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Elliot Leven

Elliot Leven: Beilin’s letter to Abu Mazen dramatic, but rhetorical

By Elliot Leven, posted May 10, 2012

In an April 4 “open letter” to Abu Mazen, Israeli peace activist Yossi Beilin called on the Palestinian leader to dissolve the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to return full control of the West Bank to Israel. To date, Palestinian leaders have rejected this notion.
The letter was published in Foreign Policy magazine. Abu Mazen, also known as Mahmoud Abbas, has been president of the PA since Yasser Arafat died. The PA was established in 1994 as part of the Oslo peace accords. It was meant to be a temporary entity, which would exercise limited authority until an independent state of Palestine could be created by mutual agreement.
Beilin is a former Member of Knesset, and a leading Israeli “dove”. Among other things, he was the co-author of the 2003 Geneva Accord (or Geneva Initiative). This unofficial document was negotiated by Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, acting as private citizens. It called for a two-state solution, and would have allowed Israel to keep 34 West Bank settlements, with the others being evacuated. One of the most famous fans of the Geneva Accord is Jimmy Carter.
In his open letter to Abu Mazen, Beilin called the status quo a “farce” and a “ticking time bomb”.   He implied that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who loudly opposed the Oslo process from the beginning, is not serious about achieving a full peace between Israel and Palestine. Implicit in his open letter is Beilin’s feeling that the existence of the PA makes Netanyahu’s life easier. If the PA ceased to exist, and Israel were forced to take over all of the administrative tasks now handled by the PA, the status quo would be less pleasant for Israel, and Netanyahu’s life would be harder.
Also, the end of the PA would demand the attention of other nations, including most importantly the United States. Beilin also feels that Barack Obama is too content with the status quo, at least until America’s November presidential election is over.
Beilin is right to be unhappy with the status quo. The Oslo peace process has not moved forward in many years. To be fair, the Palestinian people (or at least some of them) must accept some responsibility for the problem. It was the voters of Gaza who elected Hamas – an entity which does not officially recognize Israel’s right to exist. That was hardly a victory for the peace process.
However, Beilin is right that Netanyahu is too comfortable with the status quo. The dissolution of the PA would certainly be a kick in Netanyahu’s complacency.
Not surprisingly, Palestinian leaders have reacted to Beilin’s open letter by rejecting the notion of dissolving the PA. Hana Amireh, PLO Executive Committee member, dismissed Beilin’s proposal as “political suicide”. This could not possibly have surprised anyone, least of all the politically-savvy Beilin.
As for Obama, history has made it crystal clear that American presidents value re-election above all else.   Obama is a very wily politician. Every move that he makes between now and November will take into account opinion polls and election tactics. Beilin might lament this fact but, like it or not, it is a fact.
In the end, Beilin’s open letter is essentially a rhetorical device. It is a new and dramatic way of lamenting the moribund status of the Oslo process, and the sad role of Bibi Netanyahu in contributing to that status.
Netanyahu has no desire to reach any agreement that would include any withdrawal from any West Bank settlements. This would be true even if Hamas were to recognize Israel, or if the people of Gaza were to reject Hamas altogether. Sadly, it is not likely that there will be peace between Israel and Palestine while Netanyahu is in power.
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