Ten minutes with...Yossi Beilin

Yossi Beilin, who served as Israeli Justice Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister, conducted the secret peace negotiations that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The World Today Published 1 June 2012 Updated 7 December 2018 2 minute READ
Photo: Brian Hendler/Getty Images

Photo: Brian Hendler/Getty Images

You have called on the Palestinian Authority, which was supposed to be the Palestinian state in embryo, to dissolve itself. Why now?

The Oslo Peace Process called for an interim agreement that would last five years and end with a permanent settlement. It has dragged on for almost 20 years. What was supposed to be a corridor leading to a final settlement has become a living room – a very convenient one – for people like Prime Minister Netanyahu and for the opposition in Palestine. They want to keep the status quo.

Why didn’t you admit defeat a decade ago?

Since 2001, when Ariel Sharon was elected as Prime Minister, dissolving the Palestinian Authority could have been the right idea. But it had become too convenient for everybody. The Palestinians established their own institutions, their own ministries, and they could offer people jobs. Nobody can blame them. And for the world, after so many years, there was finally an address for the Palestinians. For the opponents it was wonderful because nothing happened. And for the peace camp, it was not so bad, as it kept a glimmer of hope. In reality, it created a fig leaf for a process that was non-existent, except for a very short time in 2008.

Surely the Palestinian leaders will never dissolve their administration?

They have a deep feeling of frustration. They know the Palestinian Authority is not a real authority. They know that even in Area A, under full Palestinian control, the Israeli army comes at night to arrest people as if it was part of Israel. We should examine the practicalities of dissolution.

You mean Hamas taking over the West Bank?

No, not at all. The realities on the ground. Say 180,000 people work for the Palestinian Authority, with about one million benefiting from their salaries. These people, doctors, teachers and nurses, will not be fired the moment Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, gives Netanyahu the keys to the West Bank. Somebody will have to run daily life. It will not be Israelis, though the Israelis will be the officers, and they will have to be recruited again. The Palestinian leadership will just become part of the PLO, as they are already, and the PLO will become stronger in the West Bank. So it is not such a big revolution for the Palestinians, but it will be very significant burden for Israel. The existing security arrangements with Israel will not be available. The budget will not come from foreign donors. This might trigger American involvement, or an Israeli understanding that the status quo is intolerable.

Is the window of opportunity for the two-state solution is closed?

This is nonsense. I don’t believe there is any prospect of Israel having a non-Zionist prime minister. So there is no chance of have a single state for Jews and Arabs or a bi-national state. Israel will never be a part of a bi-national state.

So what is going to happen?

Even if, God forbid, more settlements are built in the West Bank, at a certain moment Israel may withdraw, even unilaterally, and no one can prevent that. If it is a government of the Right, the withdrawal would be to a line near the separation barrier. Israel will say, you do what you want. You want to have a state, be our guest; you don’t want to have a state, be our guest. There would be no solution to the refugee problem or to Jerusalem, and Israel would annexe 8 per cent of the West Bank. There would be no agreement on passages, security, or the electromagnetic spectrum, or water.

When might that be?

I believe that in a matter of three or four years the world will see there is a majority of Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. At the moment there are 5.6 million Palestinians and about 6.4 million Jews. The 6.4 million includes non-Jews, such as the 300,000 Christians who came to Israel with their families from Russia. So we are talking of something like 5.6 million Palestinians and about 6 million Jews. Natural growth will change this balance very soon. I don’t think the world — the Americans — will accept it. Many Israelis will not accept it. If the Prime Minister of Israel is not ready to go for a comprehensive solution such as outlined in the Geneva Initiative (2003), he will do what Sharon did – withdraw behind the separation barrier.

Who is going to accept such a solution?

There is a border and it was built by a Likud leader named Sharon. In Israel, there is some legitimacy to withdrawing to the border, if push comes to shove.