|I’m in the middle, sharing a light moment at the debate. Photo is by NJJN reporter Johanna Ginsberg.|
A lot more could have been said, both by the New Jersey Jewish News reporter and myself, but we faced limitations of space (in her case) and of time (in mine). This is the part of her article devoted to my debate with a Likud supporter (I comment further, below this):
Senior Edyt Dickstein moderated the April 16 debate between attorney Mark Levenson, chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and a pro-Israel activist aligned with Likud, and Ralph Seliger, a writer who blogs for Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA).
Seliger and Levenson disagreed considerably, not only in their positions but in their interpretations of the facts.
On the question of settlements, Seliger said that 1995 negotiations between Israel’s Yossi Beilin and Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas yielded an agreement that would have allowed the 75 to 80 percent of the settler population in three major settlement blocs to remain where they lived. That agreement, he said, was derailed by the assassination that year of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“At the end, because of his assassination and the fact that Shimon Peres, his successor, was not as adept a politician, the agreement collapsed and the so-called peace process slowed to a crawl,” said Seliger. “The settlements were not the problem. The problem is settlement expansion. Now Palestinians do not know where it will stop.”
By contrast, Levenson said, “This so-called agreement Yossi Beilin reached with Abbas was not in a government framework.”
No one from the Palestinian side, Levenson added, “is saying, ‘We agree, we will give up these three blocs.’ That is part of the problem the Israeli government faces.”
Levenson also defended Peres.
“Shimon Peres was one of Israel’s greatest heroes and an international jewel who lent tremendous legitimacy to Israel. The only reason he was not elected after Rabin’s assassination was because a series of bombs catapulted [Benjamin Netanyahu] into the prime ministership. After the assassination, [Peres] had tremendous good will,” he said.
In turn, Seliger argued that the series of bombings was a response to the decision taken by Peres to target [Yihya] Ayyash, the Palestinian terrorist nicknamed The Engineer. The Shin Bet killed Ayyash in January 1996 with a bomb placed in a cell phone.
I had described the Abbas-Beilin agreement as a “framework agreement” in the form of a letter submitted to Rabin virtually on the eve of his assassination. I believe that this, along with newly positive polling data on his reelection prospects, explains Rabin’s uncharacteristically buoyant mood at the great peace rally where he was murdered. Although (as my opponent indicated) this was not a ratified “government” agreement, it was significant and has shaped understandings about a two-state solution ever since. The reporter did not note that Levenson initially confused this with the unofficial Geneva Accord of 2003.
The following links to my latest Tikkun blog post, which begins with this debate and moves to an important tangential issue: Terror in Boston: Personal Malaise Meets Global Jihad.