The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation

by Tawfiq Abu Baker
Even those who oppose the Geneva Accord in Palestinian and Arab mass media, for whom Arab satellite channels opened wide their arms and screens, cannot deny that the initiative has stirred the stagnant waters in the lake of peace, which has been frozen for a long time, since extremists and hardliners from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides took matters into their own hands,. The Accord has instigated a new wave of political initiatives, especially on the Israeli side, ranging from Ehud Olmert’s statements to Shimon Peres’ initiative, to the secular Shinui party’s initiatives, as well as others. Some of these initiatives assumed the form of passive resistance, such as objecting to military service in the Palestinian occupied territories--an infection that has reached the elite commando unit, “Sayeret Matkal,” which is described as the most committed and dedicated unit in the Israeli armed forces. This is the same unit responsible for assassinating the three Palestinian leaders in Beirut in 1973, and for assassinating the Palestinian leader Kahlil al Wazir (Abu Jihad) in Tunisia in April 1988. Another form of passive resistance is the disobedience of air force pilots and the sharp criticism by four former leaders of the Israeli “intelligence”, expressed in a joint statement to Yediot Ahronot, the Israel's most widely circulated daily newspaper, in an unprecedented phenomenon. These, as I mentioned before, are passive initiatives, meant to protest the continuation of the occupation, and calling for putting an end to it.

The Geneva accord comes forward to clarify, for the first time, the features of a detailed permanent agreement at all levels, of what was considered a taboo in the past. The Clinton initiative had come close to such issues related to the permanent agreement, but within a general framework. The Taba negotiations did specify some details, which the Geneva initiative sought guidance from. But this is the first time where fine details of a permanent agreement scenario are published, complete with about thirty maps. Perhaps this is the reason why there was a huge uproar against the initiative at the outset, in both the Israeli and the Palestinian arenas; for most of these details had been taboos, and had been rejected by those opposing peace in principle; Israeli extremists, the proponents of historical Erez Israel, have called for the trial of signatories of the accord as “traitors” in a time of war; a hysterical reaction unfamiliar to Israelis. A similar thing happened in the Palestinian arena, where those opposing peace in principle until the last Jew leaves Palestine, took to the streets, demonstrating loudly against the “accord of shame and treason”, as they described it in their rallies and statements. The hysterical reaction reached the stage of physically assaulting Paslestinian participants in the Geneva Initiative ceremony (1st December 2003) as they were leaving the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, to travel to Geneva through Cairo airport. Normally, character assassination paves the way for physical assassination.

I agree with describing the initiators of the accord as “commandos” for addressing the “taboos” and bringing them down to earth from the high tree, shaking it vigorously in search for an historic reconciliation in which each party presents painful concessions, and gives up some of its demands in order to meet half way with the other party. This is the essence of the historic reconciliation in every place where negotiations of this type took place. Then the storm calmed down, and many started reading the initiative after it came to their doorstep, to discover that headlines truncated in the daily papers and uprooted from its subject matter do not convey the true spirit of the accord, which, at the end of the day, is subject to revision and scrutiny, when there is an official framework for negotiation between officials from both sides. This is one of the document’s basic objectives.

According to a recent survey carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, in cooperation with the Truman Institute at Hebrew University, only 44 % of Israelis oppose the Geneva accord, and part of those surveyed still have not made up their minds. Matters are different on the Palestinian side, however. A majority still opposes the initiative, but according to a previous survey, one third of Palestinians have not read the agreement, since publishing it as a supplement in Palestinian daily newspapers was not the best method to ensure a careful reading of a rather lengthy document full of details. We, in the Arab world in general, have developed the belief that a newspaper supplement carries no importance, and is dedicated to only light issues that cannot make it into the main body of the paper. Consequently, many Palestinians formed their attitudes based on the newspaper headlines, satellite channels’ commentaries and rallies organized by various political factions. In pursuit of safety, others thought it wiser not to express opinions opposing the general sentiment, in order not to expose themselves to criticism and slander. This is one of the most known dilemmas of the Arab intellectuals in general, who are led instead of them leading the masses in what they believe is right, even if this meant that at the outset, they may receive a drizzle of criticism and slander, and perhaps even an accusation of treason. Had Galileo succumbed to public opinion in his time, he would have never talked about the earth’s spherical shape, apologizing when compelled to do so, by saying: “I apologize, but the earth will continue to rotate”.

Among the ironies of the accord, perhaps as a result of its delicate wording or because of looking at the empty half of the glass, and according to the survey previously mentioned, 61% of Israelis oppose the article related to refugees because it includes the right of return, while 72% of Palestinians oppose the same article because, in their opinion, it abolishes the right of return, as some satellite Palestinians insist as they ride the waves of satellite channels, day and night, from daybreak until the last star fades away from the sky.

Such are the intricacies of the Geneva accord that boarded on taboos, then delved into their depths, courageously and solidly.

At the end of the day, only right prevails.

- Tawfiq Abu Baker is veteran political analyst, the director of Jenin Center for Strategic Studies and a member of Palestinian National Council. This article is part of a series of views on the “Geneva Initiative” published in partnership with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
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Hope and Glory - Geneva
A Flicker of Light in the Dark
Why Geneva? A bridge between justice and wisdom
The Geneva Accord - Issues missed in the public debate
The Missing Component in Geneva
“Reality:” Between Surrealism and Hyperrealism
What happened to the Geneva Accord?
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Other articles in this series

Hope and Glory - Geneva by Avraham Burg
A Flicker of Light in the Dark by Mohammad Daraghmeh
Why Geneva? A bridge between justice and wisdom by Akiva Eldar
The Geneva Accord - Issues missed in the public debate by Jonathan Kuttab
The Missing Component in Geneva by B. Michael
“Reality:” Between Surrealism and Hyperrealism by Hazem Saghiyeh
What happened to the Geneva Accord? by Dr. Abdel Monem Said