Some thoughts on the Geneva Accord, from a letter to Elias Vlanton, co-author of the excellent Cost of War Web site:
"In answer to your question, I like very much what I have read of the Geneva Accord. It seems to be the natural conclusion of where the Clinton Parameters would have led if the Taba talks hadn’t been halted because of the impending fall of the Barak government. I noticed that this week marks the end of what would have been Barak’s Premiership, if it had run its course. Much as I dislike Barak, it is interesting to wonder where Israelis and Palestinians would be now if he could have served his full term. Or if Clinton could have served a third term, for that matter.
I think that if there is ever going to be a Two-State solution, it will be based on the Geneva Accord, or something very similar. There really is no other way. It is telling that the people who really hate the Geneva Accord are those who pay lip service to a Two-State Solution, but are fundamentally opposed to it ever coming about in practice – by this I mean primarily Ariel Sharon, of course.
Sadly, I would also say that the lukewarm response from the U.S. Administration probably also says something about our own lack of sincerity when we talk about a genuinely independent Palestine alongside Israel. To say that we don't need to pay attention to the Geneva Accord because we already have a peace plan on the table (in the form of the Road Map) isn’t really much of an argument, as Geneva is exactly the kind of agreement that needs to be presented alongside the Road Map, in order to induce compliance with the Road Map obligations. The Road Map by itself is a bit like Oslo – it requires a great deal of the Palestinians (Oslo = recognition of Israel; Road Map = end to intifada) in return for a vague promise that something will be done about the Occupation. Unless you have a clear-cut statement of where the process is leading, the Palestinians aren’t going to go down the “trust us, things will work out” path again. Everybody needs to know that the compromises demanded by the Road Map are going to actually lead somewhere, and the Geneva Accord I think is a clear and reasonable statement of where the process should be leading.
Another thing that I like about Geneva is that the people who drafted it are going to build up support for it from the bottom up, instead of from government-level down. Apparently they are going to go knocking door-to-door to basically every household in the community and build support one person at a time. I think that is a good way to go, partly because things at the top are so deadlocked, but also because on both sides the public has to become accustomed to what it is really going to take to make peace. A whole generation has grown up in Israel being taught that Jerusalem is Israel’s undivided capital, never hearing the word “Occupation”, never learning that international law is not on their side, and never seeing the Green Line represented on maps of Israel. Similarly, the right of return is so ingrained on the Palestinian side that it is very difficult for any Palestinian leader to openly talk about relinquishing it, as they will have to do. The Palestinians will have to give on the Right of Return, and the Israelis have to give on Jerusalem: those are the really painful concessions that will bring peace – not shifting some unoccupied container from one uninhabited outpost to another - and at the moment they are pretty much unmentionable in public discourse. The Geneva Accord spells out what has to be done, and the more people get used to discussing and thinking about the previously unthinkable, the more compromise becomes possible.
(The Ayalon-Nusseibeh Statement of Principles also, I think, has the same purpose: it isn’t as detailed as Geneva, but it is a means of mobilizing popular support for a real end to the Occupation and peaceful co-existence on the basis of the 1967 borders).
Like you, I have noticed a recent emphasis on the right of return, and heard some vocal opposition to it. I don’t make light of what the Palestinians are going to have to give up, as legally they do have the right to return, and they have clung to their hope for 50 years, but nonetheless they will have to give it up, and I am convinced that the senior Palestinian leadership knows it. The Likud makes a big deal about the Palestinian determination to swamp Israel with returning refugees, but in reality I think the PA has shown in the last ten years of negotiations that they are ready to give up the actual implementation of the right of return, so long as Israel recognizes the theoretical justness of the claim, and so long as they get in return a full end to occupation and real independence in the Territories. The situation of the refugees in Lebanon is most difficult, because of the legal restrictions that that country places on them so that they don’t tip Lebanon’s delicate demographic balance, but the Camp David and Taba negotiations came up with a variety of alternatives that would give them a real say in their own final relocation. Apparently, refugees was the single core issue where the quickest and most substantive progress was made in the Barak-era negotiations, so I think the Palestinian leadership is clearly ready to concede the right of return, but they need to do so within the context of a good comprehensive agreement if they are to sell it to their own constituents.
The other great virtue of Geneva is of course that it lays to rest that infuriating lie that “There is no-one to talk to”. I am convinced that there have always been people to talk to on the Palestinian side, they just decline to say what the U.S. and Israeli administrations want to hear. In my opinion, what Sharon and Bush really mean by “There is no-one to talk to” is “Arafat won’t be browbeaten into giving up the Palestinians’ legal rights and accepting a toothless semi-autonomy, so let’s see if we can freeze him out and find a Palestinian Chalabi who will be more amenable”. The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to finally surrender their legal rights, as Abba Eban should have said if he was more interested in accuracy than a pithy quote.
Hopefully, the Geneva Accord will put to rest the lie that there is no-one to talk to, that has been so convenient for those whose preferred policy is one of making war and not negotiating anyway.
I think there are already some signs from Israel that the public, if not the government, is more ready now to entertain serious negotiation and compromise, with public questioning during the last week about whether defending the (Gaza) settlements is worth the lives of Israeli soldiers, whether collective punishment creates violence rather than undermines it, and the very high turnout for the Rabin commemoration. The peace camp has been more visible than at any time in the last three years, which is heartening to see, though of course it is all so fragile – a big incursion into Gaza or a major suicide attack on civilians might send everything back to square one. I’m not sure whether these hopeful signs are a result of the Geneva Accords, but I tend to think so, and for that Yossi Beilin, Yasser Abed Rabbo and everyone associated with their Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition deserves credit.
Perhaps one final reason that some Israelis are turning away from their belief in imposing a military solution is the ugly situation in Iraq. Israel has tied itself so unquestioningly to the coat-tails of U.S. hegemony in the region that it must be a sobering sight to see that the Americans’ arrogant belief that they can forcibly remake the Middle East at the point of a gun is built entirely on a foundation of sand. Maybe the one positive effect of the invasion of Iraq might be to show Palestinians and Israelis that they are better off talking to each other than dealing with us. Our own selfish Middle East policy has left us so implicated in the Arab-Israeli conflict that I think our influence is part of the problem, not the way to a solution. Perhaps the fact that the Geneva Accord, the first document to finally tackle the substantive issues of the Palestinian-Israeli question, was forged without American help is a reflection of the fact that they are better off without us. “The Palestinians and Israelis failed with American help to complete what they had begun at Oslo without it”, to paraphrase Charles Enderlin's summary after Camp David II. "