Come on Bibi, surprise us!

20 years on, Oslo architect Yossi Beilin is observing from the sidelines as Israel renews negotiations with the Palestinians, but is "truly delighted."

By TAL BASHAN
August 12, 2013 18:27
4 minute read.
Yossi Beilin

Yossi Beilin 370. (photo credit: Ariel Bashor)

Far from the stormy waters of the Knesset and the accompanying domestic political intrigue, 65-year-old Yossi Beilin is comfortably ensconced in his Ramat Aviv home.

The white knight of the Oslo Accords and the Geneva Initiative - today the owner of the "Beilink" international business brokerage company - observes from the sidelines as Israel renews negotiations with the Palestinians, and declares himself to be "genuinely, truly delighted" at the recent developments.

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Because this is a man known for his restraint, and only up close is it possible to spot the "tells" of anger or enthusiasm, there is no choice but to pay attention. To his credit, his pronouncements are fluent and coherent, and he isn't thrown by tough questions - probably the result of decades of debates with his opponents.

Happy, truly? No heart pangs over the possibility that again it’s the right who is making peace with the Arabs?


"I swear it on the Torah," answers a smiling Beilin. "I just don't understand the logic of every right-wing leader, and I studied it in great detail. What do these people tell themselves when they look in the mirror each morning? People who devoted their entire lives to convincing people to go in a certain direction, on the most existential of issues facing Israel, and suddenly they undergo a dramatic 180-degree change in their worldview, and carry on, with the same self-confidence, to wrest the same support from the nation for their new message. I'm really curious to know, what do they say to themselves? "

Do you expect an apology from the right?

Not an apology, but rather an admission of the massive mistake that happened here.

Look us in the eye and say that you never understood for all those years what the Zionist left had understood immediately after the Six-Day War – that territorial compromise was necessary. Not that the Zionist left never made mistakes, but they understood the problem even while the right was driving the entire nation to extremism, to demonstrations, with tragic consequences.

And what do you think happened now?

It's very simple; there was no arm-twisting or maneuvering. When the American Secretary of State comes here six or eight times in the name of the president, it is impossible to suppose that nothing will come of it, for the simple reason that it is not pleasant for either side to say no to the president of the United States.  In this trio there always has to be one party that is very, very interested in solving the problem. It's enough that there's one. In his time, [slain prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin was the interested party. Now it's [John] Kerry. It's obvious that nothing would have happened without him. 

And that's it? Just it wouldn’t be nice to refuse the president?

Yes, it's as childish as that. The unbearable ease of renewing negotiations. If one thing does give me a little heartache, it's that. How we wasted all these years. If Hillary Clinton had done what Kerry is doing, we would have renewed the talks five years ago. 

So you're saying that the Americans didn't put enough pressure on us before?

Obama made many rookie mistakes when delivering his wondrous speeches, beginning with making a settlement construction freeze a precondition for restarting negotiations, via a change in his position on the 1967 lines and through to appointment of George Mitchell [as US special envoy to the peace process] – a miserable appointment, as Mitchell did not behave as an intermediary. On the other hand, Clinton heaped excessive praise on [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu for his [2010] settlement freeze. It could be that she simply did not believe anything would come of it and did not wish to bury her head in the sand. 

Do you believe that Netanyahu wants to reach an agreement with the Palestinians? Or he is just buying time until the elections in America?

There is a basis for such suspicions, given his behavior in the past, but what does that matter? What matters is the outcome, and now he's talking about two states for two peoples - the exact message of the Zionist left since 1967.

It's just that the right always said, "You're exaggerating the demographic fears, you're jumping at shadows." For anyone still in doubt, today there is a Jewish majority of only 53% of the entire territory west of the Jordan River – the sovereign state of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and that includes Russian immigrants who are not Jewish. In a few short years we won't have a majority, and Bibi gets that.

Netanyahu is often described as an anxious leader. Do you believe he has the nerve to take a significant step?

There is no doubt that Bibi is anxious, it is known. But I'm not belittling him; he is a worthy man, with the characteristics of a leader, a scholar. I can only hope he goes all the way. Whether he has undergone a metamorphosis, like [former PM Ehud] Olmert, I don't know. I don't think he knows himself.

In my experience, most people, even leaders, don’t know exactly what they want, apart from to succeed. The job of those around them is to present them with the opportunity to do the right thing. I want to give Bibi the benefit of the doubt that he does want to do something important before he leaves office. He had said more than once, "I'll surprise you yet." So come on, surprise us! 


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