Yossi Beilin, a long-time stalwart among Israeli peaceniks, is touring the United States to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and J-Street, the burgeoning organization of American Jews who want to be pro-Israel and pro-peace. The Beilin speaking tour came through St. Paul Monday night, specifically at Mt. Zion Temple, where he gave a wise, funny, tragic overview of where things stand in his homeland.
Beilin, in case you don’t follow such matters, was one of the heroes of the Oslo Accords, having participated in the secret peace negotiations that led to one of the high points in the endless search for a peace deal.
The players on both sides know the shape of the only peace deal that can be made, Beilin said. “It’s so obvious,” he said.
The deal amounts to four points that were on a J-Street handout that was distributed at the event. I’ll reproduce them at the bottom of this post.
The trouble is, the high-drama negotiations taking place in Israel are so tragically flawed that “to call them negotiations would be a big exaggeration,” Beilin said.
Israelis and Palestinians won’t talk to each other, so U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is there, since both parties are willing to talk to him. And instead of talking of the shape of the peace deal they could make (which they already know), they are discussing whether there is a magic number of Palestinian prisoners Israel would be willing to release to convince the Palestinians to continue negotiating.
The Binyamin Netanyahu government of Israel and the Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority know each other so well, know what each side will and won’t give to get a deal, Beilin said, expressing his frustration. “With them, we are trying to make peace. With them, after in many ways we already did it. So why don’t we do it?”
Both sides want peace. Neither side is willing to pay the price to get peace, he said. “My dear friends, to want peace, and not be willing to pay the price for it, is the same as not wanting peace,” he said.
Personally, Beilin said, he hates the idea of another “interim deal.” He wants the final deal. But the parties aren’t ready to pay the price, so, according to his own philosophy, which is to deal with the possible, he suggests that the parties make an interim deal, which would mean Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state in some portion of the West Bank larger than the portion controlled by the Palestinian Authority, with the final borders to be determined later.
What about Gaza, which is controlled by the far-less reasonable Hamas? Let the Gazans see what peace and statehood looks like in the West Bank and hold out the hope that they will eventually want to get in on that kind of deal, he said.
Beilin was dismissive about one of the currently fashionable stumbling blocks: the demand by Netanyahu that Abbas recognize not only the existence of Israel and its borders, but recognize that it is a “Jewish state.” Netanyahu made this demand to be “provocative,” Beilin said, and it worked, and it was equally a “stupidity” for the Palestinians to refuse. Beilin wondered aloud: Does Netanyahu trust the word of the Palestinians so much that if they would repeat that Israel is a “Jewish state,” Israel would be assured of its security?
Too many Israelis have convinced themselves that the long, bitter history between themselves and the Palestinians is entirely about the unimaginable unwillingness of the Palestinians to the basic Zionist project. “We have to understand that they never invited us,” Beilin said. “We imposed ourselves on them.”
Beilin hailed J Street and its “pro-Israel, pro-peace” formula as having the potential to change the American political dynamics around the Mideast conflict. All presidents heretofore have believed that there was only political pain to be found by pressing Israel to make a deal. Thanks to J Street, it’s possible to imagine future presidents believing that there could also be political pain by not pressing both sides to end the conflict.
J Street’s peace project is called “The 2 campaign,” which stands for “two states for two peoples.” In its literature, it describes the deal that is doable and just, in these four summary points:
Bases borders on pre-1967 lines with agreed-upon land swaps and provides robust security guarantees;
Evacuates settlements outside Israel’s future borders while compensating the estimated one in five settlers who relocate to make peace possible;
Establishes the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestinian neighborhoods as the capital of the future state of Palestine. Holy sites would be internationally protected and accessible to all; and
Resolves the Palestinian refugee issue through resettlement in the future Palestine or third countries, compensation and a symbolic level of family reunification in Israel itself.