December 13, 2002

A view beyond the conflict towards peace between Israelis and PalestiniansThe media presents the Arab-Israeli dispute as a conflict without resolution. Beyond the headlines, however, bold and impressive steps are being taken to achieve peace and further the cause of global democracy.

Take, for example, the unofficial draft for a final peace accord, drawn up by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian Minister for Information Yasser Abed Rabbo. According to this document, leaked to the press this week, the Palestinians are willing to give up on the right of return in exchange for Israel’s symbolic acceptance of its “responsibility” for the refugee problem and a token number of returnees. This draft is based along the lines of the Clinton proposals and picks up where the Taba Talks broke down in January 2001, several months into the current Palestinian uprising.

This is not the first time that Yossi Beilin tried to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Ten years ago he had masterminded the Oslo process, which led to the first peace accord signed between the two peoples. In 1995, together with Yaser Arafat’s deputy, Abu-Mazen, he drafted The Beilin-Abu Mazen, a “framework for the conclusion of a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.” Because this Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement created immediate furor, the two partners decided to call it a “non-paper”, half embracing, half ignoring it.

This week’s Beilin-Abed Rabbo deal is totally different. The two people have issued a joint statement, which sounds quite extraordinary:

“Israelis ask why the Palestinian intifada broke out just when it seemed we were so close to an agreement. Palestinians ask why Israel responded with such inordinate military power to the uprising, using planes and tanks against a population largely subject to Israel’s security control? The adversaries are like two wrestlers locked in a deadly embrace who continue to inflict wounds on one another, with no benefit to either. If, in two years time, you show film of the present behaviour of both sides, they will not believe they were parties to such stupidity.”

Then they go on to outline a prospective peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, again, basically a return to the agreement drawn up at Taba in January 2001.

This is not the only game in town. In September, the details of a proposed Israeli-Palestinian final peace agreement reached by PLO Jerusalem representative Sari Nusseibeh, and Ami Ayalon, former head of the Israeli “Shin Bet” secret service were published in Haaretz newspaper. The two, who had traveled together in the United States and had made public appearances in which they spoke openly about their joint venture, made no attempt to wash their hands of it. On the contrary: Parts of the plan even were published in Al Quds, the Main Palestinian newspaper in East Jerusalem.

On both sides, people rushed to attack the plans and badmouth its designers. Beilin and Ayalon (a war hero, with the highest medal for valor) were accused of undermining Israel’s position under fire. Palestinians blamed Abed Rabbo and Nusseiba as betraying the Palestinian cause by giving up the historic claim for the right of return. Yet quite surprisingly, the mainstream crowds were not so worried. It seems that after letting each other’s blood for so long, they are not afraid of trying to talk again. In light of what’s going on here for the last two years, this bit of good news was underreported. With a view beyond the conflict and beyond the headlines we begin to see the paths to peace.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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