The following is a report by Meretz USA staff:
With Condoleezza Rice visiting the Middle East to consult with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on composing a joint declaration of principles before the Annapolis summit, currently scheduled for late November or December, Meretz-Yahad party chairman, Dr. Yossi Beilin, addressed Meretz USA on Thursday, October 18th.
Throughout his presentation, Dr. Beilin stressed the importance of the upcoming peace conference at Annapolis, arguing that time for a two-state solution is rapidly running out. As evidence he cited the fact that more and more people, including Israeli settlers, Palestinian extremists, and post-Zionist leftists are beginning to believe that some variant of a single state solution is the only way forward.
Although Dr. Beilin acknowledged that the Annapolis conference is emerging from bizarre circumstances – specifically, there are three weak ‘protagonists’ leading the ‘show’ – he argued that this might offer great potential. In the first place, each of the three leaders has legitimacy: some 70 MKs [a strong majority] – many from the opposition – would support a peace process led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; President Mahmoud Abbas was elected by 62% of Palestinians; and President George W. Bush remains, for now, the ‘leader of the world.’
Additionally, both parties now know each others’ “red lines.” Many previous agreements [and failures] can provide guidelines for the negotiations, and the lead negotiators have a good deal of experience with the issues.
Despite these positive feelings, Dr. Beilin expressed disappointment that not all relevant parties had been invited to participate in the conference. In particular, he stressed the importance of Israel negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza, which will not accept being ignored while the Israelis deal solely with Abbas. If left out, Dr. Beilin said, “They will try to spoil the party.” He also pointed out that the main opposition to negotiations with Hamas comes from Fatah, which wants to talk to Hamas eventually, but on its own terms.
Dr. Beilin next turned to the question of what must happen for the conference to succeed. He suggested that rather than agreeing on a final-status framework, the negotiators should reach a definitive agreement in principle on a single core issue. This issue, he suggested, should be that of borders and what land must eventually be swapped across the Green Line. For the other issues, the Annapolis negotiators should make do with more general solutions.
Explaining what the Meretz party should do to further the peace process, Dr. Beilin said that it would support the Prime Minister in his negotiations with the Palestinians, as long as he shows sincere intentions to make progress. As for the United States, Dr. Beilin emphasized that the U.S. Administration should not merely facilitate negotiations – the Israeli and Palestinian governments already talk – but should, instead, create the dynamic the parties will make concessions to the United States which they might not want to make directly to the other.
Concluding, Dr. Beilin turned away from the peace conference to the environment, citing the decision to ‘take the party green.’ Historically, Meretz has been the Israeli party most concerned with the environment. But in the last few years, the issue has not been emphasized; no Meretz MK has devoted his/her time to it. Yet, in the meantime, the issue has become much more important globally — it is now an “existential question.” In addition, the nascent Israeli Green party has, in the last few years, taken votes away from Meretz — but without receiving enough of its own votes to actually become part of the Knesset. Becoming green once again is, therefore, not only allows Meretz-Yahad to take on an extremely important issue but to also, hopefully, gain more seats and influence on the Israeli government.