And Yossi Beilin, like his long-time mentor Shimon Peres, wonders why he is so mistrusted by everyone, Israelis and Palestinians alike. (use MER Search for past articles focusing on the coming and goings of Yossi Beilin):
Monday, July 15 (web edition)
Friday, July 19 (print edition)
What really happened at Taba
By Yossi Beilin
When the eclipse finally ends, when reason returns to our lives, and we stop
beating each other up and making fools of ourselves in actions like closing
Sari Nusseibeh's offices, we'll also go back to the negotiating table,
bruised and hurting, nerves wracked and convinced that finally the other side
understands how powerful we are.
Then, in the negotiations over the issue of the Palestinian refugees, the
chairman of the Palestinian team will open the yellowing pages of Ha'aretz
from July 11, 2002, and quote from Ari Shavit's article (Taba's principle of
return). The article reports on a document I wrote and gave the Palestinian
delegation at Taba, in which Israel apparently recognized the right of
Palestinians to return to its territory. The Palestinian negotiator will say
a precedent has been set and ask the Israeli team why Israel is retreating
from such an important decision. For that reason, it would be worthwhile for
the Israeli team to also have my words, so they aren't trapped.
Agreement to a right of return by Palestinians to Israel means an end to the
Zionist vision, meaning the vision of a Jewish, democratic state. The main
motive for me and those who share my views, is the need to guarantee a border
for Israel before we find ourselves, heaven forbid, ruling over more
Palestinians than Jews. I pray Shavit's article does not cause unnecessary
damage to this cause, which I hope he shares. In the passion of debate, the
other side should not be granted another instrument to strengthen a demand
Israel cannot accept.
Since Shavit quotes from a document I wrote and that was never published,
because it was an internal memo and part of an official negotiating process,
I assume it would not have been too great a bother for him to ask me if the
quote was accurate. I would have told him that the document he was given
contained two distortions that greatly changed its meaning. Unfortunately, I
am not at liberty to present the original document, but the one Shavit
published was different from the original.
As for the other aspects of the argument: Shavit regards the statement that
the agreement would be recognized as implementation of UN General Assembly
Resolution 194, acceptance of the Palestinian demand for implementation of
the right of return, and therefore a terrible precedent. First of all, UNGAR
194, promulgated in December 1948, refers to Palestinian refugees "wishing to
return," and not to their right to do so. That is why the Palestinians and
all the Arab states opposed it at the time. Ever since the 1980s, UN
decisions have referred to the right of return, which the Palestinians
obviously preferred. An agreement between the sides that the solution to the
refugee problem is to be found in implementation of UNGAR 194 would, in
effect, close the book on the refugee case - an obvious Israeli interest that
also answers the Palestinian need to solve the refugee problem without the
need to declare that their right of return has been recognized.
Secondly, if Shavit had read the Clinton Framework, which was accepted by the
government of Israel on December 28, 2000, he would have discovered that in
the section on the refugee problem its says, "The sides will agree that this
is an implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194." The Clinton
Framework was known as the basis for enabling the Taba talks and it served as
the mandate for the Israeli delegation.
Shavit claims that an Israeli agreement to allow a limited number of refugees
to return, as part of a solution to the problem, is the same as acceptance of
the principle of return. Contrary to the Clinton Framework, he says, "The
Taba document is a breathtaking gamble. It opens the gates of sovereign
Israel to a real, uncontrollable process of return." But again, a reading of
the Clinton Framework would have been useful. The Clinton Framework says,
"Israel could indicate in the agreement that it intends to establish a policy
so that some of the refugees would be absorbed into Israel consistent with
Israel's sovereign decision."
I don't know if that is how the refugee problem will eventually be solved.
It's possible other ideas will arise. But setting a specific number of
thousands of refugees who would be allowed into Israel could be part of a way
to finally close this open wound, and accepting a limited number of
Palestinian refugees, agreed upon in negotiations, does not contradict
Israel's rejection of the principle of the right of return. It's also worth
remembering that within the context of an agreement, Israel would be freed of
some 200,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem with full suffrage, so
demographically, there is a clear advantage to Israel.
I am convinced it is possible to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement
without granting the Palestinian refugees the right of return. We were very
close to such a solution at Taba in January 2001, where it was proved that it
is possible to reach a fair agreement without Israel agreeing to what it
could never accept - unlimited entry for refugees to its borders. It's no
accident that only after the Taba talks did leaders from the Palestinian
Authority begin making clear that they would not press for implementation of
the right of return.