The Spirit of Geneva

The Nation, December 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Spirit of Geneva


The launching of a new Middle East peace plan in Switzerland in early December attracted more than the usual number of luminaries. Former President Jimmy Carter attended the ceremony to offer passionate support for the so-called Geneva Accord, and a host of former and current diplomats, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela, added their backing as well. The star power in attendance was a testament to the ambitious scope of this new proposal, and it reflected as well growing frustration with the seemingly directionless "road map."

The Geneva Accord, engineered by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Authority negotiator Yasir Abed-Rabbo, is a detailed blueprint for a resolution to the conflict. It seeks to overcome the chief defect of the Oslo process and the road map by settling the most difficult issues right away, rather than putting them off to "final status" talks. Thus it calls for a two-state solution based on near-total Israeli withdrawal from the territories, a division of Jerusalem and the resettlement of most refugees in the new Palestinian state. The agreement also calls for an international force to guarantee implementation and oversight.

The media flurry and high-level maneuvering surrounding the accord may seem odd for what is, after all, merely a "virtual" agreement, signed by ousted politicians with little popular support. But it must be seen in the context of a conflict that has exhausted both sides. After three debilitating years of violence, a spirit of hopelessness has seemed all-pervasive. George W. Bush vowed last June that he would "ride herd" on both parties to make sure they adhered to the road map. Instead, he did next to nothing. Ariel Sharon has refused to halt settlement activity, assassinations or construction of the so-called separation wall, which, according to UN projections, will illegally annex up to 15 percent of Palestinian territory and in effect imprison hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. By August, the Islamists ended their cease-fire with the resumption of suicide bombings.

And yet, even as there seemed to be no exit from the endless conflict, there were fresh stirrings of dissent within Israel, and not all of them from the peace camp. In September a group of Israeli Air Force pilots announced that they would no longer participate in the assassinations in the territories. Moshe Ya'alon, the army chief of staff--the same man who last year declared that Israel should "sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people"--said that Israel's repressive policies (which the United States is now consciously emulating in Iraq) "are working against our strategic interests."

Soon afterward, four former heads of Israel's General Security Service, or Shabak, representing among them almost two decades of leading the country's most feared and ruthless apparatus of counterterrorism and repression, publicly criticized the direction of government leadership in harsh, almost apocalyptic terms. One of them, Ami Ayalon, said, "We are taking very sure and measured steps to a point where the State of Israel will not be a democracy or a home for the Jewish people. …

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