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Left Face, Backward March

Avi Friedman

While Barack Obama was announcing his vision of Middle East peace in Washington, Israeli peace activists were holding forth in Tel Aviv, where Mishpacha squeezed in a few words — and questions — edgewise with Yossi Beilin, the grand architect of the Oslo process, along with dissenting voices who say neither Oslo nor Obama will bring peace.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Yossi Beilin is nothing if not indefatigable. Sitting on stage with veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner at the Eretz Yisrael Museum in Tel Aviv, Beilin is clearly in his element speaking about a Palestinian state and the diplomatic storm that is likely to hit Israel when the PLO asks the United Nations to admit the nascent state in September.

It’s an old, familiar script for Beilin and his colleagues — and one that President Obama verbalized, more or less, during his May 19 speech at the State Department. Israel is threatened by demographics, the country is losing support and legitimacy around the world, the status quo cannot be maintained indefinitely. The Palestinians are ready for peace, if only they had a partner to deal with on the Israeli side of the table.

“There is a different Palestinian leadership today,” contends Beilin. “They are committed to resolving the conflict with Israel without violence.”

Born one month after Israel achieved its independence, Beilin is no longer the youthful deputy foreign minister that initiated secret talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the early 1990s, meetings that were illegal at the time under Israeli law. Back from years in the political wilderness, he has spent the better part of a decade promoting the Geneva Initiative, a nongovernmental “peace treaty” that calls for the consummation of the Oslo process, including a Palestinian state in most of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza; land swaps so Israel can retain the settlement blocs where a majority of West Bank Israelis live; shared sovereignty in Jerusalem; financial compensation and a limited right of “return” to Israel for children and grandchildren of Palestinian refugees.

Love is in the air between Beilin and his European sponsors as they discuss recent events in the Middle East and warn about Israel’s increasing isolation if Jerusalem refuses to budge on key Palestinian demands.

But the tone changes when Saeb Erekat steps to the microphone. Erekat, who sat at negotiating tables with Beilin from Oslo to Camp David throughout the 1990s and still serves on the Fatah Central Committee, appears tense as he thanks the conference organizers for the “honor” of addressing the conference and wastes little time before attacking Kouchner, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the international community, and Israeli society in general. In sharp contrast to the Geneva Initiative’s “I am a partner” PR campaign, Erekat states simply and strongly that the Palestinians “have no partner for peace in Israel today.”

“I have had it,” says Erekat, jabbing an angry finger in the air. “I am sick and tired of Israelis either fearing me or being ashamed of what they did to me, or ignoring me. Negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis are over. Netanyahu threw the key to peace in the Dead Sea.”


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