December 11, 2003
Geneva Initiative Is Merely a Dream
The Geneva initiative is a dream. It's unrealistic; it's hoopla. I suppose people need diversions in their lives.
That it was a private Israeli citizen and members of the opposition party who drafted the initiative is fine in my book. That's not a crime in Israel. There is no Logan Act forbidding ex-officio personalities from engaging in foreign negotiations. Israel actually has a history of similar actions.
The plan lays out borders that nearly approximate a return of Israel to pre-1967 borders. But it was the prerogative of those who composed the plan to put in it whatever they saw fit. So that, too, is OK with me.
What bothers me is that those who drafted the initiative and those who applaud the initiative don't realize that it is only a dream. They think of it as a reality.
What bothers me is that they think that because they've put pen to paper, it will be possible for miracles to happen, for Israelis to live in peace and harmony with the Palestinians. That history has taught them nothing.
What bothers me is not what's in the Geneva initiative, but what's missing. That it never deals with the reality of "what happens when ...?"
In international negotiations, when a country, like a person, is fooled once, we can chalk it up to naiveté. But when the citizens of that country commit the same exact mistake again, that's sloppy thinking, it's myopic vision, it's irresponsible, it's wishful thinking bordering on the delusional.
The first time, we can reason that the public may have been so consumed by the frenzy generated by an idea so powerful that it literally overwhelmed them, silencing all alternative voices in the public debate. Second time around, it frightens me and sets off warning bells. And that's what I see happening now.
Geneva is the second time Israelis are making a colossal mistake in reasoning and calculations. The first was the Oslo accord.
The Oslo mistake was understandable -- then and even now -- in retrospect. Given the stresses involved in daily living in Israel at the time, the feelings of despair, the effort of absorbing suicide bombing attack after attack in major cities, it's only reasonable that Israelis would embrace Yasser Arafat and his promise of peace.
The public, like Israel's leaders at the time, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, ran headlong into the arms of their longtime enemy, dizzy with the prospect of a true peace. After all, everyone reasoned, things can never get any worse; now we're going to make it all better.
Well, they were wrong, and history proved it.
And yet despite that history, there is very serious excitement in many corridors of power around the world. The Geneva initiative is being considered by serious personalities as a viable plan capable of advancing a just peace.
Has nobody read the document? No doubt, reality and politics are blurred here. Presidents and prime ministers, past and present, have sent letters of support for this initiative. Former President Jimmy Carter is a featured supporter of the program.
More telling, Richard Dreyfuss, a fine actor but nevertheless an actor, was the master of ceremonies at the official Geneva accord ceremony. Master of ceremonies? For a peace initiative?
The Israeli mastermind and senior representative is Yossi Beilin. He was one of the architects of the failed Oslo accord. Geneva is his second Oslo.
This time he thinks he can get it right. And he hopes that it will catapult him right back into the center of Israeli politics, a position from which he was rather unceremoniously removed for being even too far left for left-thinking Israelis.
Now he and his colleagues are out to magically resolve one of Israel's great unsolvables. They think that it can be done with no consideration of failure or of potential unfulfillment of the agreement. The document contains not one clause dealing with what happens when.
What happens when the Palestinian side does not live up to its end of the agreement?
What happens when illegal weapons are not collected in the newly demilitarized Palestinian state?
What happens when new weapons are smuggled into or manufactured by the Palestinians and used to shoot at Israel?
What happens then?
Because the Geneva accord clearly states that Israel may not even enter Palestinian air space in order to pursue terrorists.
Because the plan explicitly describes how international forces will protect the Palestinians from Israeli incursions.
Because the plan states that the role of those forces is to supervise, in order to make certain that Palestinians are not hurt by Israelis.
What happens when the Palestinians break their promises?
What happens then?
What happens to Israelis?
That's when their dream turns into a nightmare.
Micah D. Halpern is the founding director of the Jerusalem Center for European Study.