Hope and Glory - Geneva

by Avraham Burg
Many attempts to achieve peace in our region have collapsed. Peace with the Egyptians has never been complete, but it is bearing some fruit — there is no war and there is no bloodshed on the shared border. With Jordan, too, the international line holds fast, and ceasefire agreements along the border with Syria have existed for more than a quarter of a century. Only with the Palestinians, our nearest neighbours geographically and politically, we have not been successful.

The reasons for this are many and varied, and although those responsible for this failure on both sides are well known, they have escaped public disapprobation for a very long time. In this article, I want to present, briefly, the main reason for the collapse of the previous peace initiative — Oslo, and the conclusions that are required for the rescue and success of the next attempt — Geneva.

A reminder — after 19 years of association between the Palestinians and the Israelis like that between a horse and his rider, between the vanquished and the conqueror, , the Palestinians have informed us that they have seen the light in the “enlightened” occupation and that they are no longer interested in continuing the connection. They gave this announcement a name, which was, until then, unknown in the vocabulary of the Middle East — the Intifada. The first Intifada surprised Israel and the whole world. (I can’t figure out what he’s trying to say here. Me neither. Emad?)From this same Intifada, the Oslo Accords were born. In secret, in intimacy, far from view, its proponents conjured up the Declaration of Principles that surprised the world and ourselves, and Oslo became an actual political fact. Immediately, without paying attention to details and repercussions, the two societies, the Israelis and the Palestinians, adopted the option of hope. Eighty percent of Israelis and the same number of Palestinians said “yes” to the agreement at that time — a qualified (??) “yes” that paved the way and marked the direction towards an agreed and dignified separation between the two linked peoples.

But as it is always here, no one prepares for the day after. We invest blood and money, victims and cash, in order to argue over yesterday, and we’re not prepared to give the slightest attention to what the next day will bring. We are tied by the bonds of death to all the previous generations and are not prepared to create bonds of life for the sake of all those who come after us. In this way, we neglected to deal with the tomorrow of Oslo. We rejoiced over the surprising present, but failed to create agreements for a promising future.

Both of us, Israel and Palestine, neglected what was most sensitive and painful to the other side. Israel did not understand how much the settlements were like barbed wire, wounding and lethal to the flesh and spirit of the Palestinian revival. Every Palestinian who agreed to the peace of Oslo said to himself: I accept that peace is a compromise. A compromise is incomplete and imperfect, but an honourable compromise is better than a passion that can never be fulfilled. We are making peace and expect that, on the other side, the message will be received and the settlements — the most prominent and painful symbol of the “enlightened” and discriminatory occupation — will cease, will be removed from the landscape of the life of the Palestinian future. Israel was not listening. From Oslo until the present day, the settlements have multiplied in number, price and pain, under Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, and of course, under Sharon.

On the other hand, the Palestinians did not understand what incitement did to us. Every day, we cupped an ear to the voices emanating from the mosques and schools and we trembled. If that’s what the new Palestinian consciousness sounds like, it means they are not creating a new generation beyond the checkpoints and conflict. They are not investing in purifying and cleansing the soul of the hatred and psychology of revenge. Another generation is going out to the streets, drenched with feelings of hopeless revenge, anger and hostility. This was how life was then: the political Oslo of the newspaper headlines, and the settlements versus the incitement in the alleyways. The souls of the two peoples did not internalise the chance they had been given. Collision was only a question of time, and collapse was written on the wall.

And when the collapse came, just like a terrifying train accident, two people were not there to prevent it. Yitzhak Rabin, who had been sacrificed on the altar of Oslo and Yasser Arafat, who gave up at the decisive moment — preferring to continue the dispute with Israel in a dialogue of blood and terror, abandoning the political negotiating table.

Since then, for three long, cursed years, a blight has hung over the Middle East. The conventional wisdom has become, “There’s no one to talk to and nothing to talk about.” And in the absence of a partner and a partnership, swords have been drawn and death has received an official license to go crazy on the streets. After three years of bloodshed and countless tears of grief, the two parties have realized that the conflict cannot be resolved by violence. Individuals can claim revenge, continue to be thirsty for blood, but the leaders simply cannot be allowed to destroy their peoples with cyclical policies of revenge, reaction and revenge. The leaders of the peoples have betrayed them. They have not given us security and have not brought us nearer to peace.

Suddenly, the moment has arrived when the two nations, the two civil <> societies upon which the political system is built, have felt the “weariness from despair.” They are fed up with being desperate when it is obvious to them what the solution is and what it can bring in its wake.

It is fortunate that at this moment, Geneva was waiting for us. Two people, my friend, colleague and partner, Yossi Beilin, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, did not give up — not when Barak erred nor when Arafat erred. They said to themselves: if we, who are so close to the vision of peace, are not capable of building a bridge, no one will ever be able to do so. Slowly, by hard work, with patience, the peace camp re﷓emerged. After three years, we have succeeded in reaching an agreement. For the first time, we have placed before the two communities the final image. Throughout the years, and during all the agreements, the final image was just hot air with very little content: “painful prices,” “historic compromise,” “agonizing decisions.” These empty words allowed the leadership to evade their historic responsibility and that of their people. The Geneva Accords are the true picture. That is how the relationship between us and you will seem on the day that the governments rise to the level of responsibility of the planners of the Geneva Accords.

The Geneva assumptions are simple and striking. I do not want a victory for one side at a price of an insult and humiliation for my former enemy and my partner for the future. I want an agreement with dignity for everything that is holy and precious to the other. And I expect the very same treatment from him. Geneva is an agreement of mutual respect, not of shared affront. It is impossible to escape from the truth within Geneva. Each of the parties has wonderful dreams, dreams of a great homeland, with historic rights and age-old religious dimensions. But a political agreement is not the place where dreams come true. On the contrary, an agreement is the place where dreamers meet and determine for themselves, by agreement, the limits within which their dreams become possible. As a Jew, I will never give up my dream regarding the return of God to his sanctuary in the Third Temple. But, until he returns, I don’t have to exercise my sovereignty in the place of God’s sanctuary. I prayed to a place that was once Persian, Arabic, Roman, Mameluke, Crusader, Turkish, British and Jordanian. It is not hard for me at all to relate and appeal to my “God of all the nations” even when the sovereignty in the place of the sanctuary will be Palestinian — my spiritual dream and the political sovereignty of another, whose faith I respect and who respects my faith.

For my part, I know how piercing and painful is the prayer of the Palestinian heart to return to the villages and towns from which they were exiled because of the tides of war and history. The dream of return has always been the backbone that has carried the Palestinians’ chances of resurrection. The chance has arrived; it is here and you must not miss it. Geneva is an opportunity for resurrection and independence. This is the time to separate the dream and build the possibilities. I expect each of my Palestinian colleagues to know and acknowledge that a prayer is one thing and implementation is another. No one can take away an individual’s yearning to win the right of return. This is his right, which is in his heart. But the actual realization will not happen, just like my Temple will remain in the kingdom of dreams until another history arrives.

Geneva says to both parties: Only someone who knows how to leave his dreams in the realm of dreams will be able to create a better vision and a much more wonderful future for his children. And anyone who insists on living out the dream will end up living a perpetual endless nightmare. Even the proudest among the mothers of the shaheedim, (Emad, is this right?) is a mother of flesh and blood, and I want to offer her the lives of her children in this world, the smiles and joy of grandchildren in the coming years instead of the suffering and funerals, black garb and endless yearning for a child who committed suicide and murdered so many innocent men, women and children on the altar of hatred (this changes the meaning, but it is more common groundy—is it ok with him/you?) and revenge.

Geneva has replaced despair with hope in the equation of the Middle East. Suddenly, therefore, everyone has woken-up. There is forty percent support in Israel and Palestine. Stubborn opposition of extremists in the two camps persists, because they know that the hope of Geneva is the alternative to religious extremism, which is killing us all in the name of everlasting life. Therefore, the international community has woken-up and embraced us — since Geneva is the hope of the region and of the whole world for political stability and for the future of mutual peace-making and respect.

The next stages are absolutely clear to me. Geneva must become an integral part of the international formula — like 242 and 338. Geneva must be the political declaration that the mass of citizens on both sides demand from their leaders — not a fence of illusions, not the terrorism of murders and heartless deviants, not one-sided separation and not empty words from an old leadership that has no future here. Geneva is against all this terrible despair. Geneva is for the great hope. We will again say yes to the agreement and, this time, we will do all we can to make it successful.
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The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation
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

The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation by Tawfiq Abu Baker
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