An interview with Labor MK Yossi Beilin, by Palestinian News Agency in Israel reporter Muhammad Hamza, was printed in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam on Jan. 23, 1999. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Question: You spoke of the price of peace the [Israeli] right is incapable of paying but you are willing to accept. To what price are you referring?
Beilin:I believe that the price of peace is a Palestinian state on the lion’s share of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I do not see it only as a price, but as something that will enable us to fulfill the Israeli, and even Jewish, national interest... A very Zionist person, like myself, who believes in the right of the Jewish people to a state of its own needs to say in the same breathe that the Palestinian people have a right to establish their state. I admit, therefore, that for me there is no price to be paid at all.
Question: What is the Palestinian state that you are willing to accept and what will be the future of the [Israeli] settlements in its territory?
Belin: Following the Likud’s rise to power, I started working toward undertaking the necessary steps for both sides. I reached an outline of an agreement that was included in a document that was never signed and never published. This is the Belin-Abu Mazen document. When I examined the articles on which we did not reach an agreement, I learned that they totally reflected my positions. I am obliged by them, but [Arafat’s deputy] Abu Mazen is not obliged by them because these are ideas, not a signed document.
Nevertheless, I view Abu-Mazen as a full partner to these ideas. I see this man as a pioneer inside the Palestinian camp along with people such as [Palestinian Legislative Council Chairman] Abu 'Ala, [Palestinian Chief Negotiator] Saib 'Arekat and everyone with whom I had relations with in the last few years, and first and foremost Abu 'Amar [Arafat]. This is a unique and special person who I view as the supreme expression of the Palestinian national interest, and the human [interest] as well. These people share the same outlook as myself. They understand...that the world is divided into nations. Every nation has the right to self determination. On the other hand, they understand that the world is made up of people who strive for a better life. This is the supreme basis on which we based our work, myself and Abu Mazen.
Regarding the settlements, I believe that most settlements will remain in the Palestinian state. Settlers who want to receive recompense and leave - Israel should pay them.
Question: In your book you wrote, "we are not ready for peace." Maybe this is the reason that the peace camp lost many supporters once [the 1992 elections when it won despite a reduction in its popular support] and the elections themselves the next time, or at least since it started discussing peace with the Palestinians?
Beilin: I do not think that we are not ready to sign a peace treaty. Maybe we, as a society, are not ready for peace, but [we are ready] for a peace treaty. You know that according to the polls the majority of the Israeli public supports peace with the Palestinians. I think that we did not turn the key [in the door] of a peaceful life. For example: that Jews [namely, settlers] will live in a Palestinian state that today is viewed as life among the enemies. And the question is raised: what is the reason for this animosity? If peace is achieved they will not have to walk, looking behind their backs in fear all the time. It is very difficult to communicate this feeling, because it is an abstraction. So one says, "I live now and I have a problem with the Palestinian terror." Let’s assume that this is [the Israelis’] problem. We have in return a difficult time understanding the meaning of the release of "an ex-terrorist" from jail as a freedom fighter. It is very difficult to look at a man who we defined as a terrorist in our dictionary and [view him] as a freedom fighter who is released and returns to his family and hugs his wife and children. It is the same in the Palestinian camp, which is having difficulties viewing the Jews as people with whom one can live in a permanent peace. There are those who view it this way and say that we will never solve our problems with the Jews. They [the Jews] always invent something new after we reach an agreement with them.
Question: Maybe one of the sides or both did not speak to their public openly and did not say that the meaning was not [to achieve] a "historic solution" or a "historic reconciliation," but that we are facing a tragedy that can only be overcome through a peace agreement, which also has economic and other benefits. The Palestinians believe they are making compromises all the time, and here you come up with such an idea, while claiming to be engaged in peace negotiations. How [is this possible]?
Beilin: The situation is not easy. After twenty years of peace with Egypt we still suffer from the absence of a warm peace with it. This is not an easy process. I compare the situation to a disabled person who recovered from the need to sit in a wheel chair. But he does not yet know how to walk and thus longs for the chair. People who grew used to a condition of deficiency feel bored when a change in the situation occurs. We must get used to the improved condition, just as we grew used to the worst situations. [One should not] minimize this and think it easy to get used to a better situation. Whoever thinks that will learn that when it comes to the test, it is difficult.
Peace is like the lottery. It causes people to win a great prize, but after winning, they do not know how to handle themselves...
Responding to another question, Beilin said: The opponents of the agreement in the Palestinian camp give legitimacy to acts of violence against it. Such legitimacy does not exist among the Israeli right. Even if there are right-wing initiated terrorist acts (Goldstein, Amir, etc.), there is no meaningful factor that is willing to declare its support for the murder of Arabs... It is not like the Hamas movement which is a weighty factor which uses the media to state that suicide attacks should take place in Tel-Aviv even if it results in the death of innocent [people], like [the Hamas spiritual leader] Sheik [Ahmad] Yassin does...
Responding to a question on Lebanon and Syria: We must return to the point where we stopped [the negotiations] with the Syrians... What I [would] tell [Syrian President] Assad is that we are willing to reach an agreement about Lebanon, Syria, and withdrawal from the Golan. In parallel to negotiating with you, we want to leave Lebanon. We do not view Lebanon as a front like to the Golan. I agree to that. If Assad views our withdrawal as a good will gesture, it would be possible to end the Lebanon problem... And if he will say: I do not want you to leave Lebanon, as he said in the past, and if he will hint that we should stay and not do anything, I will tell him: we will leave ourselves, for our children’s sake.
We are not bound to stay in a country that does not belong to us. Our presence there is the main reason for the Hizballah’s activity. If we will leave, the situation will calm down. We are occupying South Lebanon, and if we will leave there will no longer be a conflict between our soldier and Hizballah. If my estimates are wrong and the shelling of the north from South Lebanon continues, we could do whatever we want to do. The Air force could hit Hizballah’s targets without having to be in Lebanon.