On the evening of Thursday, March 22, 2007, Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin addressed the Meretz USA board. He discussed current events surrounding the Winograd Commission, the formation of the Palestinian Unity government, and what the US should be doing, among other issues. Below is our staff summary of his remarks, supplemented by my observations– Ed.
Winograd Commission & Government Corruption
Dr. Beilin spoke first about an event that occurred on Thursday. Following a petition from Meretz MK Zahava Galon, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to publish the minutes of the Winograd testimonies. On Thursday, Shimon Peres’ testimony was made public. In it, Peres said he had been against the Lebanon war from the beginning , a fact that is also reflected in the Government Cabinet meeting minutes. Today, a rally of students asked him why, if he was against the war, did he vote for it? Peres answered that, as the Deputy Prime Minister, he did not feel that he could vote against the Prime Minister. In response, Dr. Beilin released a statement saying that those individuals who saw the danger of the war, but voted for it anyway, misled the country.
Dr. Beilin also predicted upcoming changes in the Israeli government, although he said he did not believe there would be new elections. He indicated that most parties currently in the Knesset would not benefit by risking an election now. If Prime Minister Olmert is forced to step down by the corruption inquiry against him or by the Winograd Commission findings on the conduct of the recent war with Hezbollah, either Peres or Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni might replace him. He seemed to prefer Livni.
The Newly-Formed Palestinian Unity Government
Dr. Beilin asserted that the Unity Government is a very important milestone since it may create more Palestinian consensus in dealing with Israel. Previous negotiations and exchanges have only occurred with the agreement of one half of the Palestinian population. Israel could come to agreements with Fatah, but not impose them on Hamas.
Hamas is now part of the government. Although Hamas still does not recognize Israel, Israel would be mistaken to boycott contacts with non-Hamas members of this government. The Palestinian government should be judged not only by what it says, but also by what it does. What is most important is that this government move to end violence against Israel.
Dr. Beilin also expressed his hope that the Arab League would reaffirm the Arab Initiative on March 28th in Riyadh.
The Syrian Channel
Dr. Beilin noted that many countries, including some moderate Arab states, are against Israeli negotiations with Syria over the Golan. However, he said that he believed that negotiations are in the interests of Israel. It is possible that the Syrian overtures toward Israel are not serious, but even if negotiations prove fruitless, Israel would be better off in honestly indicating that it had tried and showing Syria to have been unresponsive and untrustworthy.
Dr. Beilin explained that he believes the issue of extremist settlers in Hebron is very important and that there have been significant developments there recently. About 200 settlers recently broke into the closed shops of the old market in Hebron (which had been evacuated for “security reasons”). The settlers claim that they purchased the shops from the Palestinians who own them. Importantly, such a deal must have the Defense Minister’s permission, and, at this point, it is unclear whether Amir Peretz gave this consent. Even if the settlers did purchase the buildings, as they claim, their occupancy would not be legal without the Defense Minister’s approval. Similar instances continue to take place.
The US Role
Dr. Beilin observed that, throughout this stay in the US, people have asked him what the US can do to help end the conflict. In the past, he has always asked for a robust American role in mediation, but he is now frustrated and wary of the Bush administration’s ability to do anything positive in this regard. Consequently, his current opinion is that it would be best if the administration refrained from doing anything, on the assumption that it only will do harm if it gets involved. Obviously, he still would like to see the American Jewish community pressing for an agenda of negotiations and evaluating the Palestinian Authority by what it does to reign in violence. He suggests that progressive Jews should be looking forward to the next administration by establishing relations with the presidential candidates.