Monday, July 15, 2002

Yossi Beilin has responded to Ari Shavit's argument that the Taba understandings must be repudiated (Hebrew version).

Beilin says he's attempting to "set straight the record", but after reading his piece it's still far from clear what he claims the Taba Understandings actually entailed.

After some self-righteous flourishes, Beilin says that the actual Taba document is not the one that Shavit presented, though Beilin cannot present the actual document.
Well, OK....

The rest of the article is a bit obscure and also a bit shocking, but I will attempt to paraphrase and critique the main points:

As for the other aspects of the argument: Shavit regards the statement that the agreement would be recognized as implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, acceptance of the Palestinian demand for implementation of the right of return, and therefore a terrible precedent. First of all, UNGAR 194, promulgated in December 1948, refers to Palestinian refugees "wishing to return," and not to their right to do so. That is why the Palestinians and all the Arab states opposed it at the time. Ever since the 1980s, UN decisions have referred to the right of return, which the Palestinians obviously preferred. An agreement between the sides that the solution to the refugee problem is to be found in implementation of UNGAR 194 would, in effect, close the book on the refugee case - an obvious Israeli interest that also answers the Palestinian need to solve the refugee problem without the need to declare that their right of return has been recognized.

Here's the relevant clause of Resolution 194 (which unlike Security Council resolutions, does not have the binding force of international law):

11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;

Perhaps what Beilin means is that this clause uses the term "should" rather than describing a "right". But including the clause in the memoranda clearly pushes forward the maximal Palestinian agenda.

Secondly, if Shavit had read the Clinton Framework, which was accepted by the government of Israel on December 28, 2000, he would have discovered that in the section on the refugee problem its says, "The sides will agree that this is an implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194." The Clinton Framework was known as the basis for enabling the Taba talks and it served as the mandate for the Israeli delegation.

The last sentence:

Tokhnit Clinton hayta, k'yadua, ha-basis she'ifsher et sihot Taba, ve'hee shimsha ke'mandat le'mishlahat ha-yisraelit.

I would actually translate as:

The Clinton plan was, as is known, the basis that made possible the Taba talks; and it served as the mandate for the Israeli delegation.

Is Beilin saying that Arafat accepted the Clinton Plan? One of Arafat's specific explicit objections to the Clinton Plan was that it did not provide for the "return" of refugees. And that was the point where negotiations did finally collapse .... Did Arafat do an about-face at Taba that was never noticed till now? Or is Beilin just saying that the Clinton Plan was the guiding principle for the Israeli side, even if that entailed a certain amount of solipsism?

A couple of days before Bush's "vision speech", Nabil Shaath said that the PA was willing to negotiate on the basis of the Clinton Framework. But this was dismissed by most people as a late move of desperation. It was kind of like when Arafat used to call for a ceasefire right after a major Islamikaze bombing.

I am convinced it is possible to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement without granting the Palestinian refugees the right of return. We were very close to such a solution at Taba in January 2001, where it was proved that it is possible to reach a fair agreement without Israel agreeing to what it could never accept - unlimited entry for refugees to its borders. It's no accident that only after the Taba talks did leaders from the Palestinian Authority begin making clear that they would not press for implementation of the right of return.

How was it proved that it was possible to reach an agreement without unlimited return for refugees? From the Hebrew text it's clearer that Beilin's proof is in his last sentence. After Taba there were supposedly public statements by PA officials that indicated that the PA was no longer demanding full right of return. So Beilin's overall point seems to be that at Taba the PA "came close to" or "implicitly" embraced the Clinton proposals.

But what public statements in Beilin talking about? by whom? In fact there have been plenty of public statements by PA officials that the right of return can never be conceded. Which PA figure (aside from Sari Nusseibeh) ever said that the "right of return" was negotiable? Why does Beilin leave out information that would be crucial to convince a skeptic?

Here's another account of Taba.

And here's a version from the Palestinian media.

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