Yossi Beilin Speaks to Brit Tzedek 

 

On October 23rd, Brit Tzedek was honored to host Yossi Beilin [bio], principle architect of the Geneva Accord and Chairman of the Yahad-Meretz party, in New York City. The event was co-sponsored by Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. Dr. Beilin spoke movingly to over 300 people on the topic of  “The Road Ahead: How Do We Move from Gaza to a Permanent Status Agreement.” He offered his unique insights, as one of Israel’s most experienced politicians and a leading voice for peace, on a number of issues of central importance to our work. We wanted to share these edited excerpts from the evening with you, in hopes that they will inform and inspire your own commitment to a negotiated, two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

 

Window of Opportunity

The Future of the Two-State Solution

Gaza Withdrawal as a Precedent

Unilateralism

Making a Peace Partner of Public Opinion

On American Jews

Speaking Truth to Power

 

Window of Opportunity

We are meeting in a very interesting moment that is a kind of crossroads.  The withdrawal from Gaza is over, and it was very successful. The situation on the ground is not perfectly quiet, but is much calmer than before. The feeling is that something good happened to us and that maybe we have come to a page in our life which would be better than before. The intifada, after more than four years, is apparently over. There is a Palestinian president who is committed to fighting terrorism and who was the only leader who stood up on the Palestinian side against Arafat and asked him to put an end to the armed intifada. You have an Israeli prime minister who only two years after saying that Netzarim in Gaza is as important as Tel Aviv, has now left not just Netzarim, but all of Gaza. [read more]

 

The Future of the Two-State Solution

Those who believe that a two-state solution is inevitable just because it is supported by such a broad consensus these days, may ultimately find themselves wrong. For many reasons the two-state solution option will not be there forever, and the most important of these is demography. Once the Palestinians are a majority between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, then the option of a two-state solution  will diminish and the option of one man-one vote will become a much more likely option. The bottom line is that we don’t have too much time.[read more]

 

Gaza Withdrawal as Precedent

Take the withdrawal from Gaza: It is a precedent. It set a precedent. People thought it might bring bloodshed, civil war in Israel. I remember during Sharon's last visit to the US: he gave an interview to an American paper and said 'I'm afraid of a civil war.' Headlines everywhere read: "Sharon is afraid of a civil war." I appeared here and in Israel and said it will be much easier than you think. We saw Yamit* evacuated, nobody was killed or injured. There were the same threats there of committing suicide, civil war, god knows what. Gaza was a much larger evacuation than Yamit and still, among Jews, nobody was killed or hurt. But you know, thank heaven, we have a good army and good police and they coordinated and they did exercises and they succeeded. It was okay.  So what is happening right now? People say 'you know what? It is doable.'  [read more]

 

Unilateralism

One of the things which happened as a result of the withdrawal from Gaza is that people fell in love with unilateralism. This is a very important point.  It seems like the easiest way to solve the problem:  you don't have to talk to anybody, you don't have to concede to anybody, you don't have to compromise with anybody. You draw your own borders. You decide.  Today you find a coalition of people from the Right and Left who think it's a good idea. I think that one of the most important things for the peace camp in Israel and in the US to understand is that unilateralism might be better than doing nothing but it is much worse than having an agreement. To opt for unilateralism without even trying to have an agreement would be the biggest mistake. [read more]

 

Making a Peace Partner of Public Opinion

There is a Palestinian partner for it [peacemaking]. Regretfully there is no Israeli partner. And people have to understand that. I had a long discussion with Sharon several months ago in which he felt he had to thank us for helping the government. Unwittingly we became the most loyal supporters of the government. Thank heaven it is over but between last November and August, we saved him at least twice very clearly. So he thanked me and said something very patronizing, although in a very nice way, that he appreciates my naivete and my ongoing fight for peace, security and human rights. He said 'Yossi, you know the difference between us is that you believe in peace with the Arabs and I don't.' It was like a cold shower... So I believe that we have to fight, we have to fight for peace, we have to fight and convince as many people as we can in Israel because our biggest instrument is public opinion. [read more]

 

On American Jews

As long as the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not a major issue, as long as the US Administration feels that American Jews want a hands-off policy, there is no reason why the Administration will change its mind. There is a feeling that the US Jewish community is not speaking with one voice, which is frightening to many.  But you have to give up your voice to extremists to have one voice. I believe that most American Jews are not extremists; most are democratic and liberal and peaceful. They deserve representation and it is really incredible that the Administration believes that people at AIPAC are representing American Jewry. I think things can change and we should not give up. I know that this issue is not high on the President’s agenda, but it is important to make it higher. [read more]

 

Speaking Truth to Power

My message to you is a dual message. On one hand, it is a message of worries and even pessimism, because I can see the down side of the current situation. I know if we do nothing it will become worse. On the other hand it is also optimistic because I believe that the situation has changed so much from even a year ago in many respects. Today we are in a better situation and as a result I think that if we can continue to fight it will be a different world. It is up to us, we can do a lot and usually we don’t appreciate what we can do. Sometimes I talk to people and I know how powerful they are and they think they are powerless. [read more]


*Yamit was one of fourteen Israeli settlements in the Sinai that were evacuated in 1982, following the peace accord with Egypt.


BIO

 

Yossi Beilin's lengthy career of public service, beginning in 1984 with his appointment as Cabinet Secretary, makes him one of the most experienced politicians in Israel.  As a member of Knesset for eleven years, Dr. Beilin has held ministerial positions in the governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak. 

 

Yossi Beilin is a leading advocate for the peace process with Israel’s neighbors and especially the Palestinians, identifying Israel’s national interest as being best served by achieving a fair, just, and comprehensive peace in the region.  He initiated the secret channel of talks that resulted in the 1993 Oslo Accords, and subsequently in late 1995 concluded a ‘non-paper’ of guidelines for a permanent status peace agreement with Palestinian leader Abu Mazen. 

 

In July 2001, following the fall of the Barak government and finding himself out of official political office, Yossi Beilin led a group of Israeli intellectuals and academics in signing a Joint Declaration with Palestinian peers, headed by Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, the first and only action of its kind since the start of the current crisis.  In parallel, Dr. Beilin and Mr. Abed Rabbo, leading teams of Israeli and Palestinian experts, former officials and members of civil society, initiated talks aimed at reaching a detailed permanent status agreement.  This effort culminated in the Geneva Accord, which was officially launched in Geneva, on 1st December 2003. [back]

 




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