The radical peacenik, Uri Avnery, has a truly nasty turn of mind. His observations are ideologically tendentious but often correct; e.g., I found his piece on Rabin and Peres fascinating, even though his hatred of Peres is over-the-top. Perhaps his distaste for Yossi Beilin has something to do with Beilin having been Peres’s protege. Still, Avnery has some insights worthy of mention even in his malicious attack on Beilin, on the occasion of the latter’s announced withdrawal from the leadership of the Meretz party; but Avnery’s overall tone and some factual distortions merit a sharp response.
In this article of Dec. 29, 2007– entitled “The Beilin Syndrom” [sic]– Avnery wrongly claims that Beilin invented the term “Settlement Blocs,” providing a left-Zionist “kosher certificate” on the great majority of West Bank settlements. He is correct that this concept formed a centerpiece of Beilin’s informal framework agreement of 1995 with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), which came to naught because of Rabin’s assassination, but it was actually invented by strategic analyst Yossi Alpher (now of BitterLemons.org) when he worked for the American Jewish Committee. Avnery is accurate that Israeli governments (with the exception of those of Rabin and Peres in the ’90s) have built up the settlement blocs as if they had license to do so, but it was not Beilin who gave them this license. The settlement blocs hold promise as a basis for territorial exchange and compromise in negotiating with the Palestinians; as such, it is part of the Geneva Accord, but unilateral Israeli moves to thicken the settlements are definitely not in the spirit of Geneva and have always been opposed by Beilin.
Avnery even falsely associates the security barrier with Beilin, by alleging that his erstwhile dovish Labor party colleague Haim Ramon (now close to Olmert in the leadership of Kadima) pushed the barrier in order to annex this territory. Associating the barrier with Beilin via Ramon is unfair in the extreme.
Furthermore, Avnery draws huge significance in the fact that Beilin had a breakfast meeting with Avigdor Lieberman, shortly after the 2006 elections, stating that this particular “kosher certificate” allowed Olmert to include Lieberman’s party in his government. But what we learned from Beilin is that Lieberman was offering an alliance of sorts with Meretz, on the basis that he (Lieberman) now supports a two-state solution and withdrawal from most of the West Bank. Beilin, in fact, has rejected working with Lieberman and even turned down a place in Olmert’s coalition government because Lieberman was included.
Some in Meretz similarly found Beilin’s breakfast with Lieberman hard to swallow, but Avnery is ridiculously wrong in claiming that Beilin’s hospitality allowed Olmert to embrace Lieberman. What I heard at the time from one or two Meretz stalwarts was that maybe it would have been better for Beilin not to have breakfasted with Lieberman but to have decided instead to sit with him in the Olmert cabinet.
Be that as it may, Avnery can’t resist referring to the “Zionist Left” with scorn. He even complains that Beilin uses “the terminology of the establishment”– e.g., referring to the “Palestinian fighters in the Gaza strip” [sic] as “terrorists.” Since these worthies insist on firing rockets and mortars at civilian targets across the border in Israel, what does he expect them to be called?
Still, Avnery may well be correct that Beilin made an error in pursuing the leadership of Meretz in 2004: “…there is a basic contradiction between being a party chairman and being the Prophet of Geneva. …When the Initiator of Geneva became the leader of Meretz, he crippled the initiative by turning it into the platform of one small party. And, on the other hand, he turned Meretz into a one-issue party entirely devoted to the promotion of the initiative. Both the initiative and the party lost.”