There is probably no one else in Israeli politics like Yossi Beilin - a brave weakling, a leader who never swayed the enthusiastic masses, and yet who still managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.
Beilin's direction was laid out in the Beilin-Abbas agreement. Its main point was to aim for a final-status agreement, oppose any unilateral move, and have two countries for two peoples within borders approximating those of 1967, with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. These are the outlines that the world adopted as the desired solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some say that an agreement in this vein will be reached only after more blood is shed; some say it will not be attained until terror has disappeared from the world; some hope it will never be attained, but in the meantime no more logical a solution has been presented. These statements are correct even after Beilin stepped down from the Meretz leadership yesterday.
In contrast to other leftist leaders, Beilin not only demonstrated and charted ideology, but also initiated and implemented steps, actually spurring on governments, and never declaring, like Ehud Barak after the failure of Camp David, that there was no one to talk to. He always sought, on the Palestinian side, someone with whom he could formulate a new agreement, to move something ahead, one step and then another, and another, the main thing being to pursue the way to a solution of the conflict, without giving up Israeli interests or the right of Israel to use force if necessary.
Beilin went to Meretz for lack of choice; this opposition party never really suited him. After he was not selected for a realistic slot on the Labor Party list, he looked for a political home from which he could promote a new agreement. But as the leader of a small party he did not have the power to make an impact, even if his personal influence on decision-makers remained significant. All the social issues that made Meretz what it is - a groundbreaker in civil and human rights, gender equality, civil marriage and separation of religion and state - remained orphaned during his term as party leader. Meretz did not retain its status in these areas after Shulamit Aloni, Dedi Tzuker and Yossi Sarid left. Zahava Gal-On is right when she says that Beilin's departure is a chance to make Meretz relevant again.
Meretz today also has an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda. These include continuing to work for a separation of religion and state, continued concern for the protection of the rights of minorities, freedom of information, freedom of expression, protecting the status of the High Court of Justice in the face of those who would try to limit its influence, unceasing concern to preserve Israel as a country in which there is also equality before the law for those who are not Jewish. All these issues are waiting for a more active leadership.
The fact that Beilin supports Haim Oron as his successor should not necessarily influence Meretz members when it comes to selecting their new leader. Anyone for whom civil and human rights are important should choose the candidate who has been seen to have fought for these issues more than others. Perhaps then Meretz will manage to attract new young voters to its ranks.
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