Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state in provisional borders, even before his conditions for a final-status agreement are met, former minister and veteran peace activist Yossi Beilin said.
“I don’t think that Netanyahu, who is far from being a warmonger — he’s a very cautious person — [is ready to commit to] a permanent solution. Not because he doesn’t want it — all of us want it — but because he’s not ready to pay the price,” Beilin said Monday night. “But to speak about a provisional border with the Palestinians, this is something that I heard from him that we would be ready to do it.”
Speaking in English at a debate in front of Jewish-American leaders visiting Jerusalem, Beilin said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders are presently not ready to agree to terms for a permanent settlement. Yet both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would be willing to go ahead with an interim agreement, which would include a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines with land swaps, so that major settlement blocs would remain in Israel, Beilin said. The delicate questions of Jerusalem and refugees would not be addressed immediately but held for final-status talks down the line, according to Beilin.
Although Netanyahu used to fiercely oppose a Palestinian state, he has now understood “that there is no other solution but to divide” the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river, said Beilin.
“I appreciate Netanyahu. I know him well. I believe that I know, more-or-less, his room for maneuver, and I talked to him. And listening to him, I believe that an interim solution like that can be realistic,” he said.
Government spokesman Mark Regev refused to confirm Netanyahu’s willingness to pursue any such interim agreement. “The prime minister remains ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever,” he told The Times of Israel. “The Bar-Ilan formula remains his goal: a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.” (Netanyahu set out his two-state vision in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009.)
Beilin, who played a significant role in initiating secret talks with the Palestinians that resulted in the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, said his own provisional plan does not mean giving up on a long-term vision for a two-state solution in which all outstanding issues are addressed and which would lead to an end of the conflict.
“Okay Netanyahu, you got the mandate from the people,” he said, referring to the outcome of the January 22 elections. “You want to have a Palestinian state, that’s what you said to us, that’s what you said to the world. You have a majority of 108 members of Knesset who agree with you; only 12 of them are on the extreme right,” Beilin said, referring to the Jewish Home party, which explicitly rejects the idea of Palestinian statehood.
“All others at least formally agree to the idea,” Beilin went on, making a contentious assertion given the opposition to Palestinian statehood among many incoming Likud-Beytenu MKs. Change something on the ground,” he urged the prime minister. “Show that you are ready to understand the international situation.”
Beilin’s plan for a Palestinian state in provisional borders would allow Jewish Israelis living outside the major settlement blocs to remain in their houses, knowing that they would come under Palestinian sovereignty. Abbas had agreed to such an arrangement in 1995, he said.
Ex-MK Beilin, a former Labor justice minister and later head of the left-wing Meretz party, was addressing the board of governors of the American Jewish Committee, which is currently in the region. The US-Jewish leaders have met with Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Jordanian King Abdullah II, and were scheduled to meet with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah on Tuesday.
Beilin shared the stage with Danny Dayan, the former head of the Council of Jewish Settlements, who vehemently rejected Beilin’s plan.
“The two-state formula, which is the only game in town, unfortunately, since Oslo is a mirage — it never existed. It’s hot air and when you get closer and closer to it you see that it’s not really there,” Dayan said, positing that the conflict is unsolvable at present.
Maintaining the status quo and managing the conflict rather than trying to end it is the best of all possible options, Dayan suggested. “It’s not ideal, it’s not what we want, it’s not what the Palestinians want, but it’s moderately satisfying. And in the Middle East, a moderately satisfying modus vivendi is a hell of an achievement.”
Dayan, who supported Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu list party during this month’s Knesset election, said he was unsure as to how the prime minister really felt about the Palestinian question. “There are mornings in which I wake up and think he’s sincere when he talks about a two-state solution and he means it. And there are mornings in which I wake up and think he’s bluffing the whole world. And I suspect the same thing happens to Netanyahu himself.”
Pressed by Beilin to provide his long-term vision for the region, Dayan asserted that the current regime in Jordan is poised to fall sooner or later, because “a monarchy in which the monarch rules is a primitive way of governing.” The Hashemite regime could then be replaced by “a Palestinian state east of the Jordan [River],” he said.
Israel and the new Palestine/Jordan would exercise “joint functional control” over the West Bank, he said. “That will be the beginning of the serious negotiations: to find an accommodation in which Israel rules the Jewish population of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and Palestine rules the Palestinian population and the territory on which they live.” Such a proposal doesn’t yet have a name in international relations theory, Dayan said, adding that if “we are lucky enough” this could be a viable solution to the conflict.
At this point in the discussion, AJC’s director of government and international affairs, Jason Isaacson, who moderated the debate, interrupted Dayan, saying that “all of us very much pray for and work for a long life and success” of the Jordanian king.
“I join those prayers,” Dayan said.