Interview: 20 years after Oslo - Yossi Beilin discusses Israel's big miss

By Tal Bashan, Jerusalem Post

12.08.13
65-year-old Beilin observes from the sidelines as Israel renews negotiations with the Palestinians, and is "truly delighted."
 
Far from the stormy waters of the Knesset and the accompanying domestic political intrigue, 65-year-old Yossi Beilin is comfortably ensconced in his Ramat Aviv home.
 
The white knight of the Oslo Accords and the Geneva Initiative - today the owner of the "Beilink" international business brokerage company - observes from the sidelines as Israel renews negotiations with the Palestinians, and declares himself to be "genuinely, truly delighted" at the recent developments.
 
Yossi Beilin Speaking at a Geneva Initiative Conference
 
 
Because this is a man known for his restraint, and only up close is it possible to spot the "tells" of anger or enthusiasm, there is no choice but to pay attention. To his credit, his pronouncements are fluent and coherent, and he isn't thrown by tough questions - probably the result of decades of debates with his opponents.
 
Happy, truly? No heart pangs over the possibility that again it’s the right who is making peace with the Arabs?
 
"I swear it on the Torah," answers a smiling Beilin. "I just don't understand the logic of every right-wing leader, and I studied it in great detail. What do these people tell themselves when they look in the mirror each morning? People who devoted their entire lives to convincing people to go in a certain direction, on the most existential of issues facing Israel, and suddenly they undergo a dramatic 180-degree change in their worldview, and carry on, with the same self-confidence, to wrest the same support from the nation for their new message. I'm really curious to know, what do they say to themselves? "
 
Do you expect an apology from the right?
 
Not an apology, but rather an admission of the massive mistake that happened here.
 
Look us in the eye and say that you never understood for all those years what the Zionist left had understood immediately after the Six-Day War – that territorial compromise was necessary. Not that the Zionist left never made mistakes, but they understood the problem even while the right was driving the entire nation to extremism, to demonstrations, with tragic consequences.
 
And what do you think happened now?
 
It's very simple; there was no arm-twisting or maneuvering. When the American Secretary of State comes here six or eight times in the name of the president, it is impossible to suppose that nothing will come of it, for the simple reason that it is not pleasant for either side to say no to the president of the United States. In this trio there always has to be one party that is very, very interested in solving the problem. It's enough that there's one. In his time, [slain prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin was the interested party. Now it's [John] Kerry. It's obvious that nothing would have happened without him.
 
And that's it? Just it wouldn’t be nice to refuse the president?
 
Yes, it's as childish as that. The unbearable ease of renewing negotiations. If one thing does give me a little heartache, it's that. How we wasted all these years. If Hillary Clinton had done what Kerry is doing, we would have renewed the talks five years ago.
 
So you're saying that the Americans didn't put enough pressure on us before?
 
Obama made many rookie mistakes when delivering his wondrous speeches, beginning with making a settlement construction freeze a precondition for restarting negotiations, via a change in his position on the 1967 lines and through to appointment of George Mitchell [as US special envoy to the peace process] – a miserable appointment, as Mitchell did not behave as an intermediary. On the other hand, Clinton heaped excessive praise on [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu for his [2010] settlement freeze. It could be that she simply did not believe anything would come of it and did not wish to bury her head in the sand.
 
Translated by Sara Miller.