‘If talks fail, go for interim agreement,’ ex-negotiator urges

A permanent accord is ‘almost impossible,’ Yossi Beilin says, but Netanyahu and Abbas might acquiesce in a provisional solution

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Yossi Beilin meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, August 2008. (photo credit: Omar Rashidi/Flash90)
Yossi Beilin meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, August 2008. (photo credit: Omar Rashidi/Flash90)

While the chances of reaching a permanent peace deal are exceedingly slim, Israelis and Palestinians could reach an interim agreement that would establish a Palestinian state in temporary borders on some parts of the West Bank, former minister and veteran peace activist Yossi Beilin said Monday.

He maintained that a scenario in which both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agree to such a transitional solution — which would leave unresolved core issues for a later stage — is “not unrealistic.”

Beilin, who played a significant role in initiating secret talks with the Palestinians that resulted in the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, made the comments on the eve of the first round of Israeli-Palestinian final-status negotiations in three years. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu’s personal envoy Yitzhak Molcho were scheduled to meet with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh Monday night for an initial talk at the house of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who jump-started the stalled peace process through intensive shuttle diplomacy over the last few months.

“Kerry’s role, as I see it, is to understand very well what the two parties are ready to do… what price they’re ready to pay, and to push them a little more than that,” Beilin said. “I believe that the current gap between Netanyahu and Abbas is such a big one that even if Kerry pushes them a little bit, they will not meet each other.”

The two leaders don’t agree on any of the core issues and are especially unlikely to find common ground on the question of the borders of a future Palestinian state. “If this is the situation, what I’m afraid of is that the negotiations will be only a meeting, or a series of meetings, that will be conducive to nothing,” Beilin said. The former justice minister and deputy foreign minister said he had spoken “at length” to all three parties involved in the talks, and “I understand that what they can really do now is something like a transitional agreement toward a permanent one in the future.”

Speaking in English to reporters at an event organized by the Jerusalem Press Club, Beilin said that, despite the slim chance, he prefers a final-status agreement that would end the conflict once and for all. Therefore, Israelis and Palestinians should try to see if they can agree on the outstanding core issues, such as borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem. If the two sides surprisingly reach an understanding on all these issues, an agreement should be implemented immediately in the West Bank, he expressed, with provisions stating that it will be applied to Gaza as soon as the political situation in the Hamas-ruled territory changes in a way that makes peaceful coexistence possible.

However, the prospects of Netanyahu and Abbas reaching such an agreement “are very, very low. It is almost impossible,” opined Beilin. Therefore, if, after two months, it emerges that the two sides are not getting any closer to resolving the outstanding final-status issues, the American interlocutors should switch gears and avert a complete collapse of the peace process by refocusing the talks on an interim agreement.

“These people are experts in wasting time,” Beilin continued, referring to both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. “After two months, if the Americans understand… that actually [both sides] are preparing themselves for the blame game — in which they are both very good — then [the US should implement] Plan B: Go for the interim [agreement]. Go for a gradual, permanent agreement, which means a Palestinian state immediately and then negotiations between the two governments about a permanent agreement [at a later stage].”

An interim solution would likely include a Palestinian state on Areas A and B of the West Bank (currently under Palestinian autonomy), and potentially some parts of Area C (controlled by Israel), while Israel would hold on to the settlement blocs. Netanyahu might agree to such a solution; he aims to prevent a binational state and thus seeks to separate, demographically, Israelis from Palestinians, according to Beilin. And Abbas might agree to a smaller state than he had hoped for, if he realizes that he will be unable to achieve his original goal — a state within the 1967 lines, Beilin feels.

“This is doable,” Beilin said of an interim accord. “One side wants it; the other side might agree to it under some conditions, and this is not impossible.” However, he cautioned, if the nine-month period allotted for talks is being spent solely on final-status issues, yet fails to yield results, it will be impossible to follow this with negotiations on an interim agreement. “The price of failure is much higher than the price of doing nothing,” he asserted.

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