GENEVA: A BLOW TO PEACE
By AMIR TAHERI
December 7, 2003 -- IT was bound to happen: a virtual Middle East peace accord in a world of virtual reality.
The so-called Geneva Accord, signed last week by Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli justice minister, and Yasser Abd-Rabbo, a former aide to Yasser Arafat, has met with a mixture of childlike enthusiasm by some and wizened cynicism by others.
Jimmy Carter has rushed to endorse the accord with one of his trademark Colgate smiles. The accord has also won some me-tooist support from a Kofi Annan looking for a side-stool for his United Nations. Colin Powell has been tempted into entertaining the architects of the accord at a tea-and-sympathy session.
Norway, which regards itself as a "soft superpower," has called for a summit in Italy this week to support the accord.
At the other end of the spectrum, the accord (part of a corpus of texts thicker than Tolstoy's "War and Peace") has attracted derision and/or anger from the Sharonistas inside and outside Israel.
Little attention, however, has been paid to the reactions that the accord has provoked among Israel's Arab neighbors, especially the Palestinians.
A day after the champagne and caviar ceremony in Geneva, thousands of Palestinians marched in Gaza to denounce what they saw as a "sell-out" by Abd-Rabbo. A more official condemnation came from the Palestinian Dar al-Fatwa (House of Edicts) which declared the accord to be "haraam" (forbidden) and a violation of "the sacred principles of Islamic justice."
Arafat, who still pulls most of the strings on the Palestinian side, has responded with one of his classic "yes-but-no-maybe-perhaps-not-we-shall-see" equivocations. Other Arab political reaction has been dismissive or hostile.
The pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat branded the accord "a fruit of illusions." Arab News welcomed it as a means of weakening Ariel Sharon's hold on power. Egypt's state-owned media lashed out at the "betrayal" of the "right of return" to Israel for an estimated 5.5 million Palestinians.
Syria's state-owned media adopted a similar position. But they also saw the accord as a sign of Israel's weakening resolve. The newspaper Tishrin, the ruling Ba'ath Party's mouthpiece, claims that the accord shows that the Intifada is forcing the "Zionist enemy" to look for a way out of its "quagmire."
The Lebanese media, always looking over their shoulder to Damascus, have come out with much the same analysis. They see a "growing mood of desperation" in Israel and insist that the continuation of the Intifada will eventually break the Jewish state. Readers are reminded of what is presented as Hezbollah's "historic victory" to drive Israel out of southern Lebanon during Ehud Barak's premiership.
In Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, mosque preachers have denounced the accord as "a conspiracy to end the Intifada." One typical theme in these sermons is that just as Britain was obliged to hand Hong Kong over to China after 100 years, the Jews will end up returning the whole of Palestine to the Arabs.
The Geneva episode may conjure a couple of Nobel prizes for those involved. But anyone with a closer understanding of the conflict would know that such moves, far from contributing to peace, may render peacemaking more difficult.
There are several reasons for this:
* The architects of the Geneva Accord assume that making peace is a diplomatic and technical, rather than a political, issue: They assume it is enough to have "a good plan" and some technical ingenuity to end a conflict, even though it may lack the political support base without which no peace is possible. This technocratic method excludes the people from decision-making on the grounds that lesser mortals lack the know-how to handle "complex problems."
* The accord tries to circumvent states and other political institutions that are ultimately responsible for its implementation. The Geneva method assumes that Israel and the Palestinians are two tribes at war with no parliament and no government structures through which peace can be negotiated. The task is thus devolved to self-appointed whitebeards. This diminishes the status of both sides and assumes equivalence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
* The accord presents complex issues as simple irritants that could be sorted out over a cup of tea. It is no accident that the document devotes more space to sharing "the electromagnetic space" between Israel and a hypothetical Palestinian state than to the issue of how many Palestinians can settle in Israel.
Much of the Geneva Accord is based on the Oslo deal, which brought 10 years of bloodshed in which more Palestinians and Israelis have died than in the preceding five decades. It also includes the offers that Arafat rejected at Wye River, Camp David and, finally, Taba.
The "wise men" of Geneva may not have realized it, but by ignoring normal political institutions - especially elected organs of decision-making - they may have bestowed some legitimacy on those who want the future of Palestine to be decided by unelected militants and suicide-bombers. After all, if Beilin and Abd-Rabbo can sign an accord, there is no reason why militant Jewish settlers and Hamas suicide-bombers should not have the right to tear up any accord.
By launching a sideshow, the Geneva crowd provide a ready excuse to keep the so-called "roadmap for peace" on the backburner for as long as possible.
The Geneva Accord is a solution in search of a problem that is never defined. There could be no serious peacemaking unless at least three conditions are met.
* There should be a genuine will on both sides to end the conflict. This may have been the case a decade ago, but is not so at present. A great deal of confidence building and a reasonable period of calm are needed before a will to peace can manifest itself once again.
* Palestine should cease to be a cause celebre for Arab despots, return-ticket Western revolutionaries and Nobel Prize hunters. The less those guys meddle in this conflict, the greater will be the chance of bringing it to an end.
For decades, Arab despots and Western leftists have presented Palestine as a cause to die for - meaning, of course, that Palestinians and Israelis should do the dying. Peace will become possible only when Palestine becomes a cause to live for, with the Palestinians and Israelis doing the living.
* There can be no genuine peace between any two neighbors unless both are democracies.
Some may object to this by pointing out that Egypt and Jordan - which no one could accuse of being democracies - have signed peace treaties with Israel. But have Egypt and Jordan really made peace with Israel? You can find the answer by simply delving into the Egyptian and Jordanian media for a day or two. Others may claim that Israel is not a democracy either. Well, assuming that is the case, all the more reason why no real peace is possible at present.
Unable to think seriously, the architects of the Geneva Accord and their cheering fans have ended up creating a framework of fantasy that disposes of the need for thinking. http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/12728.htm