In an article that appeared on this page a week ago ("Beilin-Abu Mazen, and no further," November 2), Ari Shavit demanded that I take responsibility for the "Beilin-Abu Mazen" understandings. I take full responsibility, and am proud of the understandings, just as I do in regard to the Oslo agreement.
The understandings proposed a new border between Israel and the Palestinian state, with Israel to annex a few settlement blocs in which the majority of the settlers reside, in return for an exchange of territory. The understandings include security arrangements for 12 years, a solution for the Palestinian refugee problem without Israeli recognition of the "right of return," and without its implementation, and an interim settlement in Jerusalem - without dividing the sovereignty in the city - until the permanent solution, and with extraterritorial sovereignty on the Temple Mount being transferred to the Palestinians. The understandings did not include an explicit declaration of the end of the conflict, although that was implicit in their content.
The understandings were not intended to be published and did not oblige any step to be taken, as they were never signed. Their existence was made known to the world in the form of a report by Ze'ev Schiff in Ha'aretz in March 1996. If Ari Shavit would take the trouble to ask his colleague who the source of the report was, he will discover that it was not an Israeli who "runs to tell the guys."
The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin four days after the understandings were concluded wreaked havoc, and the attempt to abridge the interim settlement dramatically and bring about a permanent settlement before it could be torpedoed by extremists on both sides, did not succeed. Benjamin Netanyahu, during his three years as prime minister, crushed the Oslo Accords underfoot, and on May 4, 1999, when the permanent settlement was supposed to be signed, it was nowhere in sight.
Contrary to what Shavit says, the Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings were never proposed by Israel (a fact that is supported not only in the version of events I published in a recent book, "Guide for a Wounded Dove" - in Hebrew). On May 19, 2000, during Ehud Barak's term as prime minister, two months before the Camp David summit, Sandy Berger, the national security adviser of President Bill Clinton, visited Israel and met with Abu Mazen and with me in order to discuss the 1995 understandings. His conclusion was that it would be useful to propose that the negotiations on the permanent settlement be based on the Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings. (Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen, is secretary-general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and commonly referred to as the deputy of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.)
Clinton accepted the proposal and wanted to put forward the understandings at the opening of the summit meeting at Camp David. Barak objected vehemently and insisted on an explicit reference to the end of the conflict. "In retrospect," writes Gilad Sher, Barak's top negotiator from 1999 to 2001, in his important book, "Within Touching Distance" (in Hebrew), "it is a pity that those understandings did not serve the American team as a starting or reference point ahead of the Camp David summit."
Following the failure of Camp David, Sher writes, "The White House believed that the best format for making progress would be negotiations between [Foreign Minister] Shlomo Ben-Ami and Beilin, and Abu Mazen and Abu Ala, in the presence of Osama el-Baz [adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak] ... The American idea was to base the talks on the Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings, which would take on concrete shape as a result of the presence of the `founding fathers.' The idea didn't have a chance: Barak and Ben-Ami weren't ready for the concrete participation of Beilin in the negotiations."
The Clinton plan was put forward only after the eruption of the intifada, and according to Dr. Menachem Klein, in his book, "Breaking a Taboo" (in Hebrew): "the similarity between the proposals of President Clinton and the Beilin-Abu Mazen document shows that the document was a landmark for the U.S. administration, which sought a compromise between the sides." Israel and the Palestinians accepted the Clinton plan in December 2000, with reservations. From my point of view, the Clinton plan is the advanced stage of the understandings I reached with Abu Mazen, and I see no reason to accept Shavit's demand that I dissociate myself from everything that goes beyond the original document. That's like a demand to demolish a house and leave the scaffolding."
Shavit labels the process by which the talks that led to the understandings took place "highly unethical" from the "democratic standpoint" and a "diplomatic putsch." That is ludicrous. The government in power had accepted the Oslo accord and was readying itself for the permanent agreement with the Palestinians - the process by which the understandings were reached was not contrary to the government's policy and was not carried out "behind its back."
It was an informal procedure, which never committed Israel, did not embarrass Israel and did not confront it with a demand to implement any particular clause. Informal moves of this kind are essential to achieve peace and they have no substitute.
The present prime minister of Israel deceived an entire government and led us into a lunatic war that claimed 1,500 lives. Anyone who wants to sanitize that course of events by drawing a comparison with an attempt to provide an elected leadership with an agreed basis for peace talks, is committing a very grave act.