Today's date:





by Yossi Beilin

Yossi Beilin was justice minister in the Israeli government of Ehud Barak and a key architect of the Oslo Accords. He also was the top Israeli negotiator in the Taba talks last January after Camp David II. Beilin was interviewed by Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels.

Some have charged that Ariel Sharon's secret agenda is to crush Yasser Arafat and the PLO just as he tried to do in Beirut in 1982 because he disregards him as any kind of partner for peace. What would be the consequence if Sharon succeeded?

It is completely foolish to throw Arafat away and say, ''We don't have a partner.'' There would be nothing easier than doing this. It would be easy to go to Arafat and say, ''We want a better partner, someone more diplomatic and polite, less mercurial, more predictable and more in control. You can go retire in Tunisia.''

Others say they are just tired of hearing the same old song from Arafat and that we should wait for a successor. Well, we waited for a successor in Syria, and look what we got. We may be dissatisfied with Arafat as a partner, but compared to whom?
No. Arafat must be our partner. He is still regarded by his own people, whatever their criticism, as their sole leader. For years we wanted to make peace with the Palestinians, but could not find an address of someone to negotiate with. Arafat is that address.
If we get rid of him, then Israel cannot arrive at a comprehensive settlement. Instead we will have to negotiate cease-fires, block by block, on a daily basis for various hours on given afternoons with angry 17-year-olds who carry big guns over their shoulders.
GV: But how can you get anywhere with Arafat? He was offered 90 percent of what he sought in Camp David II, yet rejected it and let the violence erupt. Former President Clinton has told friends that he was ''fooled'' by Arafat.

Camp David II was only the first round of the final talks. It was literally the first time the Palestinians were presented with the outlines of a final settlement. Before Barak no one had the courage to go that far. Subsequently, in Taba in late January, the Palestinians came much closer to accepting the terms of a permanent settlement.

GV: But it was Arafat who blew that, too, with his virulent attack on Shimon Peres in Davos at the beginning of February, scuttling a planned summit with Barak later that week in Sweden.

BEILIN: Yes, that was a disaster. And the Palestinian answer is not convincing: that Arafat was only handed his speech in Arabic at the last moment to respond to Peres, but that this speech had been written two weeks earlier.

Look. Arafat has many faces. How do we know which is the real Arafat? For that matter, how do we know who is the real Shimon Peres -- the initiator of settlements, the shepherd of Oslo, the minister in Ariel Sharon's government?

The point is that history does not come in neat, clearly marked packages. In politics all of us hold different positions at different times. This is as true of Arafat as anyone else. The only question is, what is the alternative? In the absence to a real answer to that question, and not a speculation, Arafat remains the only address Israelis can go to if they want to make peace.

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 6/6/01)