Avrum Burg and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the architects of the Geneva Accords, spoke to Seattle audiences yesterday about their vision of a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Burg is a Labor party member of the Israeli Knesset and Rabbo is former Information Minister in the Palestinian Authority. They spoke at the University of Washington (800 people) and Seattle University under the auspices of a local peace group, Find Common Ground.
Burg is an extraordinary political speaker, full of passion and dark humor in explicating his position of the issues. In fact, his political satired reminds me of Robert Altman’s Mash with its bleak view of war which somehow wrests humor and humanity from the jaws of death. Abed Rabbo is a much more serious and sober, but no less effective representative of the Palestinian perspective.
Burg is entirely dismissive of the idea of the Labor Party forming a unity coalition with the Sharon government: “Sharon’s first unity government was formed to do nothing and did so perfectly.”
In speaking about the conflict, Burg reflects a deep understanding of the perspectives of both his American and Palestinian interlocutors. He said that Bill Clinton showed the two parties a completely new understanding of the concept of a win-win resolution of the conflict. Clinton told them: “if I win you don’t have to lose.” Burg said: “In the Middle East, if I win and you’re [here he pointed to Abed Rabbo] happy, then I’m miserable. But if I win and you’re miserable, then I’m happy. Clinton taught us a different way and that way is what informed our negotiations toward the Geneva Accords.”
Yasser Abed Rabbo (credit: Palestinos.com)
Rabbo told the audience that “we had a historic awareness that it wasn’t enough for my side to find enough in this agreement to go back to my own people and sell it to them. I also needed to ensure that he [Burg] would find enough in it to return to his people and sell it successfully to them.”
Burg answered an unasked question by saying: “What do I think would be a good President for Israel? In implicitly criticizing current Bush Administration policy he replied: “A U.S. President who doesn’t know how to say “no” to Israel is not a good President.”
In outlining the key obstacles to peace which must be overcome by both sides, Burg said: “We have to withdraw back to the ’67 borders and dismantle the settlements. They [the Palestinians] have to end the culture of hatred and incitement to violence.”
He also used some dark humor to characterize the frozen nature of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians: “In the Mideast, a dialogue consists of two monologues. Nothing can ever come of a unilateral approach from either side.” This of course constitutes a swipe at the Sharon plan to disengage from Gaza.
Burg described brilliantly the extremist fantasies on both sides for a final solution:
I have a lovely dream of a Greater Israel. In my dream, King David was born in Bethlehem and was crowned king in Hebron. I even include in my dream that ancient Jewish prostitutes plied their trade in Jericho. In my dream, it would be lovely for Israel to control this land in perpetuity.
Yasser Abed Rabbo over here also has a lovely dream of a Greater Palestine in which generations of his family lived in Jaffo. He’d like to return and bring his entire family back to his ancestral home there. That too is a lovely dream. And there is nothing wrong with having dreams. It’s trying to turn those dreams into reality that becomes a problem.
In solving this conflict, both sides must realize that their dreams must be put aside if we are ever to achieve a lasting peace. The extremists on both sides are not willing to settle for anything less than their full dream. This is what will continue the cycle of death permanently. But if we can break out of the dream cycle and settle for half a loaf, then we will find real, lasting peace.