Much of the debate on the agreement being formulated in Geneva between Israeli and Palestinian figures, concerns the "unauthorized" status of the Israeli participants. Indeed, one can easily see the initiative's harmful effect on to the Israeli diplomatic position. It is further aggravated by the "accord" activists' attempts to involve more foreign organizations and governments.
The dispute revolves also around the "concessions" required from both sides, on details like: borders, roads, evacuation of Jews from their homes, the issue of Palestinians' "Right of Return" (is it practically - if not explicitly - canceled?), security arrangements (including degrees of armament), etc. Much criticism is voiced in this context.
One could wish that this entire event had not happened. Yet, since it did, we should rather use it as an opportunity to review prevalent approaches and point out an alternative direction.
One argument against the Geneva process is that it undermines the "Road Map" agreement, which calls for the "cessation of terror" before political arrangements are dealt with. However, a major common characteristic of both "Geneva" and the "Map" is keeping the Palestinian Authority (or the PLO) in charge of the Palestinian population. This would include continued control of finances (received from Israel and from international sources), the ability to tax economic activities, the power to intimidate the population, monopolize the media and control the education.
Both approaches will establish the Palestinian entity ("state" or otherwise) in a way that will keep its motivation and grant it the capability to farther mobilize their hatred-ridden populace as a threat against Israel.
Indeed, both separatist plans do stipulate that the Palestinians will renounce violence - but so did the Oslo accord. Even if the PLO (the Geneva named partner) succeeds in maintaining a prolonged overall cease-fire, that is not a guarantee for Israel's safety. The Palestinian rulers may manage to restrain the attacks on Israel for the while necessary to ensure gaining control of the area. Yet, there would be no protection for the Palestinian population against (inner) terror that can push it again to a disastrous war with Israel - this time with less defensive options for the Israeli side.
On the other hand, freezing the current situation is also unacceptable. The concept of keeping the Palestinians behind a fence - physical or virtual ("we are here and they are there"), leaving them under a criminal regime, is a blunder that is common to "Geneva", the "Map" and the status quo. I am quite aware that a large portion of the public tends to support "separation", and I ascribe it mainly to the prevailing despair of the chance to ever achieve real peace.
Let us list several obstacles on the path to reconciliation:
The despair in both communities,
In order to start overcoming such obstacles, we first need an overall reform in the Israeli attitudes.
I do not entertain much hope that the present political and official figures can be persuaded to address the problems involved with the necessary wisdom and compassion. My own hope relies more on promoting courageous, grassroots dialogue activities. We should care for genuine needs rather than negotiate on political arrangements. In this respect, I would dare to circumvent the established institutions, both Israeli and Palestinian, who have brought us to the present situation.
I know that to many, my approach may seem unrealistic - but I maintain that this is one of very few paths left, toward a future of well being, care and dignity.
I write this article also as an attempt to find in both publics more potential partners for the necessary process. I shall be thankful for any response.
Asher Shla'in, 29/October/2003