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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday hailed former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin, who announced earlier this week that he would be leaving politics and entering the business world.
"In Israel there no culture of 'resignation' from the Knesset," said the prime minister at a Knesset farewell session for the former Meretz head.
"Yossi, you are an annoying man. Why? You have a pleasant demeanor, an unrivaled politesse, you speak quietly but you are heard soundly. You seem calm but you succeed in arousing the type of commotion and divisions that people who shout and yell can't manage do to. That's not annoying?" joked Olmert.
"And what is annoying in retrospect", Olmert continued, "is that I always thought he was wrong, but I was forced to change many more stances than he was. We still do not agree on many things but the gaps are narrow. Many of the things he's said, and he was alone in saying them, proved to be an ability to see things some of us refused to see."
Turning to Beilin, the prime minister added, "It's great that you had the ability to decide for yourself when to leave and that it was not imposed on you, that the timing and reasons were not forced upon you. It inspires much respect. For that, I want to say congratulations."
Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik said of Beilin that "wherever he was, he left a mark."
Addressing him directly, she added, "You did not leave public life, and I am certain that we will see you here again. The Knesset without you is a lacking Knesset. You can still change your mind."
Current Meretz chairman Haim Oron said of Beilin's peace pursuits that "when we finally reach an agreement, we will see that it won't be very different than the Geneva accords," of which Beilin was an architect.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said of Beilin that "first of all [you possess] straightforwardness, the ability to pursue your truth until the end. You do it time and time again."
Netanyahu also praised Beilin's role in the successful Taglit-Birthright program which brings thousands of young Jews to Israel for short trips and of which Beilin was one of the initiators.
Labor chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: "The extent of your contributions to peace agreements and peace documents are well known and recognized only by people who have worked with you closely. You've contributed much to the public agenda."
The last speaker before Beilin took to the stand himself, MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL) said, "There is no other politician like Yossi Beilin who in Tel Aviv and in Taibe, in Tunis and in Washington, is so well known. A politician fails if he arrives and no one sees him, if he leaves no footprints, if he remains unrecognized. I agree with Ehud Olmert, who said that he is an annoying man. He annoys me too. But I don't intend to resign anytime soon."
Tibi added: "Beilin is an ethical person who entered politics to change and influence. With a belief in equality and universalism, he brought respect to the Knesset. He will be missed. You can agree or disagree with Beilin, you cannot ignore him."
Addressing Beilin, Tibi said, "I am honored to be your friend and I am sure that we will meet again. There is still no peace and we will see you again, pursuing peace."