Catholic World News
Feature
[DEC. 06, 2000]

* FIDES INTERVIEWS ISRAELI MINISTER

====================================================

FIDES INTERVIEWS ISRAELI MINISTER

JERUSALEM, Dec. 6, 00 (FIDES/CWNews.com) -- Yossi Beilin, Justice Minister
in the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, is one of the
most enthusiastic promoters of the peace process between Israel and
Palestine. Beilin, aged 52, a journalist and a Labor Party member of the
Israeli parliament, or Knesset, is known to be the architect of the 1993 Oslo
Agreement, which opened the way to reciprocal recognition between Israel
and Palestine. Just back from a brief visit to Washington, Beilin, kindly
agreed to speak with the FIDES news service.

The following is the text of the FIDES interview.

FIDES: Mr. Beilin, in the present critical situation (violence, future elections in
Israel, lack of leadership in the US) what has happened to the Oslo Process?

YOSSI BEILIN: Oslo was an interim agreement, which ended on May 4, 1999.
To have other accords, such as Wye and Sharm el Sheik, we should not
extend the Oslo agreement artificially. The most important thing at Oslo was
mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and being ready to give back
Gaza and Jericho to Palestine before they elect their Authority. What we
need now-- and this was said at Oslo-- is a permanent agreement. We are
already late. But if it is possible, this agreement should focus on the most
important questions already dealt with at Oslo: borders, security, refuges,
Jerusalem.

FIDES: Attorney General Michel Ben Yair recently published an article in
Ha'aretz (November 26) calling Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders and
recognize Palestine's independence in the Occupied Territories and in East
Jerusalem. What is your opinion of this proposal?

BEILIN: If we speak of negotiations, it is a mistake to refer to unilateral
actions-- a unilateral withdrawal by Israel or a unilateral declaration of the
Palestinian state. I would like to see these decisions made within a
negotiation. Even at this difficult time of intifada, we have the privilege of
having relations; we can speak, meet, negotiate. It is not like with the
Hezbollah, with which it was impossible to negotiate and so we withdrew
from Lebanon, where we had no territorial demands. But the PLO it is
another story.

First of all Israel has territorial demands: although we do not want the
majority of the area, we do want at least a small part of the Territories.
Secondly, the main issue we can negotiate; we can come to an agreement.
Why should we make a unilateral withdrawal?

FIDES:  But it would seem that dialogue is not making any progress at the
moment_

BEILIN: In any case to act unilaterally would be a mistake. Today in Israel
we have one of the most moderate governments in years; our requests are
justified and not excessive. A bilateral negotiation is the best thing: I think it
is possible to negotiate and find a solution. This the best way out.

FIDES:  Palestinians are angry and disappointed: since the Oslo Agreement
the number of Israeli settlers has almost doubled. They feel dialogue has
obtained nothing _.

BEILIN: I think this attitude is mistaken: first of all they have obtained
international recognition. The fact that the Palestinians and Arafat in
particular are so welcome in America is for them a huge diplomatic result.
For many years in the United States Arafat was considered the leader of a
terrorist group, in no way could he be given head of state treatment. Oslo
opened the West, the US especially, to the PLO and to Arafat.

It is also true that Oslo opened gates for Israel to Arab countries and this
was mutually beneficial. We have been able to go to Tunisia, Morocco, to the
Gulf states and they have been able to go to the United States.

Then there is the donor country aspect: billions of dollars invested in the
territories. In 1994 Arafat went back to the Territories and became the
leader of the State, or almost a state, not only a leader in exile. No one can
dismiss all this and say it is not important. I think that what they have built
up is something very close to a state. And this never happened before.

Months ago we were about to reach an agreement which would have given
them a Palestinian state, with some changes in the 1976 borders, a solution
for the refugees, a capital for them At Camp David the Palestinians were
really very close to the birth of a State.  It is sad that they missed this
opportunity. And now I hope it is possible to go back to these offers and
these prospects. It is time to stop accusing each other and return to the
negotiating table.

FIDES:  Regarding the Israeli settlers?

BEILIN: We did not freeze settlements at Oslo. No new settlements were
built; but settlers were already there and they have children who need
schools, more homes so the settlements expand. Once we have an agreement,
this will also include the settlers, and a dispute which has torn us apart for
many years will be ended.

FIDES:  Is there any regret on Israel's part for the way in which the
relationship with Palestine has proceeded?

BEILIN: The intifada of the last two months has not made Israelis happy, nor
has it helped us to have trust in Palestinians. We agreed that disputes would
be settled by negotiations and not with force. Now the Palestinian police has
begun using force, Arafat opened doors of the prisons and set almost all the
Hamas free This does not increase Israel's confidence in Palestine. And the
high number of victims on the Palestinian side did not make them love us
more than before..

FIDES:  And Israel's violence?

BEILIN: Israel did not get up two months ago and begin to shoot Palestinians
Somehow, even in joint patrols, Palestinians began to shoot Israelis. Now it is
true that they do not have our sophisticated weapons: on the one hand you
have boys with slings and pistols, and on the other the most powerful army
in the Middle East. It is true we are stronger than the Palestinians; it is not
symmetric. But they know this. And I think they also know that if there are
more clashes they will pay the highest price.

We do not want to continue. If they stop shooting Israel will too. The
question is why do they not stop-- even after the Sharm El Sheik agreement,
after the promises made by Arafat? This is a question which seems to have
no proper reply.

FIDES:  What steps must both sides take to stop the violence and start again
to build co-existence?

BEILIN: Both sides must implement the Sharm El Sheik agreement in three
steps: 1) diminish the level of violence significantly; 2) implement the article
of the fact-finding mission [concerning the violence]; 3) continue negotiations
for a peace agreement in the coming weeks. We still have Clinton as the
American president. He is interested, ready to invest time, to help both sides.
And as both sides have trust in Clinton and it would be crazy to continue the
present nightmare any longer, when peace is possible.

FIDES:  Last week you visited President Clinton. What was your impression?

BEILIN: I think the Americans are ready to help both of us. I had a lengthy
talk with President Clinton. He is ready to continue to help both sides. The
Middle East is high on his priorities list. This does not mean he must come
and stay here for the next two months to help solve our problems, but I do
say that the world's only superpower is ready to invest much for peace in
the Middle East. And it would be sad if Israel and the PLO were to miss this
golden opportunity.

FIDES:  What, in your opinion, is causing the delay in marking more decisive
steps in the peace process?

BEILIN: I am not quite sure what caused this recent violence, in order to see
what might end it. But I do know that many on both sides agree that it
would be crazy to continue in this way. We were so near to an agreement,
the United States are ready to help. It would be a real shame if we fail to
make use of this situation to sign a permanent, or at least a partial
agreement in which some problems definitely solved and others partially.

FIDES:  Mr. Beilin, you signed the Fundamental Agreement with the Holy See
on behalf of the State of Israel in 1993. How has this relationship between
Holy See-Catholic Church and the State of Israel evolved?

BEILIN: The relations with the Holy See are a great success. I think the talks
were positive; now we are about to sign financial and other agreements.
Thanks to the Holy See, to the Pope and this agreement, the perception of the
Judaism-Christianity relationship has changed. Certainly the agreement is a
political accord between two states, but one cannot ignore the ramifications
for the whole Catholic and indeed Christian world. This is something which
will never be reversible: we have changed the style of relations after
thousands of years. We have an Israeli ambassador to the Vatican and a
Vatican ambassador in Israel. I met the Pope two months ago: I can say that
this relationship is a good achievement for Israel. And I hope it is also for
the Holy See .