Beilin calls controversial peace proposal a patriotic move

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Convinced that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible, Yossi Beilin, the chief architect of the failed Oslo accords, came to the Bay Area to defend his recent negotiations on the Geneva initiative — a detailed peace proposal viewed by some as bold and others as traitorous.

“What I did was the most patriotic thing to do,” said Beilin, who addressed “The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict: Is There a Way Out?” at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center. “We are trying to prove that agreement between Israel and Palestinians is possible.”

The Nov. 2 talk, which drew a crowd of 175 to San Rafael, was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Also on the program was Yossi Olmert, former minister of justice under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

The basis for the initiative, Beilin said, was the Clinton plan, which nearly came to fruition in January 2001 in Taba, Egypt, before negotiators ran out of time to reach an agreement.

The Geneva initiative would provide a two-state solution along the pre-1967 borders — with minor modifications: a divided Jerusalem with two capitals and special arrangements for the city’s holy sites; limited compensation for Palestinian refugees, who would concede the right of return; and security provisions that would demilitarize the nascent Palestinian state.

Under the plan, which has not been approved by Ariel Sharon’s Likud government, various Jewish settlements would be part of a Palestinian state. In turn, Palestinians would recognize Israel as the Jewish state and pledge to prevent terror attacks.

Beilin, a former Knesset member who was justice minister under the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said he is motivated by a demographic imperative. Maintaining that Israelis have until 2010 until they are a minority in their own country controlling — directly or indirectly — a Palestinian majority west of the Jordan River, he said, “The future of Zionism is in danger.”

“The basic assumption of mainstream Zionist leaders on both the left and right was that there would be a Jewish majority in the Jewish state. Israel was supposed to be a safe haven for Jews, and it’s becoming a dangerous place,” said Beilin, whose visits to the Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York were planned before the Geneva initiative. He curtailed his Bay Area trip to continue the negotiations in Geneva.

Beilin said there are only two ways to maintain a Jewish majority, and only one of them guarantees Israelis relative peace and security. One option is unilateral action by Israel that entails strengthening and further demarcating the borders and establishing a separation between Israelis and Palestinians. The other, which Beilin claims is much less problematic, is simply an agreement between the two peoples.

“I’m ready to dedicate all my time to prove that all the issues between Israelis and Palestinians are solvable,” Beilin said. In Geneva, “Israelis and Palestinians found solutions for everything on our agendas.”

The detailed solutions will be further scrutinized and discussed in the next few weeks when the 50-page initiative is mailed to everyone in Israel and the territories.

Beilin is emboldened by recent public opinion polls that he says show 39 percent of the Israeli public and 21 percent of the Likud support the Geneva initiative, as well as the 100,000 people who gathered Nov. 1 in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to remember Rabin’s assassination eight years ago.

“Since Rabin’s murder we lost part of our spirit, our optimism in the peace process,” Beilin said. During the years following his death, “each side felt the Oslo agreement was violated. Both sides were right. Palestinians felt ignored when [former Prime Minister Ehud] Barak turned to the Syrians first for a solution and the settlements were thickened.” He also noted that Israelis were demoralized and fearful after the second intifada erupted in 2000.

But Beilin said he is not only trying to win over the hearts and minds of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, but he and his associates also want to pressure Sharon to act and negotiate. “The initiative is a suggestion of a draft for the road map.”

With the initiative, said Beilin , “I am asking Sharon, ‘What is your option?’ “Our negotiation in Geneva is proof that we can find a solution. I can criticize every line of the agreement. But to do nothing in its place? To say I’m going to sit and wait? Until when? We are in an impossible situation.”

Beilin gently scoffed at the detractors who have condemned his involvement in an effort unsanctioned by the Israeli government. “If Israel is democratic, then why can’t volunteers — many of whom are top Israeli military officials — act this way? What is the alternative? Peace is a prize for Palestinians and Israelis. Why not an agreement? Skepticism will lead us nowhere,” he said.

Beilin’s optimism was confirmed during the negotiations when he spoke with Khadura Fares, a Palestinian Fatah leader who had been jailed for 17 years for terrorist activities. “I asked him,” Beilin recalled in an interview after his speech, “why should Palestinians hurry when a one-state solution is on the horizon given the demographics? He said to me, ‘I’m 41. I have three children. I don’t want them in jail. If in six years we are a majority and we say one man, one vote, Israelis will never leave. The result would be hell. I don’t want to give up on my children’s lives.'”

For the sake of Israeli and Palestinian children, Beilin believes that no one can afford to ignore the window of opportunity provided by the Geneva initiative.

There will be a video presentation by Beilin sponsored by the JCF’s Israel Center at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, at Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St., S.F., as part of the Rabin Memorial Lecture. Moshe Maoz, a professor and Middle East expert at Hebrew University, will discuss the peace process. Information: (415) 512-6203 or www.israelcentersf.org.

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.