In one of the most promising peace initiatives in recent months (if not years), Israelis led by Yossi Beilin and Palestinians led by Yasser Abed Rabbo signed the Geneva Accords. The New York Times’ Elaine Sciolino outlines the plan in Informal Peace Plan for Mideast Is Unveiled in Geneva:
Negotiated in secret for two-and-a-half years, the 50-page accord — with detailed maps — would give the Palestinians a nonmilitarized state in the West Bank and Gaza in return for peace with Israel. Palestinians would also receive the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and sovereignty over the Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, under a permanent international security force, with full Jewish access.
The Israelis, in return for an equivalent amount of land from Israel, would keep most settlements in the West Bank, including virtually all the new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem built on the Arab side of the city. All Palestinian refugees would receive compensation, but only about 30,000 would be allowed to return to their homes in Israel proper.
Beilin, a former Justice Minister in the last Labor Government explained the group’s goal:
We are saying to the world: `Don’t believe those who tell you that our conflict is unsolvable. Don’t try to help us manage the conflict. Help us to end it.’ ”
His message of urgency was echoed in the words of his Palestinian negotiating partner, Yasir Abed Rabbo, a former Palestinian information minister. “Our critics say that officials should make such agreements, not representatives of civil society,” Mr. Abed Rabbo said. “We could not agree more. But what can we do if officials do not meet, if governments do not negotiate? We can’t wait and watch as the future of our two nations slides deeper into catastrophe.”
Over 300 Israelis and Palestinians attended the signing along with Nobel Peace laureates President Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa; U.S. Congressmembers Nick Rahall, Darrell Isa and Lois Capps. While I applaud the fortitude of those in Congress who attended, as an American Jew I am ashamed that no other Jewish members (other than Ms. Capps who, I believe, is Jewish) attended. I know Barney Frank, Bernie Saunders, Howard Berman, Henry Waxman and Jerrold Nadler (among many others) are personally and politically honorable people. So why do they appear to take their marching orders when it comes to Israel policy from the sycophantic AIPAC, which marches in lockstep with almost every Israeli government (especially those which are right wing)? If Sharon called the Accord’s Israeli signers “subversive” is there any doubt about AIPAC’s position on this? Shameful.
Sciolino outlines the list of world leaders who’ve sent words of encouragement to the organizers:
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, President Jacques Chirac of France, King Mohamad VI of Morocco, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and former President Bill Clinton were among those who sent messages of support, which were read aloud. Fifty-eight former world leaders also signed a statement of support.
There was one glaring and significant no show: the United States. Though Colin Powell sent an earlier encouraging note to the group, he declined his invitation to the signing, sending instead “an unidentified junior member of the political section of the United States mission in Geneva.” Now that’s leadership!
Ha’aretz in World Leaders Back Geneva; Rightist Rabbis: Plan is Treason reports that the Israeli extreme right (in the form of a rump rabbinical court) reacted in a predicatbly hysterical fashion:
The rabbinical committee, which has no official status, declared the peace pact an “act of treason” whose negotiators should be” brought to justice and declared outside the brotherhood of humanity.”
I would also take issue with one unfortunate choice of words in Sciolino’s report: “The unreality of the event was overshadowed by the painful pleas from the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to their leaders to talk to each other…” “Unreality” seems to belittle the significance of the event by saying it doesn’t jibe with “current reality.” I’d rather say that it is the current leaders on both sides who reflect a deluded and “unreal” sense of the current situation. The Geneva Accords boldly express a vision of what could, should and will be in the (hopefully ‘near’) future.
Sciolino nicely summarized the significance of the event is this way:
The event dispelled the myth that there is no one to talk to about peace and exposed the absence of an active, visible, high-level diplomatic strategy in Washington, which has embraced the internationally backed “road map” for peace but done little to promote it.
Finally, Jimmy Carter just about made me cry with anguish and resignation when I read his comments to Sciolino:
Mr. Carter, defeated in his quest for re-election by Ronald Reagan in 1980, speculated that “had I been elected to a second term, with the prestige and authority and influence and reputation I had in the region, we could have moved to a final solution.”
You may say he’s a dreamer. But I tend to believe him. If he couldn’t do it, then I’m certain Al Gore would have. How much confidence do you have that your current President can do it?