Ariel Sharon really dislikes the Geneva Accord. When it was first signed in the first week of December 2003, numerous commentators remarked on how damaging Geneva was to Sharon’s argument that the conflict with the Palestinians could only be dealt with by military means, and to his determination to put off indefinitely all discussion of final status issues under the pretext that “there is no-one to talk to” on the Palestinian side. The momentum that the Geneva Accord quickly picked up put the Israeli P.M. under intense pressure to produce some kind of political horizon for an end to the conflict, which led to Sharon’s announcement just two weeks after the Geneva ceremony that he was working on a plan to "disengage" from Gaza.
Akiva Eldar commented last week on an interesting example of the Sharon government's continuing determination to prevent the Geneva Accord from gaining support:
According to Sharon, the purpose of his disengagement plan is first and foremost to block the Geneva Initiative, which picked up steam worldwide. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz did not make do with backing disengagement; while that initiative is grounded, the defense minister is helping to slow down the Geneva Initiative: he turned down a request from the Geneva campaign headquarters to allow a 50-member delegation to go to Jericho over the weekend to participate in a convention of the initiative's public committees (Israeli and Palestinian). Among the delegation members who will stay home: Labor MKs Avraham Burg, Amram Mitzna, and Yuli Tamir, Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin, former minister Gad Yaakobi, former chief of staff Amnon Shahak and former Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom.
-- People and politics, 2 June 2006.
According to Mofaz's office, the reason that the Geneva sponsors were refused permission to participate in the international convention was that "there is a threat to the lives of Israelis entering Jericho." It's not often that you hear "security grounds" cited in reference to Jericho, which is the one West Bank city that has never joined the armed intifada and the only one that has never dispatched a single suicide bomber against Israeli. It is also a little surprising that this particular convention was considered too dangerous for Israelis to attend, seeing as its security had been personally guaranteed by Arafat's National Security Advisor, Jibril Rajoub, long-time cooperator with his Israeli security counterparts. And if Jericho is so dangerous to Israelis that Yossi Beilin & Co. can't be allowed to visit there, it is hard to explain why Mofaz allowed the Israeli and Palestinian coordinators of one of the other major peace initiatives currently on the table - the Ayalon-Nusseibeh People's Voice initiative - to hold their own convention there.
Here they are. Palestinian and Israeli sponsors of the People's Voice initiative, including Ami Ayalon (former Israeli Navy Admiral and Head of the Israeli General Security/Shin Bet) himself:
...risking a walkabout in Jericho....
...and debating the initiative...
...with the angry Palestinian mob.
So, security-wise, political gatherings in Jericho are apparently safe for former Israeli Admiral Ami Ayalon, but not for former Israeli chief of staff Amnon Shahak; safe for former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, but not safe for former Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom, etc....
The reason why one convention should be allowed to proceed, while the other should be banned to Israelis is in fact nothing to do with security concerns in Jericho, and everything to do with the political threat that the respective peace initiatives pose to the Likud government. Under the Sharon government, Israelis are free to travel to Jericho for a convention that supports a non-partisan, unofficial peace initiative like The People's Voice. But should they wish to to travel to the same city in support of a peace plan that has the formal backing of still-active Israeli politicians and is part of the official platform of a political party opposed to the Likud, then a security pretext can be be found to prevent their legitimate political activities taking place.
This is not the first time that Yossi Beilin has been on the receiving end of this kind of action by the Sharon government. Three months ago, Beilin and two colleagues were banned - at the instigation of PM Sharon's far-right National Union coalition partners - from discussing the Geneva Accord with Israeli students in Arad, even though their presentation was part of a series of political debates that also included speakers from the Israeli right, and representatives of the settlers' movement.
"The only democracy in the Middle East". Unless you want to promote the Geneva Accord.