Yossi Beilin Keynote
National Advocacy Days
The following is a transcript of the keynote presentation
delivered by Yossi Beilin at the opening of
Brit Tzedek’s National Advocacy Days on June 22, 2008, at
the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC. Special
thanks to the Foundation for Middle East
Peace for making this event possible.
Thank you for being here. The idea of a
grassroots [organization] which is ready to go to Washington,
talk to legislators, and say that support for Israel doesn't
mean being a likudnik is very important to me. It is
possible to talk to Congressmen, senators, and staff and tell
them the truth--that the voice of extremism is a very small one
within American Jewry.
If we abuse the cease-fire, if we
think that because rockets are not shot at us, we [only need to]
deal with other things, we may pay a very high
The Bush administration is still saying it wants to achieve
peace between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of 2008.
The Israeli Prime Minister says, "I will do my best to finish
the job by the end of this year." So don't forget 2008. We are
still not in 2009. Every day counts. The ceasefire with Hamas is
a very important development. Let's use this time
[productively]. If we abuse the cease-fire, if we think that
because rockets are not shot at us, we [only need to] deal with
other things, we may pay a very high price.
[We must learn the lessons of] the War of Attrition between 1967 and
1970. Daily Israelis saw pictures of dead and wounded
soldiers ... and the press were [highly] critical of [then Prime
Minister] Golda Meir for the war. Because of [internal] and
American pressure, Israel agreed to a ceasefire on August 4,
1970. And in one moment, all the tension [ceased.] People were
happy. And then began three years of total silence. Israel began
new settlements in the territories. These were the worst years
of my life.
Because of the big victory in ’67 and the silence after
’70, we could actually do whatever we wanted. We took the
ceasefire for granted, rather than negotiating for peace with
the Palestinians, the Egyptians, and the Arabs. On February
9th of that year, the UN ambassador suggested a [peace
agreement] to Golda Meir and President Sadat, which was almost
[verbatim] that of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace agreement of 1978.
Sadat accepted it, and the Israeli government rejected it.
What Americans have to do right
now is to intensify negotiations with the PLO in order to find a
resolution to the conflict. It’s easy to deceive ourselves
and say, “there are economic problems, social problems,
investigations. We [can’t] deal with the peace
process.” I think there is a unique opportunity right now.
It will be difficult for Israel to find a better partner than Mahmoud Abbas. It is difficult to find anybody
who is as committed to peace as he is, [as] committed to
nonviolence as he is. [In spite] of all his faults, he is a
unique, proud nationalist Palestinian who understands that the
future of Palestine is totally tied in with the future of
On the Israeli side, the people who are now in [leadership],
the people who are in this strange coalition of Kadima, are former likudniks who have debated
against us for the past forty years on TV, on the radio,
wherever [there was an opportunity] to debate. I do hope that
with this new government, negotiations will be possible.
The internal investigations [into corruption charges against
Ehud Olmert] pose a great cloud, which is hovering [above us].
They should be resolved, but whoever replaces Olmert will be
from the same group, which has [had a change of] heart in recent
When we suggested the Geneva Initiative, it was not because we
believed that the Geneva Initiative was the only solution. It is
not the only solution. There are many other ideas. What we
wanted to prove in 2003 was that if the two camps were ready to
sit together and talk seriously, there is a solution for [all]
outstanding issues, which had been considered unsolvable.
Today, Geneva is a
reference point for the negotiators. The Israeli negotiators
right now are agreeing to [the tentative agreements reached at]
Camp David and Taba. Some say that we need some years to solve
all this. The problem today is not how to resolve the problem.
The only problem today is to have enough courage. I believe that
it is time for direct negotiations.
Some say that we need some years to
solve all this. The problem today is not how to resolve the
problem. The only problem today is to have enough
I find it amusing that people say Bush
was the best president for
I find it amusing that people say Bush was the best president
for Israel. [Yet] it was Bush who put pressure on Sharon
to include Hamas in the presidential elections. It was very
clear to me that the Oslo agreement says that no person or group
that was inciting violence could legally participate in
democratic elections, and I told this to Sharon. We knew
that Hamas could not be a player. They were not at Oslo, and
they didn't participate in 1996 in the elections. But the belief
was that there was no chance for Hamas to win. But if you are
espousing democracy, you may find out that not all of your
expectations are fulfilled. This was one of our biggest
mistakes. This created a situation where we don't know what
we're doing. What are we going to do with Hamas in Gaza?
My message today to the [U.S.] administration is that you
still have time. If after seven years, you realize how big a
mistake you have made and what the ramifications are because of
your mistake in Iraq, do something. It's not that difficult. An
agreement with the PLO can be signed.
I think that an American envoy should be
sent to the Middle East right now. Not to visit us, not to see
the Kotel. They should stay there and be in charge of the
generals. There are three generals, who are [working with] the
Palestinians, who are monitoring the Road Map and they are doing
a good job, but somebody should be there, in charge of them.
This is my message to the Administration and to the Hill.
I think that we should communicate to
the U.S. presidential candidates the threat of doing nothing. If
there is no agreement in 2009, there will be violence. [The
choice] is either a peace process or
I think that we should communicate to the U.S. presidential
candidates the threat of doing nothing. If there is no agreement
in 2009, there will be violence. [The choice] is either a peace
process or violence. Abbas will step down in 2009. I don't know
who will be the leader of Israel. I don't know what the
situation will be with Hamas. The [next] president must
understand the price [for inaction] if there is no agreement in
I was recently asked if I am an optimist. From my point of
view, an optimist is someone who believes that if you don't do
anything, it will be better. I'm a pessimist, because I think
that if we do nothing it will be much worse. Despite my kind of
pessimism I still believe we can return to negotiations.
Q and A
Q: Why do you believe that Barak was not successful
in achieving a peace agreement at Camp David in 2000?
A: Maybe Camp David failed because we did not have a proper
offer for the Palestinians. No Palestinian leader could have
accepted the Israeli proposals of 2000. What should have
happened was that talks should have begun with a meeting of the
ministers and others to see where there was agreement, followed
by a proposal and lastly a summit with Arafat and Barak to reach
an agreement. We did it the other way around. We began with a
summit of leaders, who had no idea what they could achieve. They
failed totally, and only later was there a proposal, and Taba
took place too late.
Q: Recently Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) has been
making statements that he would be willing to consider
reconciliation with Hamas. What effect would that have on the
A: I believe that if Hamas agrees that violence is not the
way then it could be possible. But if there is no such
agreement, then an agreement between Fatah and Hamas will not be
conducive to negotiations. Neither the Americans nor the
Israelis will be ready to negotiate with a joint Hamas-Fatah
government. Abbas is doing it only because there's a very big
chance that nothing will happen with Olmert.
Q: Why is the peace process getting energized in
Syria and Gaza right now?
A: Why now? We have exhausted other options. We have had war,
an Intifada, we killed each other, we wounded each other. All of
these options failed.
Q: I was wondering about your thoughts on a one-state
solution, both from a practical as well as a theoretical
A: I don't want to deal with the issue of a one-state
solution, because it is not a solution for me. The only
advantage for me of Israel is that it's a Jewish state. If I'm
going to live as a minority, there are other places in the world
I'd rather live. There are [real] dangers facing Israel. There
are people who say, what's the big deal? If you are such a
progressive and socialist, what's the big deal? They are all
human beings, and you should recognize it. I believe this is why
I'm fighting for the right to self-determination.
Q: You said that no one other than Abbas would be
capable of negotiating with Israelis. I think that there's a
widespread belief that Marwan Barghouti
could also reach such an agreement if he was released from
prison. I'm wondering in the event that we get to the end of
2008, and Abbas carries out his threat to step down, whether
Barghouti might be released from prison as momentum to build
A: I know Barghouti and he might become president some day,
but I beleive that it is too risky to wait and see. I thought
that it was wrong to imprison Barghouti, not because he's
innocent, but because he's a political leader.
Q: What is the chain of command with regards to the
settlements? I presume it moves right up to the Prime
A: In terms of settlements, the one who decides about
settlements in the West Bank is the Minister of Defense. We [The
Meretz party] are investing a lot of our time in this game with
the settlements. We are publishing all the facts about the
housing units, and we are going to the settlements with a very
important moratorium. There is a lot of work of my party, but I
can tell you, we shouldn't be there.
Q: What are your thoughts about a viable, sustainable
A: The solution to Jerusalem is that all the Jewish
neighborhoods would be in Israel, and all the Arab neighborhoods
would be in Palestine. The Kotel and the Wailing Wall will be in
Israel and the Temple Mount would be in Palestine. I prefer that
the Old City be under international sovereignty.
Q: Certain parties of the government coalition,
notably Shas, have opposed negotiations. Have there
been any efforts to neutralize that opposition in case there is
a final status agreement?
A: Shas is very important, and we are meeting more and more
with them. It’s really interesting, because this is not
their main issue in Israel. So when we talk, it is very easy to
convince them, because they know they are against something, but
they don’t know exactly why. If you give them all the
information, they say if this is the case, why not. I am quite
hopeful about Shas.
Q: It seems to me that Olmert's corruption has been
really good for peace, since it has put the media's focus on
peace talks with Syria and the cease-fire in Gaza. Is
there actually a connection in terms of public
A: There are two levels. One is policy and one is political.
On the policy level, at any given moment there is one prime
minister of Israel. And this prime minister is eligible to sign
an agreement and to launch peace. As for politicians, I believe
that five investigations are one too many, and this is why
Meretz is demanding that Olmert suspend himself, and if he
doesn't suspend himself by the end of June, we will support [new
Kadima] leadership, because otherwise, we will hand the
government over to the right.
Edited Transcript of Yossi Beilin Talk at the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on June 23, 2008.
The Kind of Friend Israel Needs, by Yossi
Beilin. The Jewish Daily Forward. June 19, 2008.
Yossi Beilin is a Member
of Knesset, the former chairman of the Israeli Meretz-Yachad
party, and principal Israeli architect of the Geneva Accord.
Dr. 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. A member of Knesset
for eleven years, Dr. Beilin has held ministerial positions in
the governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud
Yossi Beilin is a leading proponent of 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 drafted a 'non-paper' of
guidelines for a permanent status peace agreement with
Palestinian leader Abu Mazen.
In July 2001, 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 beginning of the
Second Intifada. 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 December 1, 2003.
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