My Word: Beilin’s throwback vision

The Holy Land Confederation would turn into an unholy mess. Sparks would fly rather than doves of peace. Forget the flying pigs.

 YOSSI BEILIN attends a Meretz party memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 2021.  (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
YOSSI BEILIN attends a Meretz party memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 2021.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Time flies and so would pigs, if Yossi Beilin had his way. Not just any old hogs, either. The sky would be filled with flying pigs that were both kosher and halal.

Beilin is often described as a peacemaker, ignoring the fact that despite his best efforts peace has proved elusive. The former politician held a series of high-profile positions including serving as deputy foreign minister and a stint as justice minister. He ran (unsuccessfully) for leadership of the Labor Party before moving over to Meretz, which he eventually chaired.

Now 73, a month younger than the State of Israel, Beilin is anything but retired. One of the projects that is keeping him busy is his Holy Land Confederation plan, which he is promoting along with former PLO negotiator Hiba Husseini, although it is not clear whom they represent. 

Presumably realizing that they do not have a strong following at home, Beilin and Husseini took their plan on the road presenting it to, among others, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The UN always has time to discuss Israel and the Palestinians. It’s the only topic mandated to be permanently on the agenda. Vladimir Putin can be invading Ukraine; China might be threatening Taiwan; Iran is on the nuclear threshold; and Islamic State is undergoing a revival, but there will always be people in the international community who are convinced that if only Israel and the Palestinians were to sit down together the world’s problems would be solved.

Beilin is best known for his role as the architect of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, initially behind the back of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin but with the support of then-foreign minister Shimon Peres. Rabin’s description of Beilin as “Peres’s poodle” used to haunt the would-be peacemaker, who led a dovish circle within Labor in opposition to the more hawkish, or cautious, Rabin.

 THEN-MK Yossi Beilin meets with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in 2007. (credit: Loay Abu Haykel/Reuters) THEN-MK Yossi Beilin meets with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in 2007. (credit: Loay Abu Haykel/Reuters)

After Oslo literally blew up with the wave of Palestinian suicide bombers, Beilin did not give up. He initiated the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement in 1993-1995 and later Beilin secretly drew up the Geneva Initiative with former Palestinian Authority minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. This was launched in 2003, outlining another proposed agreement between Israel and an independent Palestinian state. 

Of course, if Israel’s neighbors were the same as Norway’s and Switzerland’s, there would already be peace and the Palestinians would have had their own state long ago.

In 1997, when I was The Jerusalem Post’s parliamentary reporter and Beilin was making a bid against Ehud Barak to lead Labor, the softly-spoken politician told me: “I believe that Oslo wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t started it and there wouldn’t be any understanding on the permanent arrangements if I hadn’t started that. I ignited something in Israeli politics. I went around for many years with these opinions [that the PLO was the only Palestinian partner to talk to] and I established the infrastructure which would allow me to operate the minute I became deputy foreign minister. I brought about the change in the law banning contacts with PLO members, and the change in the clause preventing the PLO from participating in the 1991 [Madrid peace conference] on its own.”

He certainly ignited something. Every round of so-called peace talks with the Palestinians ends in flames. Beilin and the Palestinians get full marks for consistency.

There was a period when I followed Beilin closely. I have fond memories of covering the multilateral water talks in Oman in 1994 when Beilin led the Israeli delegation. Although the talks took place after Oslo, they were still part of the Madrid process – and there was a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The Israeli team and large press entourage were warmly welcomed during the historic visit; the Palestinians were greeted with less enthusiasm. The Gulf states had not forgotten how the Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. 

BEILIN IS no “useful idiot.” He has a doctorate in political science and is highly intelligent. I found conversations with him interesting. I still follow his weekly columns in Israel Hayom, sometimes even agreeing with him. Beilin was a primary initiator of Birthright-Taglit, for example, and still supports the program that brings Diaspora Jewish youth to Israel on free trips to get a feel for the country and boost their identity. His well-written columns are thought-provoking rather than provocative.

His column in The Jerusalem Post last week really got me thinking, although not the way Beilin probably wanted. Co-authored with Dr. Saliba Sarsar and titled “Holy Land confederation,” it summarizes the latest Beilin peace effort of the same name.

“What would facilitate the two-state solution is a confederal framework between Israel and Palestine. The idea is not to totally separate the two peoples, i.e., ‘divorce,’ but to empower them to ‘cohabitate’ in the two respective sovereign states,” they write. “The initial step would be to negotiate a permanent agreement and establish an independent Palestinian state, without the confederal umbrella. An implementation period of up to 30 months would follow. Palestine and Israel would live side-by-side as sovereign states and only at the end of the implementation period, they would form a confederation between them, if they wanted it.”

This is the next step on from the Geneva Initiative and has more holes than Swiss cheese.

Beilin does not have much support for the plan among Israelis, despite apparently representing them in his own eyes. And given the state of chaos in the Palestinian Authority and the various factions and clans fighting to taking over from the aging, ailing Mahmoud Abbas, it’s not clear who would be able to set up an independent Palestinian state, let alone safely guide it through a peace plan with Israel.

Establishing an independent Palestinian state before establishing that there would be peaceful relations is a dangerous gamble. According to the plan, “both governments will meet... at least, every five years, assess the experience of the past period, and suggest new ideas for the future.” I.e. ongoing conflict is built in. Far from building a solid peace, it would open the way for constant renegotiations and pressure, with Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria as hostages and the threat of Palestinian “Right of return” as a weapon.

“A confederal solution may mitigate the unavoidable price of partition and reduce ethnocentric tendencies.” Sure. It might or it might not. And what and how high is that unavoidable price?

Ethnic tensions will not disappear by forcing two peoples with different religions, languages and cultures into a confederation.

I am in favor of a confederation plan – a confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians. But the Hashemite Kingdom, which already has a Palestinian majority, is worried that the king would be overthrown and the country would descend into anarchy. Is that a reason for Israel to leap at a confederation with the Palestinians instead? After 73 years of independence. For something that “may help.”

Economic, cultural and technological cooperation and development do not require a confederation between Israel and the Palestinians just as the burgeoning relations with the UAE and Bahrain under the Abraham Accords don’t depend on Israel becoming one of the United Arab Emirates.

And then there’s the crux of Jerusalem. “A confederal solution would establish Jerusalem as a partially open city, to be extended later,” Beilin and Sarsar write. In what way is a “partially open city” better than a fully open city that exists now? And the “to be extended later” sounds more like a threat than a promise. 

The Holy Land Confederation plan is a trial balloon. More than hot air, it reminds me of the incendiary balloons sent over from Gaza. And keep in mind that the PLO in the West Bank can’t even reach a peace agreement with Hamas in Gaza.

The Holy Land Confederation would turn into an unholy mess. Sparks would fly rather than doves of peace. Forget the flying pigs.

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