Former minister and veteran peace activist Yossi Beilin on Monday called for the creation of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation as a long-term strategic goal for the solution of the conflict. Such a solution will have to be preceded by an interim agreement that would create a Palestinian state in provisional borders, he said.
However, he predicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, anxious to avoid a binational state but unwilling to meet Palestinian demands, would instead wind up unilaterally withdrawing from much of the West Bank to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel.
Any current attempt to achieve a final-status agreement between Jerusalem and Ramallah is not only doomed to fail but actually counterproductive, Beilin added, also slamming US President Barack Obama for insisting on an Israeli settlement freeze in 2009 and Secretary of State John Kerry for his failed bid to broker a comprehensive peace deal within nine months in 2013.
While a permanent peace accord is currently out of reach, Beilin said an interim agreement — if linked to a timetable leading to a comprehensive peace deal — is a realistic and worthwhile objective.
The so-called Road Map for Peace, the second stage of which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state within provisional borders, could be acceptable to both sides, said Beilin, who played a significant role in initiating secret talks with the Palestinians that resulted in the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
“No one wants a permanent agreement more than me. For me to suggest ‘interim’ is like for a religious Jew to suggest treife [non-kosher],” he told foreign reporters at a briefing in Jerusalem, speaking in English. However, such a solution would satisfy the Palestinians’ desire for statehood and allow both parties to focus on talks about the interim border and interim security arrangement, he added.
Kerry’s feeling ‘that he can come for few hours, meet with the different stakeholders and solve the problem… is totally wrong’
“It doesn’t include the two very thorny issues: refugees and Jerusalem. And this way it will make [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s life easier, and Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] can end his career with a Palestinian state.” Abbas told him that if he was provided with “a horizon and a time table,” he would go for such a solution, Beilin said.
The long-term vision for an end to the conflict should include the idea of an “Israeli-Palestinian confederation,” the former justice minister and deputy foreign minister added. The territory disputed by Israelis and Palestinians is very small and there are hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which makes a clear-cut division very complicated, he indicated.
“So those who are speaking about Greater Israel in that respect are right. And those who are speaking about Greater Palestine, on the Palestinian side, they are also right. This (confederation) is much more reasonable than an artificial border,” Beilin said.
In a confederation, Israelis and Palestinians would both have sovereign states but coordinate and cooperate in a wide array of fields, such as environment, planning and zoning, economy, agriculture, infrastructure, transportation and security.
“If you have a confederation the border is there. You have two separate states; you don’t give up on the idea of the two-state solution. They will have separate governments and representatives in the world and foreign policies and whatever. But they will have to coordinate on many, many issues,” he said. “In a confederation you can find joint solutions for difficult issues such as refugees and settlements. This is why I believe that it is time to speak about a confederation — as a hope; not tomorrow, but as a part of horizon.”
Merely trying to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders together to try once more to to relaunch final-status talks is “dangerous,” Beilin warned. “It won’t succeed.” Rather, the international community should focus its efforts on ways to get both parties to agree on “something that is less than a permanent agreement. We must speak about this vision, which is something more than usual idea of the two-state solution: the two-state solution with an umbrella.”
Knowing that Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “pay the price” makes a final-status peace deal impossible, the US administration should not have raised false expectations that later failed to materialize and led to greater frustration, Beilin charged.
“There are no free failures. You always pay for a failure. And you are always surprised be the fact that low expectations do not prevent huge frustration,” he said.
Being specific, Beilin slammed Obama for pressuring Israel into freezing settlements in 2009 without having coordinated the step with the Palestinians and without any indication that such a step would yield any progress toward a peace deal.
“Nothing happened [during the freeze] and as a result of it he deferred the beginning of any kind of negotiations for years,” Beilin said of Obama. By forcing Israel to halt settlement expansion for 10 months, the US president made it impossible for the Palestinians subsequently to negotiate in the absence of such a freeze, he said. “He really put the Palestinians in an impossible situation because of the best of intentions.”
Beilin also criticized Kerry for his effort to reach a final-status deal two years ago. No one who understands anything of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict believed that Kerry’s efforts could succeed, Beilin argued, wondering why the secretary of state went ahead nonetheless.
“The feeling of Kerry that he can come for few hours, meet with the different stakeholders and solve the problem and go to another place – and I really appreciate his dynamism – but the feeling that you can just pop in do something there, and go on and believe that you can solve the problem, is totally wrong,” he said.
‘In a few years, Netanyahu will unilaterally withdraw’
Netanyahu is opposed to a binational state and has thus realized that there is no alternative to separating from the Palestinians, though he is not ready to agree to the Palestinians’ terms for a peace deal, Beilin said. In the absence of an agreement, Netanyahu will soon be forced to unilaterally withdraw from much of the West Bank to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel, he posited.
“It’s a matter of three or four years before a minority of Jews is dominating a majority of Palestinians. And what then? What will you say then? What will Netanyahu say? He is going to ask for a recount of the Palestinians?” Beilin asked rhetorically.
“I’m telling you what he’s going to do: He is going to do exactly what [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon did,” Beilin said, referring to Sharon’s 2005 Gaza Disengagement. Not trusting the Palestinians, Netanyahu will prefer to unilaterally withdraw and “give them everything for free,” Beilin predicted.
“Now do you prefer an agreement with a party you are not sure about and you don’t trust and may breach it, but is still an address,” he continued, “or would you prefer a unilateral solution? It’s up to you. There is no third way. We will no remain for a long while as Jewish minority dominating a majority of Palestinians, There is no such situation.”