Beilin-Husseini Dialogue: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
Photo by Jane Scherr
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The American people think of the accords in light of the formal signing in the White House, where Rabin and Arafat shook hands with President Clinton looking on. From your perspective, what was the major achievement represented by this accord? Mr. Beilin?
Its irreversibility was the most important thing. I mean, we revolutionized the attitude of both sides to each other by this handshake. And the fact that there was a mutual recognition after so many years of animosity, when there was nothing worse than to say "Yasser Arafat" in the Israeli street, and there was nothing worse to say than you are Israeli or pro-Israeli in the Palestinian street. So this mutual recognition was the big achievement.
Another achievement was the establishment, on the ground, of a Palestinian entity. For the first time it was an autonomous entity conducive to a Palestinian state. And that trend is irreversible. The question is whether it will happen [soon] or maybe it will take some more years. The question is whether it was right or wrong to begin immediately with the permanent solution to the conflict. Historically we might argue about it, but in reality it's over. We are over these five years. The question now is what is going to happen tomorrow. And tomorrow there is one thing for sure, no side has an alternative, neither the Palestinian extremists nor the Israeli extremists, neither the Israeli rightist government. No one has a better alternative. What they can say is "Oslo is bad, let us slow down the process." But nobody is coming with a clear-cut alternative to what we did, and that is the biggest achievement of Oslo.
I believe this mutual recognition was the most important thing. For the first time now the Israelis are recognizing that there is a Palestinian people. Several years before that the Prime Minister of Israel said, "Where is the Palestinian people? There is no Palestinian people." So to recognize that there is a Palestinian people who are negotiating. And reaching a deal with a representative of the Palestinian people was the most important thing for me and for the Palestinian people then. For sure, it was also important for us to deal with the reality instead of saying that there's no such country as the Israeli state, it is over now, and such ideas. Then we started to work practically. It was the beginning of struggling, negotiating, quarreling, whatever it is between the two people on the same land and not in exile, or from exile. Those important matters, I believe, led to the situation that Yossi was talking about.
There are a lot of frustrations in this process. People talk about stalemates, people talk about breakdown, and so on. I want to ask each of you what you see as the positive element in this process that remains even when you confront these very great difficulties?
One thing which is positive is that, speaking about the Israeli public opinion at least, there is no change since Oslo itself. I mean there is a majority, not too big, but there is a majority between 50 percent to 60 percent of people who say it was the right thing to do. Even in the worst, in the darkest moments of the process, there is such an ongoing majority. And this is a revolution because one day before the signing of the agreement there would have been another majority, against any kind of negotiations with the PLO. So this proved to me at least one thing, that what you need is to lead the people, and to tell them and to educate them. Because if you lead them only according to public opinion polls, you will perpetuate the status quo, and the status quo might be a disaster.
I believe there are many important things that are still there and are going to be there whatever the results of these negotiations. That in the end, we, as a people, are finding a place for us knowing that here we can solve our problems. And not in any other ways. Solving our problems due to our own interest without any kind of interference of other interests or circumstances which can lead us to another way. So I can say that now Palestine is once again on the map. Palestine once again has its own leadership and its own homeland which is trying to bring Palestinians everywhere to agreement, knowing in the end that there is a place that they would like to implement their daily life and implement their dreams. And this was not available before. Everyone was thinking about something more like a dream which no one tried to challenge. But now we have a dream which is able to be challenged and which can stand in front of that challenge.
I hear you both mixing a kind of idealism, an extraordinary idealism, with a very great sense of the pragmatics of taking the next step in the process. Has that dynamic been important in this process?
I don't know whether it is important, I know that it exists. I think that it is a sin to be superficial about things. And that is one of the reasons why I believe that those who are involved in these processes, those who are involved negotiations, should be very, very knowledgeable about the past, about what happened, about the way people saw each other in the past. Should not ignore anything, but should be very strong and very courageous in detaching and separating between all this knowledge and the current negotiations.
Being pragmatic means sometimes to find a solution which is an unjust solution, unjust in my view about myself even, or unjust, in my view, about the other self. But I can say to the other side, "I know what you think about it, I know how difficult it is for you to compromise on something, (whatever the something is), but since you and I want to prevent the same thing, let us go for it." And eventually, God knows, I mean the future is so complicated. We know so few things about it. It [the future] may change. But in the current situation, let us go for a solution which is a solution.
I just can tell you one story from the past, which is not my past. During the negotiations with the Egyptians, on the interim solution conducive to our withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula, there was a huge debate about the road to an oil field. There was one road. And during the three years of the interim solutions the Egyptians said "That should be under our control." And we said, "No way. It would be under our control." And days and nights they negotiated about it. And I remember the headlines there, "There is a deadlock, there won't be a solution because of the way to our borders." And eventually they found a solution. The solution is crazy. In the day it would be under the control of the Israelis, at night under the control of the Egyptians. Now what kind of solution is it? Whose is it at all? It is not in the books, it doesn't appear anywhere. It's unjust. It's whatever. But that [compromise] worked, and for me that is a kind of a model. Okay, maybe it [the solution] is unjust. Maybe you are right that if you compromise it is awful for you, taking into account the history and how important for you is a specific tree or a specific well. But eventually, if you are not going to do it [compromise] there won't be a solution. And that is my ideology.
I believe that ideal matters are so important. They are so important because they give you identity. What is making me Palestinian? It is making me Palestinian that I am from Palestine? That Palestinian from Jaffa, or from Galilee, or from Nablus, all of us [are] Palestinians. What can make me and that one in Lebanon, Palestinians? Just to know that this is Palestine. So, from this point of view to keep the history of our people, to keep the dreams of our people, to keep all this in our mind, [it] is so important to tell us who we are. But to reach to a solution, it [the ideal] will not work. Being pragmatic, you can reach a solution. So one for the identity is important, and to be pragmatic, to bring all of those people from the one identity to find a solution for their case, it is important. So I think both of us have this sense of thinking.
On the Palestinian side, what is it you would like your opponents within the Palestinian community to understand about this process that you don't think they understand?
I believe that everyone must understand this solution, not as a solution for tomorrow or for after tomorrow. It is a solution for after several years, when this world order will be over and there will be a new regime and there will be a new agreement. This peace process must be put in a way that it can stand in any kind of change in the future, and not to reach to the point that we will find ourselves after several years in a position that we must enter another time to another war.
Sometimes I give Palestinians this example, don't take it literally: that after the Second World War, there were two solutions that we have seen, one of them was the Armenian problem and the other one the Bosnian one. In Armenia they decided to have an Armenian state within the Soviet Union, with less borders, with less rights, with less civility, but it was a state. The Soviet Union collapsed and suddenly we found that there is Armenia. Yes, they've had some fights with their neighbors but they were a state which now has some sort of stability. While in Bosnia, what had been created there was a sort of solution within Yugoslavia, that Bosnians, Serbs, Croatians, in a way that here's a village of Bosnians, there's a village of Serbians. And when Yugoslavia collapsed, those people, the three of them, were forced to go and pay a very high price. We would like to reach to something better than the Armenian solution. And what frightens me is that this government of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is pushing toward a sort of solution which is nearer to that Bosnian model. So we are telling our people, "Don't take from this what is just tomorrow or after tomorrow. Think about it after thirty years, what will be the results."
And what would you like your opponents on the Israeli side to understand about the process?
Well, there is something which I would like my opponent on the Palestinian side to understand, first of all, which is I believe very important for the whole Arab world. To understand that you don't have in the Middle East a phenomenon of imperialism and colonialism and cruel people who were happily throwing away innocent people who live in their innocent homes. What you have in the Middle East is a very big tragedy of two suffering people, one which is the survivors of the Holocaust, which is most of us, and the other one was the people who lived here, who did not have a state, who were not conquered as a state. And in which, during the War of Independence, which was imposed on these survivors and which they didn't want to have, and which was launched by the Arab side, these poor people, these poor Palestinians found themselves, many of them, outside of Palestine and became refugees. I think that if they understand the suffering of the other side and the fact that the other side is not what they try to portray, the cruel Israeli soldier beating a small kid, but the small kid himself who is surviving from the Holocaust, it would be easier for them to understand that eventually we have to find a real compromise.
If you are asking me what I would like our own people [the Israelis] to understand, it is that a battered child might be a beating father. And that is the most horrifying thing. You have it in many cases in the world. And we are the battered child of the world, undoubtedly. We are one of the biggest victims of the world, if not the biggest one. But it doesn't allow us, sometimes to think that because we were such victims we can allow it to hit others.
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