Beilin bids adieu

Yossi Beilin’s announcement that he is retiring from politics marks the end of an era for left-wing dogma. The Meretz leader, polite-but-outspoken, with bookish and boyish looks, was a key proponent of the Oslo accords and very much a symbol of the peace process with the Palestinians. He is especially well known in foreign media, where his ability to speak articulately in English and his staunchly left-wing views have made him a popular interviewee.

To his credit, Beilin represented himself with decorum; his politics were about ideas, not about who could shout the loudest or throw around the most incendiary language. Still, he leaves the political scene an unmitigated failure. Beilin’s last big move was the Geneva Initiative – essentially a reiteration of the Oslo principles and an effort to pressure Ariel Sharon’s government into pushing the peace process forward – which became a dead letter as soon as it was drafted. It was a sign of the far-left’s acute inability to recognize how flawed the Oslo paradigm was, and of its absolute belief in the idea that wishing makes things so. Perhaps this is why Meretz’s representation in the Knesset plummeted under Beilin’s leadership of the party.

As Beilin bids adieu to the Knesset and turns to business, it is worthwhile to recall a quote of his from late 1993. It comes from an interview in the daily newspaper Ma’ariv and shows the supreme self-confidence of the far left in the early days of the Oslo breakthrough.

“The ultimate test of this agreement,” he said boldly, “will be a test of blood. If it becomes clear that [the Palestinians] can not overcome terror, this will be a temporary accord and we will have no choice but to abrogate it… And if there is no choice, the IDF will return to the places which it is about to leave in the upcoming months.”

With more than 1,100 Israeli fatalities, and far more on the Palestinians side, coming from the Palestinians’ “failure to overcome terror,” the results of that “test of blood” are abundantly clear to all… except for Beilin himself, who has never really faced up to his statement. He never called for the IDF to reconquer territory handed over to the Palestinian Authority, and never treated the Oslo accords as anything but the One True Hope that Israel must not abandon.

Beilin always found a way to blame Israel for the failures of the peace process; to him, it was never due to any inherent flaws in an arrangement that demanded no verifiable, irrevocable reciprocity for Israeli concessions and no consequences for violating the principles of the agreement. By now, there’s hardly anyone left in Israel who feels the same way.

Had Beilin and his followers remained committed to the peace as much as to the process, they might have held onto power in this country. But they never passed the test of blood… or, at least in Beilin’s case, agreed to be held to its result. So, in the end, Beilin suffered from the test of trust: the public simply didn’t trust him anymore. You have to wonder what kind of boardroom needs a man who looks ceaselessly to what could be, while refusing to acknowledge what is.

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