Politics: Whose partner?

Yossi Beilin favors a formal treaty with Abbas - whether or not it's upheld.

beilin 224.88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
beilin 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
In October 1995, deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin signed a secret peace agreement with PLO Executive Committee secretary Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] in Oslo that called for all West Bank settlements to remain, the settlers to become Israeli citizens inside a Palestinian state and settlement blocs to be annexed by Israel. Beilin returned to get the approval of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, but by the time he came back to Israel, Rabin was dead. His successor, Shimon Peres, decided against pursuing the agreement. Abbas could not draft Palestinian support for the document and later denied its existence. Eleven years later, Abbas is the Palestinians' politically powerless president and Beilin, as head of the opposition Meretz Party, is still urging a prime minister to make a deal with Abbas, four prime ministers later. The two men still speak regularly and just this Tuesday, Abbas told Beilin he would do everything possible to bring Corporal Gilad Shalit home. The events surrounding the kidnappings of Shalit and Eliyahu Asheri - and the resulting IDF operation in the Gaza Strip - overshadowed the initialing of the Prisoners' Document by Hamas and Fatah officials, which ended Abbas's ultimatum to hold a referendum should Hamas not accept the document. The referendum idea developed from talks between Beilin and Abbas after the January 25 election failure of Abbas's Fatah party. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week, Beilin recalled the origin of the referendum idea, gauged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chances of bringing peace and vowed that Meretz would vote against Olmert's unilateral West Bank realignment plan. "The idea of a referendum was Fatah's from day one," Beiin recounted. "They wanted to prove that they had a majority in the election and that they had been manipulated by the election system, like the Al Gores of the PA. I talked about it with Abu Mazen a few days after the election. The original idea was to bring a deal he would reach with Olmert to a referendum, but then he realized that a deal wasn't around the corner. Then Marwan Barghouti came with the Prisoners' Document." Throughout Meretz's election campaign, Beilin preached that Israel should negotiate a peace deal with Abbas that could be brought as a referendum to the Palestinian people. He said he raised the idea because the Palestinian election was a blow to the Israeli peace camp and he was repeatedly asked if there was still a partner on the Palestinian side. "I don't believe Abu Mazen bought the idea from me," Beilin said. "I didn't invent it but I used it. His thoughts were parallel with my thoughts. The referendum is just a hook to show that the public supports him, and it's worked to put pressure on Hamas." This was not an easy week for Abbas. An IDF intelligence officer reported to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Abbas's men had done little to find Shalit. Asked how Abbas could be a partner when he had been ineffective in bringing Shalit home, Beilin said that Israel should sign a deal with him regardless. He said that especially if it passes a Palestinian referendum, such an agreement would be recognized by the world as the will of the Palestinian people. He said he believed it would guarantee international recognition of Israel's new borders and Jerusalem as its capital, and it could even allow Israel to build "skyscrapers" in the annexed West Bank land "I hope Abu Mazen will play an important role in bringing the soldier home, but even if he does not, he will still be chairman of the Palestinian Authority," Beilin said. "What he loses [by not succeeding] is respect as a leader who can get things done, and it will strengthen the notion that he is weak. My philosophy is that he may not be a partner for implementing an agreement, but he is a partner for signing it, and the prime minister should realize the importance of a signed document with a Palestinian leader." BEILIN REJECTED criticism that signing an agreement with a weak Palestinian president would be the equivalent of the Geneva accord that he reached three years ago with Palestinians who were not acting on behalf of the Palestinian government. He said he preferred to make comparisons with the peace treaty signed with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat that remained in effect after his assassination. "The agreement we would make with Abu Mazen wouldn't be virtual like Geneva, because it could pass a referendum," Beilin said. "By not negotiating with him and preferring to implement realignment unilaterally, Olmert is losing a partner. It is a blunder of historical proportions." Beilin dropped a bombshell on Olmert in Monday's Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting when he said that Meretz MKs would oppose his West Bank realignment plan and work to prevent its passage. Beilin's vow surprised the prime minister, who had been counting on the support of the Meretz faction's five MKs to pass it. Explaining why Meretz would oppose realignment after supporting disengagement, Beilin said that while most Gaza evacuees moved to the Negev, realignment calls for West Bank settlers to be moved to the other side of the security fence, still inside the West Bank. "If your plan involves unilaterally moving settlers from one side of the fence to the other, we won't vote for it and neither would the Arab parties," Beilin told Olmert. "There will be at most 55 MKs (from Kadima, Labor and the Pensioners Party) in favor and at least 65 against, so it has no chance of passing." Beilin said he believed Olmert would eventually realize that he would have an easier time in the Knesset passing an agreement negotiated with Abbas or a plan to disengage by withdrawing West Bank settlers to the western side of the Green Line. "There is no country in the world that would accept Olmert's borders and allow us to build homes in settlements," Beilin said. "He won't get authorization from [US President George W.] Bush to build in the West Bank. The best he can get from the world is a blind eye. There is no chance our hands would rise in favor of building a single house for settlers in the West Bank." Beilin noted that on Olmert's recent trips to Washington and London, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair talked constantly about the road map, which prohibited even natural growth in settlement blocs. Beilin said he doubted Olmert would negotiate with Abbas unless it were clear to him that realignment and disengagement were not possible. Asked whether he thought Olmert could bring peace, Beilin said that he had more faith in Olmert than Sharon. He said Sharon had told him personally that he did not believe peace could be achieved with Arabs. He said Olmert was different. "People who want peace and have the power [to implement it] can bring peace," Beilin sighed. Adding in a reference to Abbas that "the problem is there are so many people who are one but not the other."