Tawfiq Abu Baker
Even those who oppose the Geneva Accord in the Palestinian and Arab
mass media, for whom Arab satellite channels open their arms and screens,
cannot deny that the initiative has stirred the stagnant waters in the lake
of a frozen peace, since the extremists and hardliners from both the
Palestinian and Israeli sides took matters into their own hands.
The Accord has instigated a new wave of political initiatives, especially
on the Israeli side, ranging from Ehud Olmert’s statements to Shimon Peres’
initiative, to the secular Shinui party’s initiatives, as well as others.
Some of these initiatives have assumed the form of passive resistance, such
as objecting to military service in the Palestinian occupied territories.
This infection has reached the elite commando unit, “Sayeret Matkal,”
which is described as the most committed and dedicated unit in the Israeli
armed forces. It is the same unit responsible for assassinating three
Palestinian leaders in Beirut in 1973, and for assassinating the Palestinian
leader Kahlil al Wazir (Abu Jihad) in Tunisia in April 1988. There has also
been disobedience by air force pilots and sharp criticism by four former
leaders of the Israeli counter-intelligence and security agency, Shin Bet,
who issued a joint statement to Yedioth Achronoth, Israel's most
widely-circulated daily newspaper, criticizing the government—an
Although all of these initiatives protest the continuation of the status
quo by demanding an end to the occupation, the Geneva Accord comes forward
to clarify, for the first time, the features of a detailed permanent
agreement at all levels, which was considered taboo in the past. The Clinton
Initiative had come close to such issues related to a permanent agreement,
but within a much more general framework. The Taba negotiations did go into
some details, and the Geneva Initiative did use these as guidance. However,
this is the first time that the specific details of a proposed permanent
agreement have been published, complete with about thirty maps. Perhaps this
is the reason why there was such a huge uproar against the Initiative at the
outset, in both the Israeli and the Palestinian arenas, for most of these
details had been taboo, and had been rejected by those opposing peace in
Israeli extremists, the proponents of historical Eretz Israel, have
called for the trial of signatories of the Accord as “traitors” in a time of
war—a hysterical reaction
unfamiliar to Israelis. A similar thing happened in the Palestinian arena,
where those opposing peace, in principle, took to the streets, demonstrating
loudly against the “accord of shame and treason,” as they described it in
their rallies and statements. The hysterical reaction reached the stage of
physical assault on the Palestinian participants in the Geneva Initiative
ceremony (December 1, 2003) as they were leaving the Rafah border crossing
to Egypt, to travel to Geneva through Cairo’s airport. Frighteningly,
character assassination can pave the way for physical assassination.
I agree with describing the initiators of the Accord as “commandos” for
addressing the taboos and bringing them down to earth from their high tree,
shaking it vigorously, in search of a historic reconciliation in which each
party makes painful concessions, giving up some of its demands in order to
meet the other party halfway.
This has been the essence of every historic reconciliation process.
Eventually, the storm calmed down, and many started reading the
Initiative when it came to their doorsteps, to discover that the truncated
headlines in the daily papers, separated from their subject matter, do not
convey the true spirit of the Accord. And, at the end of the day, it must be
remembered that the Accord is subject to scrutiny and revision, when there
is an official framework for negotiation between officials from both sides.
This is one of the document’s basic objectives.
According to a recent survey carried out by the Palestinian Center for
Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, in cooperation with the Truman
Institute at the Hebrew University, only 44 % of Israelis oppose the Geneva
Accord, and part of those surveyed still have not made up their minds.
Matters are different on the Palestinian side, however. A majority still
opposes the initiative, but according to a previous survey, one third of
Palestinians have not read the agreement. Publishing it as a supplement in
Palestinian daily newspapers was not the best method to ensure a careful
reading of a rather lengthy document full of details. We, in the Arab world
in general, have developed the belief that a newspaper supplement carries no
importance, and is dedicated to only light issues that cannot make it into
the main body of the paper.
Consequently, many Palestinians formed their attitudes based on the
newspaper headlines, satellite channels’ commentaries and rallies organized
by various political factions. In pursuit of safety, others thought it wiser
not to express opinions opposing the general sentiment, in order not to
expose themselves to criticism and slander. This is one of the most known
dilemmas of Arab intellectuals in general, who are themselves led, instead
of leading the masses in what they believe is right.
It is true that, when going against popular opinion, they may receive a
drizzle of criticism and slander at the outset, and perhaps even an
accusation of treason. However, had Galileo succumbed to public opinion in
his time, he would have never talked about the earth’s spherical shape.
Instead, he apologized when compelled to do so, by saying: “I apologize,
but the earth will continue to rotate.”
Among the ironies of the Accord (perhaps because of its delicate wording
or because people tend to look at the empty half of the glass) is that
according to the survey previously mentioned, 61% of Israelis oppose the
article related to refugees because it includes the right of return.
Meanwhile 72% of Palestinians oppose the same article, because, in their
opinion, it abolishes the right of return.
Such are the intricacies of the Geneva Accord that bordered on taboos,
then delved into their depths, courageously and solidly.
At the end of the day, only right prevails.