How many more times are we going to hear that all the killing, the withering of hope, will continue until Gilad Shalit is returned? That is what, in effect, the prime minister says as Qassam rockets falling on towns and villages in the South make a mockery of the rehashed military campaigns and the political standstill. How far can our curiosity be strained with Ehud Olmert's declarations that he is going to surprise the world with concessions, if Abu Mazen will just agree to talk with him? There is nothing to disturb Olmert from speaking with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and from revealing to him at last what he intends to do. Olmert is the one who is stopping Olmert from doing this.
And what have the Israelis done to deserve the incessant ranting that there is no one to talk to? There is someone to talk to and there is something that can be done, if one would only want to do so. Yossi Beilin has once again proven that. In his quiet way, behind the scenes, he has spent the past few months preparing a platform for negotiations. So far he has not published it. Beilin believes in clandestine work, until it bears some results. But while those indefatigably opposed to an agreement continue to scorn the Oslo accords, without offering an alternative, the new Beilin document presents a well-phrased path for moving rationally and gradually toward talks on a permanent status solution. He and his advisers have chosen an appropriate time. America is withdrawing from the caprices of the neo-Conservatives and the semi-religious belief that only force can work. Its president has already made all the mistakes and is now searching for an alternative.
James Baker, who was the strong-handed secretary of state in George Bush senior's administration, and Lee Hamilton, the former chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House of Representatives, are preparing to conclude a plan for changing American policy in the Middle East, at the president's request.
If Bush decides to adopt this paper, the much delayed moment will arrive when the United States begins to operate in this region on the basis of different assumptions. And of course it is imperative, as a result of Iran's stance, that Washington's international politics be adapted to its real needs. Beilin and his aides met everyone who is anyone in the PA in the course of preparing the document: Abbas, close advisers such as Yasser Abed Rabbo, Saeb Erekat and Salam Fayyad. Two days before Olmert's visit began, Beilin delivered the document in Washington to David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs; Kofi Annan in New York and the leading figures in the European diplomatic scene, such as Javier Solana. This is not some haphazard list of personalities. If Olmert had done even some of this, Shalit would already have been in his hands for some time, and the town of Sderot apparently would not have had to bury its dead.
Beilin intentionally did not speak to representatives of Hamas. He intelligently left this to the chairman of the PA, and the latter, for his part, not coincidentally chose this week to deliver an appeasement speech and an invitation to negotiations ("Don't miss peace"). The paper proposes skipping the first stage of the road map, which has been experiencing a slow death for years, and to begin discussing large-scale Israeli withdrawals from the territories. The decision will be in the hands of the PA whether to establish a state within temporary borders. In the proposed talks, of course, the first decision will regard instituting a cease-fire. The PA will release Shalit in conjunction with the release of a significant number of Palestinian prisoners (after all, Olmert has promised to do so) and the alleviation of the disgraceful conditions in the Gaza Strip.
The issues of Jerusalem and the refugees will be discussed in the next stage of the negotiations on the final status agreement, with the assistance of the United States, the European Union and the "Arab quartet" - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The arrangement will be based on the 1967 lines and the moderate Saudi proposal, which has twice been adopted in the past four years by the Arab countries at their summit, with "changes that reflect the security and demographic reality as agreed upon by the two sides."
Let those in the right-wing who detest Beilin say whatever they want. The new Beilin document, first published in these pages, proposes what Olmert, with his wiles, was duty-bound to have done a long time ago. The proposal, whose full details go beyond the limits of this column, does not have tight assurances of success. It is outlined here as renewed proof that quiet and tranquility will not be our lot if there is no end to the irresponsible politics of the prime minister - a man whose words are not bad but whose deeds are a dangerous failure.
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