A Conversation with Yossi Beilin
With rising tensions with Hezbollah; civil war in Syria; Nusra on the Golan Heights; the Palestinian move at the International Criminal Court; and the beginning of end game diplomacy with Iran, Israel sits at the nexus of much of what America cares about in the Middle East. Please join us for the first in a series of conversations with prominent Israelis about the future of Israel and the U.S.-Israeli relationship in the run-up to Israel’s March 17 elections.
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On February 9, the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Forum of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted an event, “A Conversation with Yossi Beilin” with Beilin. Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives and a Distinguished Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event. Jane Harman, Director, President and CEO, Woodrow Wilson Center, provided opening remarks.
Jane Harman provided opening remarks addressing Israel’s future. She discussed the possibility of a unity government forming as a result of the elections and seeing Israel emerge as a pluralist democracy.
Beilin responded by stating that he does not believe a unity government is the best solution to Israel’s political problems. He pointed out that he served in a unity government and argued that while this set up will maintain the status quo, progress can never be made under it. He stated that a unity government should be a last resort, arguing that it is difficult to make reforms under a unity government because everyone assumes another party will act first. Additionally, Beilin noted that although the media has portrayed the upcoming election as a pivotal one, it is not possible to determine its significance until it has concluded. Israelis want to believe it is pivotal because they are hoping for change.
Aaron David Miller asked Beilin whether or not Israel has the right leaders to confront its problems. Miller stated that the nation is currently undergoing a transition in leadership to a younger generation, which does not seem to have the authority to make necessary decisions. Beilin responded by arguing that there is not a fundamental difference among generations—each generation has good and bad leaders. He stated that leaders in times of war are more often remembered because of the difficult decisions they are forced to make. He also commented that charismatic leaders gain the support of the people, regardless of their decisions. Beilin expressed that he hopes a leader is not chosen based on charisma, but rather the ability to make difficult decisions.
Miller asked Beilin what the root of the strain is in the current U.S.-Israeli relationship and what can be done to repair relations. He commented that, although there have been tense relationships between the leaders of both nations in the past, the relationship since 2009 has differed because it is “dysfunction without production.” Beilin stated that many of the leaders Miller was referring to originate from the Likud party, a center-right political party in Israel. The Likud party is known to promote settlements, which Beilin believes is one of the fundamental problems in the relationship between U.S. and Israeli leaders.
The final point that Beilin addressed was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibility of a two-state solution. Beilin discussed the idea of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation. If this comes to be, Beilin argued that there should not be a complete separation of the two states. Beilin stated that a confederation that includes two completely sovereign and independent states that have joint responsibilities on issues such as construction, zoning, and environment, would be the answer to the deeply rooted conflict.
In the question and answer portion of the event, Beilin explained that in terms of security coordination under a confederation, it is necessary to have a separate security infrastructure other than the general security forces of the militarized Palestinian state and Israeli Defense Forces. This will create a third party with detached authoritative power.
By Mirette Wahba
Middle East Program
The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Read more