Friday, December 26, 2003

Geneva's Tough Puffs

Geneva’s Tough Puffs

Chicago Jewish News

Gidon D. Remba
President, Chicago Peace Now

Dec. 26, 2003

I couldn’t agree more with Joe Aaron (“Tough Puffs,” Dec. 12) when he notes the importance of so many of Israel’s “tough guys”—from its leading security figures like IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya’alon to Likud leaders like Deputy Prime Minster Ehud Olmert—coming to embrace some of Peace Now’s positions. But he is mistaken in saying that there’s nothing new in the Geneva Accord, that “the time doesn't seem particularly right for it” now and that it won’t get anywhere in Israel because of what he calls “the powder puff factor,” the Accord’s association with leading Israeli doves like former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin. He is wrong on all three counts.

If only doves like Yossi Beilin had been involved in negotiating and endorsing the Geneva Accord, Joe Aaron might be right about the “powder puff” factor. But the signatories to the Accord include a formidable array of the toughest of Israeli “tough guys”: former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak; Brigadier General (res.) Giora Inbar, a former division commander in Lebanon; Brigadier General (res.) Gideon Sheffer, former director of the IDF Personnel Branch and deputy director of the National Security Council; Brigadier General (res.) Shlomo Brom, former head of the IDF’s strategy staff; Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli; and former Likud Member of Knesset Nehama Ronen. Moreover, the four former chiefs of Israel's Internal Security Service—the Shin Bet—have endorsed the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement, which largely overlaps with the Geneva Accord on most major principles. Not exactly powder puffs.

Second, there is no time like now for the Geneva Accord. President Bush’s “Road Map” has led to a dead end after a brief but hopeful start. Neither government, Palestinian or Israeli, seems willing to take the difficult first steps called for in that plan so long as neither believes the other will deliver on the painful compromises that are required to reach a final comprehensive peace agreement that would end the conflict for the moderate majorities in both societies—on final borders, the settlements, security and anti-terror arrangements, the creation of a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, the refugees, Jerusalem. The Israeli government has so far proven unwilling to dismantle the settlement outposts and freeze settlement growth in the West Bank and Gaza where most Palestinians seek their own independent state next to Israel, because it lacks faith in Palestinian willingness to dismantle and disarm the Palestinian terror groups. And the Palestinian Authority has so far proven unwilling to dismantle those terrorist groups because it believes Israel will never remove settlements in the midst of Palestinian areas. Welcome to the Middle East Catch-22. And so the vicious circle of Mideast violence remains unbroken. But there is a way out and Geneva shines a bright light towards that way.

Former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon made this point more clearly than anyone when he joined three other former Shin Bet chiefs and told the Israeli public in that famous interview with Yediot Ahronot: “As of today, the only political agenda formally on the table is the Road Map. The problem is that all of the plans in the last ten years were plans of stages [which always deferred the final status issues until the never-reached end]. The stages were created in order to build trust between the sides. And in these ten years, this [approach] failed—it didn't work. And that is why I think that the change that the Ayalon-Nusseibeh Voice of the People initiative, and the Geneva initiative, bring is that they are coming and saying: okay, this way failed. We tried it for ten years, and no trust was built. Now, instead of building trust, let us build agreements. This is a different way of tackling the conflict. Instead of trying to build trust and then agreements, we make the agreements now, and then roll the carpet back and begin to deal with [implementing] the stages in the agreement. . .” Integrating the principles of the Geneva Accord into the Road Map may be the best way to create the confidence on both sides that is necessary to bring about a lasting truce now that will finally end the terror for Israelis, and lead to the permanent dismantling of the Palestinian terror organizations. Why would moderate Palestinians wage a bloody civil war against Hamas and tear their society apart unless the reward for doing so was the fulfillment of their political aspirations as expressed in the Geneva Accord? Why would the Government of Israel put Israeli society through a virtual Jewish civil war and battle the minority of extremist settlers who have vowed to violently resist the dismantling of their settlements in Palestinian-populated areas unless the reward for doing so was a real peace, with a demonstrable end to the terror groups? Only a soft-headed powder puff could believe otherwise.

Third, Aaron says there’s nothing new in the Geneva Accord. Wrong again. Here’s what’s new: The Accord represents the first time in the century-long history of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine-Eretz Yisrael that a detailed, final and comprehensive model peace treaty has been worked out and agreed to by prominent Palestinians and Israelis, and accepted, according to the polls, by significant numbers of ordinary people in both societies. Moreover, given the prominence of the Palestinian signatories to the Accord in the Palestinian Authority, the PLO and Fatah, the Accord puts an end to all the right-wing Jewish propaganda about what compromises moderate Palestinian leaders were— and are—really willing to agree to had the negotiations begun at Camp David and Taba been given enough time to reach a successful conclusion. It proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that moderate Palestinian leaders are willing to agree to recognize “the right of the Jewish people to statehood” in Israel; that they are prepared to respect Israel’s sovereign decision in determining how many Palestinian refugees can and cannot return to Israel, allowing Israel to severely limit it to a symbolic number, effectively forgoing the Palestinian claim to an unconditional right of refugee return which would threaten Israel’s Jewish character.

And it shows that moderate Palestinians are willing to agree to Israel’s incorporating most of the settlers, in settlement blocks, into Israel’s final agreed borders; to allow the Israel Air Force continued use of Palestinian airspace; and to accept a multinational force to permanently oversee Palestinian compliance with its treaty obligations over security, anti-terrorism efforts and arms limitations, a major lacuna of the Oslo Accords. Finally, it demonstrates that many leading Israeli military figures—now including prominent members of the Likud-led government—and much of the Israeli public, don’t buy the continued rightist narishkeit that a political solution to the conflict based on adjusted 1967 borders would jeopardize Israel’s security, or represent a “reward to terror.” The terrorist groups are the Geneva Accord’s most rabid opponents on the Palestinian side, and they will be its greatest losers.

If all that’s not new and historic, then we must all have been sleepwalking through the last three years.