It Is a Mistake for Sharon to Crush Arafat and PLO
Yossi Beilin was justice minister in the Israeli government
of Ehud Barak and a key architect of the Oslo Accords. He also was the
top Israeli negotiator in the Taba talks last January after Camp David
II. Beilin was interviewed by NPQ editor Nathan Gardels.
NPQ | Some have charged that Ariel Sharon's secret
agenda is to crush Yasser Arafat and the PLO just as he tried to do in
Beirut in 1982 because he disregards him as any kind of partner for peace.
What would be the consequence if Sharon succeeded?
YOSSI BEILIN | It is completely foolish to throw Arafat away and
say, "We don't have a partner." There would be nothing easier
than doing this. It would be easy to go to Arafat and say, "We want
a better partner, someone more diplomatic and polite, less mercurial,
more predictable and more in control. You can go retire in Tunisia."
Others say they are just tired of hearing the same old song from Arafat
and that we should wait for a successor. Well, we waited for a successor
in Syria, and look what we got. We may be dissatisfied with Arafat as
a partner, but compared to whom?
No. Arafat must be our partner. He is still regarded by his own people,
whatever their criticism, as their sole leader. For years we wanted to
make peace with the Palestinians, but could not find an address of someone
to negotiate with. Arafat is that address.
If we get rid of him, then Israel cannot arrive at a comprehensive settlement.
Instead we will have to negotiate cease-fires, block by block, on a daily
basis for various hours on given afternoons with angry 17-year-olds who
carry big guns over their shoulders.
NPQ | But how can you get anywhere with Arafat? He was offered
90 percent of what he sought in Camp David II, yet rejected it and let
the violence erupt. Former President Clinton has told friends that he
was "fooled" by Arafat.
BEILIN | Camp David II was only the first round of the final talks.
It was literally the first time the Palestinians were presented with the
outlines of a final settlement. Before Barak no one had the courage to
go that far. Subsequently, in Taba in late January, the Palestinians came
much closer to accepting the terms of a permanent settlement.
NPQ | But it was Arafat who blew that, too, with his virulent attack
on Shimon Peres in Davos at the beginning of February, scuttling a planned
summit with Barak later that week in Sweden.
BEILIN | Yes, that was a disaster. And the Palestinian answer is
not convincing: that Arafat was only handed his speech in Arabic at the
last moment to respond to Peres, but that this speech had been written
two weeks earlier.
Look. Arafat has many faces. How do we know which is the real Arafat?
For that matter, how do we know who is the real Shimon Peres-the initiator
of settlements, the shepherd of Oslo, the minister in Ariel Sharon's government?
The point is that history does not come in neat, clearly marked packages.
In politics all of us hold different positions at different times. This
is as true of Arafat as anyone else. The only question is, what is the
alternative? In the absence to a real answer to that question, and not
a speculation, Arafat remains the only address Israelis can go to if they
want to make peace.
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