On Feb. 11, Yossi Beilin spoke at New York University’s Taub Center for Israel Studies where he has an appointment for this semester. A member of both the Rabin and Barak governments, he was a leading actor in the Oslo Peace Process and later headed the Meretz party.
He relates a compelling story of how he had to tiptoe diplomatically around a skeptical Yitzhak Rabin (whom he had initially regarded as “Likud-light” in his attitudes toward the PLO) to push the backchannel of negotiations in Oslo. A poignant moment in his career was in forging a draft framework for peace with Mahmoud Abbas, days before Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in November 1995 and was about to review it. Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, decided to hold off on it until after the spring election, which he wound up narrowly losing to Netanyahu.
This draft agreement outlined a comprehensive two-state peace agreement (click for 14-page text in English), including a swap of territories enabling most West Bank settlers to remain within the “settlement blocs” near the pre-June 1967 boundaries, but also allowing for the contiguity and viability of Palestinian rule over most of the West Bank, and outlining an innovative system of “boroughs” and other administrative measures to reimagine Jerusalem as undivided but with sovereignty shared between Israel and the Palestinian state.
At NYU, he lauded the courage of genuine peace-seekers to risk their lives, noting that Rabin and Sadat did exactly that. This contrasted sharply with his view of Yasir Arafat, whom he quoted as refusing to sign the agreement negotiated at Camp David in 2000 for fear of being killed.
Beilin lit into the Trump-Kushner plan as a “toxic gift” to Israelis and “an insult” to Palestinians. In a token way, it would include essential elements of a proper peace deal, but emptied of meaning: e.g., a nominal Palestinian state with its capital (nominally) in Jerusalem, an exchange of territories, and a link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Among the flaws he cited: the creation of a security nightmare for Israel with the proposed annexation of 15 isolated settlement enclaves (almost tripling Israel’s borders with the Palestinian West Bank), the illusion of giving the Palestinians a capital in Jerusalem (but only the outlying neighborhoods east of Israel’s security barrier), and the inclusion of over 200,000 East Jerusalem (non-Israeli) Palestinians within Israel while suggesting the exclusion of more than 100,000 current Arab citizens of Israel within the “triangle” of territory supposedly offered to the Palestinian state. The proposed Palestinian state would be so devoid of the usual elements of sovereignty that Israel could veto which Palestinian refugees settled there — i.e., in Palestine, as opposed to Israel.
After the Oslo process collapsed with the Second Intifada and the election of Ariel Sharon in Feb. 2001, Beilin helped lead an effort of veteran Israeli and Palestinian leaders and academics to create a model peace plan for a two-state solution, known as the Geneva Accord or Geneva Initiative. The Geneva Initiative still exists as an Israeli and Palestinian NGO attempting to work toward peace. The following is most of its response to the Trump-Kushner effort, which it characterizes as “an annexation plan, not a peace plan”:
〉〉. . . The Palestinian state, that is intended to emerge from the deal, does not resemble a state at all . . . ; it can be described as a limited autonomy at best. At every level – from the outside and from within – the Palestinian entity is constrained by Israel. . . .
And, on each of the core issues termed to be ‘final status matters’, the proposal does not even begin to scratch the surface of the zone of possible agreement.
On territory: The future Palestinian state would constitute about 84% of the pre-1967 area (this is 18% of the whole of Israel-Palestine). Bear in mind, that all serious proposals from the past, including the Geneva Accord, have designated more than 90% of the area to the Palestinian state. Even the current route of the separation barrier set unilaterally by Israel leaves 92% of the area on the Palestinian side.
Land swaps: Exchanges proposed by the plan amount to 30% vs. 14% in Israel’s favor and are imbalanced in terms of quantity and quality. Of the land annexed to Israel, this includes 54 Palestinian villages with an estimated 140,000 residents, in addition to 220,000 East Jerusalemites as well as a narrow line of land inside the Gaza Strip. At the same time, 15 settlements housing 15,000 settlers will remain as enclaves in Palestine.
Population transfer: The proposal for the inclusion of “The Triangle” in this land-swap raises ethical concerns about ethnic-focused transfer of a population (which could constitute approximately 300,000 citizens of Israel) and the perception of Arab citizens of Israel as a fifth column in Israel, reigniting negative undertones related to the nation-state law that was recently passed and likely inflaming tensions.
Geneva Initiative on land swaps: In return for the annexation of land beyond the 1967 border, Israel will hand over alternative land to the Palestinians, based on a 1:1 ratio. The area of land annexed and exchanged will amount to 2.2% and will be of equal quality and quantity. The vast majority of Israelis living beyond the ‘67 line will stay on the land annexed to Israel (with zero Palestinian presence), and the land transferred to Palestine will be an unpopulated one.
On borders: The plan abandons the 1967 lines as a basis for the borders between Israel and the prospective Palestinian state. Instead, the Palestinian entity is non-contiguous and is comprised of a set of six islands severed by pervasive fingers of Israeli annexation that protrude deep into the West Bank from all angles. Connected by a network of roads, bridges and tunnels, the fragmented Palestinian archipelago will be born with an inherent economic social disadvantage, disconnected populations and a lack of external access. The geographic composition serves neither states’ best interests. The Palestinian state encircled by Israeli territory has no outlet or breathing space, restricted at every point. Meanwhile, the 1,370 km serpentine border (4 times longer than the border comprising the ‘67 lines) twisting around the Palestinian state will far from serve Israel’s security interests, leaving it exposed at every point.
Geneva Initiative on borders: The demarcation of the border is based on demographic, security and historical parameters important for both sides, ensuring the contiguity of the Palestinian state and minimizing the number of Israeli settlers who will have to return to Israel. The border will constitute the permanent, secure and recognized international boundary between the two states based on the 1967 line (see map below).