped with the Geneva Initiative, a model for a final agreement, published in 2003.
In a September 2013 article in Haaretz, which marked the two decades since the White House signing, Mr. Pundak offered his analysis of what went wrong with the peace process and how it might be fixed.
He blamed Yitzhak Rabin, a former prime minister of Israel; Shimon Peres, the country’s current president; and Mr. Arafat for much of the failure. The Israeli leaders, he said, had failed to offer a clear vision of the future for the Israeli or Palestinian public, while Mr. Arafat engaged in doublespeak and, from early on, turned a blind eye to terrorism against Israelis.
Seeing no chance that the current leadership would agree on a permanent peace deal, Mr. Pundak suggested another interim agreement backed by an American-proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would enshrine the principles of a final accord.
“In my view,” he wrote, “the political process, as well as peace itself, were only intermediate objectives. The ultimate goal was, and still is, to conclude the process of establishing the State of Israel that began on November 29, 1947, with the U.N. resolution that called for partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine.”