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Geneva Accord: Spelling out the real alternatives


For the past three years it seemed Palestinians and Israelis could not agree on anything, other than the fact that they could not agree. News coming out of our area focused on suicide bombings, lynchings, kidnappings, transfer plans, house demolitions, closures, assassinations, incursions and other tragedies, that created daily media happenings for hate and despair. The opponents of peace used the failure of the Oslo talks and the violence to build a case that agreement is impossible in principle. So-called "one-state solutions" that really spell genocide for Jews or Palestinians proliferated.

A small group of people led by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abd-Rabbo created a model agreement that shows how Israelis and Palestinians could agree on most major outstanding points, resolve our conflict and move on to a better future. This agreement, the Geneva Accord, has created a media happening for peace and changed the atmosphere in our area, drawing attention to other third party peace efforts, and spawning some imitations and alternatives. It has brought Israelis and Palestinians face to face with the major issues of the peace process, and made them think realistically about what they will have to give up in order to get peace.

The accord is relatively detailed. Beilin and others believe that "the devil is in the details" and that the difficult part of peace making, the "grunt work of peace" is getting agreement on those details. However, most controversy over the accord centers on a few major issues: right of return of the refugees, recognition of a two state solution, making any territorial concessions, allowing supervision by an international force or body and Israeli cession of the temple mount to the Palestinians.

The Gevena Accord is not a 'real' final status document. Therefore, the arguments against it can't be substantive quibbles with particular provisions, which may or may not be practical, but rather opposition in principle to the very idea of peace or compromise, or to the persons making the agreement, or to the way in which it was done. The real opposition to the accord comes from two sources: those who don't want peace under any circumstances, and a group of Israeli Labor Party politicians, including Ehud Barak, Ephraim Sneh and Shimon Peres, who don't want Yossi Beilin and Amram Mitzna to supplant them. After lambasting the Geneva Accord, the Labor party coopted key provisions of the accord for its own platform.

A thunderous barrage of invective has issued from the expected sources. Much of it is hyperbolic personal attacks on the signers. Ari Shavit calls them "peace yuppies" in Ha'aretz. PMW's Itamar Marcus refers to them as leftist extremists. In the National Review, Carol Lerner called Yossi Beilin a Stalinist. The idea is to delegitimize the Israeli signers and give the impression that they do not represent anyone but themselves. Beilin is a corporate-lawyer type who favors conservative economics. Amnon Lipkin Shahak is a former Chief of Staff of the IDF and center party politician. Amram Mitzna is a decorated officer and former mayor of Haifa. These are the "leftist extremists," "Stalinists" and "peace yuppies" who signed the agreement for Israel.

Extremists and hate mongers on both sides have argued that the accord betrays the Palestinians or the Israelis. Palestinian extremists including the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah Al-Aqsa brigades, the Al-Awda Movement and the BADIL refugee lobby group, argue that the accord betrays the Palestinians because it recognizes the State of Israel and gives up right of return of the Palestinian refugees. Right wing Zionist fanatics represented by the ZOA and Likud politicians insist that in the accord, the Palestinians do not recognize the Jewish state and do not give up Right of Return. Obviously, both arguments cannot be true, but the detractors have exposed a real weakness of the accord.

In their desire to reach "agreement" at all costs, the signers adopted a strategy of "constructive ambiguity" on some of the most important questions. The agreement asserts that Israel alone has sole discretion over the number of refugees that will return, but it also asserts that the solution will be based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194. According to Palestinians, that resolution grants every refugee the right to return to their homes in Israel. You can't have it both ways. We have learned to our sorrow that the so-called "constructive ambiguity" which Beilin pioneered in the Oslo Accords is actually destructive obfuscation.

Lack of clarity is not the only drawback of these documents, which have been handed down to the Israeli and Palestinian publics from on high, like the ten commandments at Mt. Sinai, with no public input. The agreements will arbitrarily assign territories with Arab and Jewish citizens living in them to Palestine or Israel, but Arabs and Jews will be treated differently. Arab Israelis living in East Jerusalem may go to sleep in Israel and wake up in Palestine. Nobody asked them, they are presumably supposed to stay where they are or make arrangements as best they can. Jews living in Palestinian areas will all have to leave, and nobody is asking them. The agreement will be enforced by an international commission. Israelis do not trust such commissions and may have good reasons to mistrust them.

We might not support the accord as an actual final status solution, especially as important articles and annexes are absent. However, it is quite another matter to reject the accord in principle.
Palestinian extremists want their followers to believe that the choice is between the Geneva Accord and Greater Palestine without Zionists. Zionist extremists want their followers to believe that the choce is between the Geneva Accord and Greater Israel, at peace with the world, and with a large Jewish majority. That is the real message of those who hide behind slogans of "Right of Return" and "Security Borders" and "Reward for Terror." As an alternative to peace, they offer to postpone peace indefinitely or to set up a mythical single state in which their side will lord it over the other side in the name of "democracy," "justice," and "historic rights."

As the "alternatives" offered by the settler advocates and by Palestinians indicate, the choice is between an agreement somewhat like the Geneva Accord or tragedy for both peoples. If there is no compromise with Zionism, the Palestinian refugees will never have any homes at all. If there is no compromise with Palestinian aspirations, Jews will never live at peace in a Jewish national home.

Criticism that the accord supplants the quartet road map is distorting reality. The road map only specifies how to get to the stage of a final status agreement. Like the Oslo Accord, the road map leaves the nature of the final agreement to the imagination. This is the mother of all destructive obfuscation which has plagued the peace process from the start. At the end of the road specified by the map, the Palestinians and Israelis will find that they need to make an agreement. Otherwise, there will be no end to the road, and the map will lead nowhere. If both sides do not begin exploring the possibilities and preparing their publics for the nature of a possible settlement, they will never be able to reach agreement. Fanatics on both sides will continue to block any compromise that allows the other side to exist in peace.

Claims that the Geneva accord rewards terror, as stated by Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay, must explain why the terror groups reject it. The accord has been rejected by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah Al-Aqsa brigades. They reject it because any peace accord would put the terror groups out of business, so it can hardly be a reward for terror.

The Geneva Accord is not the "killer app" of peace proposals. It is incomplete. It has not been signed. It doesn't have the support of a majority on either side as yet. It has attracted a storm of criticism from extremists as well as from the Israeli government. We surely need to weigh and judge the individual proposals of the accord and decide if they constitute a workable solution for Palestine and Israel. However, if we reject these proposals, we have to substitute others that are better, and if we read criticisms of Accord, we have to ask what the critics are offering instead, and decide whether it is better or worse than what is offered in the Accord. In each case, we will find that what they are offering instead of the Accord, is in fact worse than nothing.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 3 comments

The problem is not in the program. I think the authors of the Geneva agreements have done a tremendous job. Given a democratic environment, I believe that they would rule the day.

Alas, there are so many non-democratic elements involved that are trying to disrupt these peace moves. On the Arab side are the terrorist organizations that organize the suicide bombings in Israel as well as the Arafat organization which currently rules the Palestinian scene. Without any doubt, they are committed to the destruction of Israel. What they could not do by military power, they are now trying to do politically, primarily by insisting on the right of Palestinians refugees to return
to homes (of their forefathers) in Israel.

On the Israeli side, there are the proponents of a Greater Israel which will include,at least parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

It a way can be found to neutralize these "nein sagers" peace might be in sight.

Posted by Elchanan Ross @ 12/11/2003 12:34 AM CST


Posted by FRED STEINER @ 12/13/2003 03:50 AM CST

We either believe in universal human rights or we do not. We either believe in antiracism or we do not. We either believe in democracy or we do not.

Any solution that tries to legitimize the theft of Palestine from the native population and the ethnic cleansing of the native population from their homes and villages is incompatible with principles of universal human rights, democracy and antiracism.

I am an ex-Israeli because I was unwilling to shoot at Palestinian children that were no threat when I served in the Occupied Territores. I do not believe that Eastern European Jews had the right to steal Palestine and Palestinian property from Palestinians.

If you do, think about what you are.

Posted by Leo Koppel @ 12/23/2003 08:01 PM CST

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