Israel apology was belated, says former Israeli minister

Former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, who is also known as the architect of the Oslo Agreement and the Geneva Accords, said that Israel should have apologized to Turkey right after the Mavi Marmara incident. Talking to Today's Zaman in İstanbul on Thursday, Beilin stated concern about the US-led Israel-Palestine peace process. While applauding Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for initiating a settlement process addressing the Kurdish problem, Beilin criticized Erdogan for his remarks on Zionism.

Evaluating the prospects for the bilateral relations between Israel and Turkey, Beilin says that he always believed in the relationship, but he says that the future of this relationship that he defines important for both countries depends on the behavior of both countries. Talking about “joint interests in many areas,” Beilin argues that both countries lost a lot of opportunity to work together in the region, especially in terms of the developments in Syria.

“The apology could have been made earlier. It was a mistake that it was not made when it happened,” says Beilin, defining the Mavi Marmara incident as a “tragic event.” According to him, Israelis perceive the case as a “military faux pas.” He further says that “Nobody in Israel, right or left, believes that the soldiers went there to kill innocent peace activists.” However, admitting that there was a mistake, Beilin says that the government could have apologized at the time of the killing of eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American on the aid flotilla.

“There is no reason we cannot go back to the old days in our relations,” comments Beilin, although he acknowledges that each party perceived the Mavi Marmara case differently.

As far as the new peace initiative between Israel and Palestine led by the US, Beilin criticizes the US for “not doing the right thing.” According to him, “They are trying to push the parties to get a permanent agreement.”

Stating that the two parties of the conflict already know each other, Beilin directs attention to the already existing relations between them. “Palestinians are our second biggest trade partners after Americans,” he says.

For him, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not ready to pay the price for peace, which is the Geneva Initiative.” He lists compensating the refugees, finding symbolic solutions for some of them, the borders of 1967 and acceptance of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine as some of the costs to pay for peace. Similarly, he argues that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) does not have control of Gaza and cannot speak on its behalf.

Instead of the current American method, Beilin suggests following the second phase of the road map. However, "The Americans are not pushing for that. I do not know why, because they did it during the Bush era and both parties agreed to the road map. It would be the natural thing. Let us decide on when we are going to apply a permanent agreement -- which is the third stage -- rather than talking about the permanent borders,” he further comments.

He says that even he, as “mister permanent agreement” sadly cannot say that it is possible to talk about borders at this point. “Do they really believe that Netanyahu will divide Jerusalem? It is not going to happen,” he responds regarding the current American strategy. “When I talk to Americans, they tell me I am right,” he adds.

The use of force is not off the table on the Iranian nuclear issue

As far as the Iranian nuclear issue is concerned, Beilin says that "It is a nightmare for Iran to have a nuclear bomb; not only for Israel, but also other countries in the world."

He considers the availability of a nuclear weapon to a leader who says that Israel should be wiped off the map to be a threat and he referred to what is currently happening in North Korea.

However, he believes that “Obama sees a different timetable from Netanyahu's,” as the latter says, “If Iran enriches enough uranium, then the road to the bomb is a short one.”

“I would like to see very serious negotiations with the Iranians that would end in the understanding that they are not having an atomic bomb,” suggests Beilin, as a solution to the nuclear problem. According to him, “As long as there is no such agreement one should not exclude the use of force.”

He also notes that Israel would not act without coordinating with the Americans on the matter of Iran.

Whatever the motivation is, the settlement process is very important

In response to a question on the settlement process in Turkey, Beilin says that he is very glad to see it happen. “I am reading interpretations that Erdogan is doing it for the presidency. Imagine that he does it only because he wants to become president. So what?” Beilin's reaction to the criticism of the process is to say, “Whatever the motivation is, it is very, very important.”

Beilin advises the proponents of the settlement process to mobilize the majority to express support for peace and dismiss the resistance of the minority on each side. He says that there will always be people who accuse the supporters of the process of being traitors.

I am a Zionist and Erdogan spoke against me personally

Beilin reacts strongly to Prime Minister Erdogan's remarks on Zionism. Erdogan complained of prejudices against Muslims and said Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity "just like Zionism, like anti-Semitism and like fascism¨ at the UN Alliance of Civilizations conference in Vienna in late February.

“I was shocked by Erdogan's words on Zionism. I couldn't believe what he said,” Beilin said, and added that he defines himself a Zionist and says that Erdogan spoke against him personally as well with those remarks.

Beilin defines Zionism as “the idea of saving Jews and giving them the opportunity to have their own states where they can decide to become citizens."

Referring to the Struma case, Beilin says that what happened represents his Zionism. The MV Struma sought to take hundreds of Jewish refugees from Romania to Palestine was torpedoed and sunk by the Soviets in the Black Sea in 1942.

"What happened to us on the Struma should not happen. No country in the world was ready to accept 700 old people, so all of them died,” Beilin comments. According to him, Zionism "says that if we are not our gatekeepers, no one will be."

In response to criticism that occupation of the Palestinian lands is Zionism, Beilin argues that it is "a mutation of Zionism."

Yossi Beilin is an Israeli politician who is known as the architect of the Oslo Agreement and the Geneva Accords. He is the founder and the president of Beilink International Affairs, Ltd.

Previously he served as the Israeli Minister of Justice, Minister of Religious Affairs and Minister of Economy and Planning, in addition to earlier posts in government.

He holds a PhD in political science from Tel Aviv University.

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