We were crowded in those days in a tiny cubicle. Two tables, two chairs and two ambitious youngsters, "Peres' boys," with the elderly secretary Eliya in the entrance. The mother of chef Haim Cohen served tea, Eliya remembered the days with Shraga Netzer and Yossi Beilin remembered his birthday - the Ph.D dissertation he was writing dealt with the generation gap in Israeli politics, and he had a phenomenal memory for the minutest detail.
The industrious Beilin would write everything down in his tiny handwriting, from Yisrael Galili's manifest at the executive committee meeting through a statement of the party's "response team" to the list of recommended names submitted to the appointments' committee. Everything was noted with that golden Cross pen in his brown briefcase, the kind known as a "James Bond case" in these parts. But he was no James Bond.
Beilin was a laborer already then. Those were the days after the "upheaval," the Labor Party was flat on its face, as the saying goes, and Shimon Peres sat alone in the opposite room. Beilin swore allegiance to him. He decided to turn one of the former leaders of Labor's breakaway party Rafi (formed in 1965 by former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, after he and other Mapai members split with his successor, Levi Eshkol) into a man of peace. Since then they have gone a long way together, beginning with a newspaper interview and continuing to this day, including mutual grumbling like a couple after years of living together.
Devoid of any emotional display, Beilin became a one-issue politician, the first and foremost issue. Not a radical left winger, not a human-rights advocate, not a demonstrator or creator of protest movements. Only a lowly laborer with a lofty dream, who decided to dedicate his life to achieving peace agreements, which to him were the crux of the matter. Shelf agreements, table agreements, Oslo and Geneva agreements - concocting agreements became his life's goal. No more negotiations are necessary - whoever needs a draft peace agreement will find one prepared in Beilin's drawer.
He succeeded in achieving quite a lot, wandering the halls of Geneva and Oslo more than in the Jenin and Gaza refugee camps, and meeting more Arab and international statesmen than Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni put together. Even Peres became, greatly thanks to him, a man of peace in his own eyes and in most of the world's eyes. Beilin, the new, updated Galili, was always just behind him. But after all the agreements and understandings, peace is further than ever and the occupation as brutal as ever.
This is the political life balance of the respected Knesset member who announced his retirement yesterday, with a wall-to-wall chorus mourning his departure. Most of his lamenters never listened to him, but they, too, would agree that his departure leaves a vacuum. With his quiet - perhaps too quiet - tone, the reserved Beilin, as understated as a British politician, was the most effective and creative peace lobbyist, the secret, tireless adviser of Nobel Peace Prize winners who did not bring peace.
He saw the Promised Land, the land of peace of almost unlimited opportunities, but did not reach it.
No hater of Israel he but a devout Zionist, for better or worse. Israeli statesmanship needs at least one Beilin at the side of a daring leader who will also know how to implement his agreements. We have never had such a leader, and now Beilin is retiring, too. We are left with Yoel Hasson and Yoram Marziano.
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