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This commentary is one of a series of seven articles of views on "The Geneva Accords" by Israeli and Arab authors commissioned by the Common Ground News Service in partnership with Al-Hayat newspaper and reprinted by other regional news and media outlets.

The Missing Component in Geneva

B. Michael

The Geneva Accord - or to give it its precise name - “The Model for a Permanent Israeli-Palestinian Agreement,” is a particular type of animal. It is not a revolutionary invention, like the transistor or antibiotics.

Neither is it a sensational discovery, like the unearthing of Pompeii or the detection of the human genome, and it is not even a brilliant solution to a mathematical problem or a chess puzzle. The Geneva Accord is simply a strict record and a detailed definition of what, in fact, has been known since the morning of June 12, 1967--that is, how the solution will look one day. This is the answer and there isn’t any other. For this, and only this, is the exact break-even point between the ability to give and the ability to take between the two peoples: mutual recognition and legitimacy, the 1967 borders (more or less), the right of return for the descendants of the two peoples to their new states—and not to their old homes, the Western Wall for the Jews, the mosques for the Palestinians. That’s it. These are the foundation stones. All the rest is nothing but small print to keep lawyers busy. And if the lawyers try to do what lawyers do best, which is complicate things and spark disputes, hopefully they will encounter the other component that every successful accord must include–, though it is impossible to word it in the cold clauses of an agreement: lots and lots of goodwill.

It was the late Anwar Sadat who coined the brilliant maxim, “The Israeli-Arab conflict is 10% real problems and 90% psychology.” This is even more correct today than it was then. And without large quantities of goodwill and patience to overcome the uncompromising psychology, nothing will happen.

Into the midst of this formula, which, as stated above, was so clear and obvious as early as the first day after the 1967 War, pushed itself yet one more factor: the settlements. In my opinion, and many others, this is the most bitter historic error that the State of Israel has committed since its independence.

In fairness, it is appropriate not to include the settlers under one definitive umbrella. They are, in fact, divided into three sub-groups: the first and most numerous are the “quality-of-life settlers.” These went to the territories as a result of the temptations of cheap housing and economic benefits. The second group is the – what shall I call them? – the “innocent farmers” group. These people came, mainly to the Jordan Valley, with a real sense of mission, agricultural and security, and they even sought to soothe their consciences, which were a little bothered, by believing that they were not displacing anyone, but rather settling uninhabited barren land. The third and most problematic group includes the “settlers of God.” Fortunately, this is the smallest group. Their numbers are estimated at 20,000, but some claim the number is even smaller. They are convinced that God personally summoned them there, that they hasten the coming of the Messiah and heavenly redemption, and that their living in the Promised Land and their resolute opposition to any recognition of the national rights of the Palestinian people are the observance of a religious precept. Amid much theological irony, it is worth emphasizing again and again that the principles of Halacha (the codex directing the Jewish religion), explicitly and unambiguously, prohibit engaging in territorial nationalism for reasons of religion.

The Geneva Accord reiterates Israel’s obligation to “resettle” the settlers that currently live in the areas of the future Palestinian state, and rightly so. No agreement will last long if 200,000 settlers continue to control large parts of the territories in the West Bank. The present government of Israel, for whom the achievement of a fair agreement with the Palestinian people is not exactly at the top of its list of priorities, is seeking to convince the whole world, and even its own people, that the job of bringing the settlers back home involves much violence, taking the country dangerously close to a civil war, and massive operations by the army, police, and, of course, its oh-so popular bulldozers. One can assume that another government, that hopefully is equipped to the necessary extent with the goodwill mentioned above, will well understand that the task of returning the settlers to Israel must be that of the Ministry of Finance, and not the Ministry of Defense. What will bring the bulk of the settlers back to Israel must be, and in fact, can only be, that which caused them to go there in the first place: assistance with housing and finance. They will also need help relocating (and, of course, will need large doses of wise psychology, again in the spirit of the late lamented Anwar Sadat’s maxim).

Polls and surveys already show that close to 80% of the settlers are prepared to return to Israel immediately, if a fair package of assistance is offered. If we manage to arrive at a point when the Geneva Accord becomes the official policy of the two peoples, there is no doubt that this number will grow and will easily exceed the 90% hurdle. Nevertheless, even with all of the goodwill, political skill and financial generosity in the world, without a question there will remain a certain number of settlers who will refuse to leave.

And here is where we arrive at the part, which, in my opinion, is missing in the Geneva Accord. It needs to, but does not, contain an explicit, written, honest, even welcoming, consent to absorb settlers who are willing to reside permanently in the Palestinian state, and to grant them all of the rights associated with the status of residency. This, of course, would be on condition that the settlers who choose this option declare that they see themselves as subject to the laws of the Palestinian state and its authorities. There is no reason why, within the framework of an agreement based on goodwill, a Jewish minority can’t live in Palestine, just as a Palestinian minority lives in Israel. And if, over the years (or even straight away), Jews request Palestinian citizenship, there should be no reason to refuse it. To the contrary, a departure from the ethnic purism hovering over the two peoples and the two states like a threatening cloud, will only help in the hard work of softening the atmosphere and speeding up normalization.

There will be those who are suspicious that this proposal is set out with tongue buried deeply in cheek. The hatred is so fierce, the tensions are so terrible, and they feel there is no doubt that the Palestinians will immediately carry out a slaughter of settlers staying in their country, and the settlers will no doubt do all they can to ignite the region once again, hoping that they will force Israel to reoccupy the area …–in short, a tried and tested recipe for trouble and strife.

Indeed, these are commonly held beliefs and stereotypes, but one of the functions of a historic agreement is to disprove commonly held beliefs and stereotypes. And undeniably, the mutual dangers are far from negligible, but one must not allow them to intimidate. In an honest and determined effort, the future Palestinian government can reach a position in which those remaining settlers who seek trouble will find it, but those who, in good faith, seek normal and secure lives for themselves, will find that as well.

And if we live to see the day when a Jewish minority, complaining of discrimination in Palestine, demonstrates together with the Arab minority, complaining of discrimination in Israel, we will know that redemption has finally arrived (or at least is just around the corner).

B. Michael is a columnist for the mass circulation Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth.

A Silent Majority for Peace
By discussing the result of a recent poll conducted among the American Jewish Community between January 12 - 15 2004, D. DeLee, President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, challenges commonly accepted ideas about this community’s attitude regarding a more active and evenhanded engagement by the U.S. in trying to broker an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yossi Beilin:

The Wrong Exit from Gaza
Y. Beilin, one of the architects of the Geneva Accords, critically discusses the announcement by Prime Minister A. Sharon of his intention to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and a few settlements in the West Bank. Beilin argues that: “for all the public fears over concluding a permanent status agreement […] it is hard not to see that unilateral disengagement leaves Israel at best with what a full-fledged agreement would leave Israel at worst.”

The Common Denominator:

Children with Special Needs
Y. Ettinger relates personal stories from the Lod Forum for Families with Children with Special Needs. In this recently launched grass-roots initiative by residents from varied ethnic and religious backgrounds in Israel, family relatives participate in meetings dedicated to the needs of boys and girls with disabilities and address challenges shared by those who care for them.

Common Ground News Service CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-02-2004



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