Eldad and Beilin: Construction will resume after freeze end

National Union MK and ex-Meretz legislator at briefing on moratorium and current prospects for peace.

 former Meretz MK Yossi Beilin (photo credit: Ben Spier)
former Meretz MK Yossi Beilin
(photo credit: Ben Spier)
Limited Israeli construction in the West Bank will inevitably resume once the moratorium on building in the settlements expires at the end of September – regardless of direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians – both National Union MK Arye Eldad and former Meretz MK Yossi Beilin said on Tuesday.
Speaking during a foreign press briefing dubbed “The Future of the Settlement Freeze,” the two ideological opposites were able to agree on that point alone during the first few minutes of their exchange, which took place at Misheknot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem’s historic Yemin Moshe neighborhood and was attended by a sizable contingent of the country’s foreign press corps.
But the pair’s diverging visions soon became apparent as they discussed why the construction would recommence, what the implications of that construction would be, and the larger difficulties that awaited Israeli and Palestinian negotiators when they sat down for direct talks in Washington on September 2.
“There is a difference between what should happen and what will happen [after the moratorium expires],” said Eldad, whose party is seen as being closely aligned with the settler movement and who has long been a stalwart opponent of the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
“Israel should begin building in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria on a large scale to compensate for the [time lost during the] freeze,” he said. “But what likely will happen is that the government will differentiate between private building and government building.”
According to Eldad, “private building will go on. But government building will not be seen on a large scale. The question is whether this will stop the direct talks, and it’s up to [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] to decide if he’ll be ready to swallow it.”
Beilin, who is considered one of the architects of the Oslo Accords and a longtime proponent of the land-for-peace paradigm, acquiesced that “Eldad’s analysis is right,” at least as far as the MK’s prediction of “what will happen.”
But from there, Beilin shifted the discussion to the US administration, which he said had been making “mistake after mistake” regarding the negotiations.
“I don’t understand the American administration, which is trying to summon both parties to the negotiating table under the false impression that they already share the same premise for negotiations,” Beilin said.
“America is trying to trick both parties into thinking that the Palestinians want direct talks, and that Netanyahu will [continue to completely] freeze settlement activity.”
This, he said, was “a clever diplomatic move, but it is not going to work in the long run.”
“It’s irresponsible of America, which wants peace at any cost, even though the negotiating parties are clearly not ready,” Beilin said.
“What is needed instead of clever diplomatic tricks is a permanent agreement that should be implemented in stages,” he went on. “Under the current circumstances, a land swap is not possible [as it involves lands around Gaza and would expand the Hamas-controlled territory].”
According to Beilin, “this permanent agreement will only be applicable in the West Bank. And it will probably be in the form of an interim agreement [regarding] a Palestinian state.”
However, he added, “the Palestinians are afraid that any interim agreement will become a permanent agreement.
“Maybe with the partial implementation of the [2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which includes the normalization of relations between Israel and all 25 Arab countries in return for an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines, and a resolution of the refugee issue] the two sides won’t play around and will work more seriously,” he said.
But to that, Eldad countered, “There is one advantage to suicide. It gets rid of all your problems.”
He continued, “What is happening with the peace process, what Beilin is proposing, is suicide in stages, which doesn’t give you the advantage of getting rid of your problems, and it’s causing frustration on the Israeli side.”
Gesturing to the audience, Eldad said, “Yossi and most of you are sure that this is a territorial conflict. But that idea has been failing for 90 years, and every failure has ended in a bloodbath. [The continuation of that belief] will lead to a new war and a new bloodbath, because this is not a territorial conflict, it is a religious war.”
Explaining the Muslim idea of “Wakf,” or Islamic lands, which can never be “ruled by the infidel,” Eldad said that even with moderates on the Palestinian side, the division of the West Bank into a Palestinian state would not solve the conflict.
“It’s not a conflict cured by borders,” he said. “The moderates are irrelevant; they haven’t left a scratch in history over the last 90 years. It is the extremists who dictate the will of events.”
Beilin responded to Eldad by rejecting the idea of a “religious war or clash of civilizations,” but also declined to have a “philosophical debate” on the matter.
What the two had agreed upon at the start of their discussion – namely, the continuation of West Bank construction after the moratorium ends – they agreed on at the end as well, when the two broached the way Netanyahu would likely approach the matter.
Both Beilin and Eldad said Netanyahu would neither “declare a continuation of the freeze, nor declare that building has begun again on a largescale.”
“He will do it with a low profile,” Beilin said. “But it remains to be seen how he will be egged on by the settlers.”
“In any case,” Eldad chimedin, “I’m sure Peace Now will take hundreds of photographs of the construction and publish them. They really do very good work.”
Zuzana Barak contributed to this report.