What happened to the Geneva Accord?

by Dr. Abdel Monem Said
I was among those who attended the Geneva Accord ceremonies on December 1, 2003. I felt that the minds of those attending soared away to a moment in the near future when it may become possible to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and achieve peace in the Middle East. But leaving the hall so enflamed with emotions, and entering the cold air of Geneva, may have awakened them to the daunting realities that would need to be addressed over the following days and weeks. Now, time testifies to the fact that the moment, though historic in its potential for reaching an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, carried with it some indications that the conflict between the two parties has not yet reached its final chapter.

Historians in the future will pose many questions as to why wisdom did not prevail, and why instinct took hold. One of the answers will be that people did not know enough of the agreement’s details.

This, at least, is the logic of the liberal who perceives the conflict as a case of misunderstanding that can be overcome through education and gaining proper understanding, or as a case of accumulated complications, the solution for which requires patience in untangling the web, until that wonderful moment when enlightenment dawns. This logic would have made the puzzle pieces of the Geneva Accord fall into place against a larger framework of understanding, education, and explanation, with a dose of confidence building. It would not only build confidence between the two parties by displaying the good intentions of each, but also by emphasizing that everybody will have a voice in the end, through an eventual public referendum over the compromises presented, regardless of how sensitive they are, whether related to land or to the refugee issue.

But early public opinion surveys, in which the agreement did not win a majority of support, reflected themselves in subsequent surveys, even after people had a chance to find out more about the agreement. Somehow, what was said in Geneva was so different from reality that it made people adhere more adamantly to what they had known. It is also likely that during the past three years of violence, Palestinians and Israelis discovered about each other things that made them skeptical about accepting yet another moment of idealism. The dreams of Oslo were still present in their minds, and they still recalled how those dreams were shattered on the walls of closures, home demolitions, settlement building, and Apache attacks on the one hand, and suicide bombings on the other.

All this may be true, but it is more likely that the historians will find guidance in other explanations, paramount of which is that the prevailing talk in Geneva about both parties having reached a point of fatigue was not true. Both Palestinians and Israelis still have enough of a reserve of animosity and enough energy to prolong the conflict, or at least enough to prevent the implementation of the Geneva Accord. The truth of the matter is that there are not only huge strategic reserves of accumulated hatred and abhorrence, but also other alternatives viciously nurtured by major political powers that mobilized all forces to resist the agreement in Geneva. It was not a mere coincidence that those resisting the agreement on both sides met in an unholy alliance based on accusing anyone who supported the Geneva meeting of treason, heresy, insanity, and of having idealistic dreams. It seems that the international media was itself apprehensive of any new climates in the Arab-Israeli conflict that they are not familiar with, so they, in turn, placed the meeting in the confines of an empty, idealistic framework from the outset.

In Israel, forces opposing the Geneva Accord had their alternatives to put forward. The camp calling for maintaining the status quo of occupying all the Palestinian lands saw in the Geneva Accord a retreat in a war that could be afforded and accepted—and in which they would ultimately be victorious. While the proponents of this alternative drew their intellectual stock from religion and history, proponents of the other alternative to Geneva based their rhetoric on strategic and security considerations for a unilateral disengagement by way of building a separation fence, and rounding up Palestinians in suffocating cantons or “homelands.” In short, they were acting as if the two-state solution had already perished, and the issue had become one of managing a chronic case of occupation and humiliation.

On the Palestinian side, there are also alternatives to the Geneva Accord. Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s perception of liberating Palestine extends from the river to the sea, and the continuation of occupation, therefore, means staying within striking distance of the enemy, and understanding that the fence that surrounds Palestine also surrounds Israel. Furthermore, history has not known a wall that cannot be scaled, surmounted or slipped under. There is also another alternative for Palestinians, one that is derived from Israeli literature, and is based on a bi-national state. It is an old idea that has been adopted by a number of Palestinians inside Israel as the ideal solution for both Palestinian and Jewish interests.

In short, the Geneva Accord was a major competitor to other options and alternatives presented in the Palestinian and Israeli arenas. Despite all the good qualities of the document, Americans, Arabs and the whole world were busy with other issues, ranging from elections to the situation in Iraq, and new developments in Iran, Libya and Sudan. Nobody was willing to defend a document shunned by those most directly affected by it, Israelis and Palestinians, after a bit of examination and a lot of suspicion. At the end of the day, history is cyclical, and perhaps a time will come for the Geneva Accord. But most certainly, it will not be this year, in 2004!

- Director of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo (ACPSS). 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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The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation
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
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Other articles in this series

The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation by Tawfiq Abu Baker
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