Politics & Policy

Geneva Embrace

Mideast accord under false pretenses.

When it became clear the Palestinians would not live up to the roadmap, the paper of record found an alternative.

’What is truly momentous” about the Geneva Accord, according to the New York Times, “is that Israelis and Palestinians of good will have… declar[ed] in concrete terms how their conflict can end.”

But lots of people, including prime minister Ehud Barak and president Bill Clinton, have declared how the conflict can end. The problem is not the terms of a peaceful two-state solution, but rather that the Palestinians are not yet ready to make peace with Israel.

The moral reason underlying the Palestinians’ rejection of peace is that there is no justice to a Jewish Israeli state because there is no Jewish people whose ancestors lived in the land; there are only colonial invaders. Recently they have demanded that Great Britain apologize for the Balfour Declaration, which was implemented by the League of Nations’s decision that Palestine should become a Jewish homeland because of the Jews’ ancient connection with the land of Israel and their need for a homeland.

In other words, the Palestinians insist that the idea of a Jewish homeland in the area is a crime against Palestinians–although they don’t like to recognize that it was a “crime” committed by the League of Nations–well before the Holocaust.

Their practical consideration for continuing the war against Israel is partly that their leaders do not represent their people, and partly that they still think they can use terror to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. The latter is because they are supported by the Arab and Muslim worlds and by Western Europe, and have hope held out to them by the State Department and prominent Israelis and other Jews.

We certainly should be reluctant to decide that someone who says he wants peace–and authorizes members of his government to negotiate what purports to be a “model” peace agreement–really is only using deception to weaken his enemy.

But Yasser Arafat has such a long record of agreeing to peace while teaching war to his children and promoting terror that we need to ask whether this declaration about ending the conflict is real.

Arafat went back to war three years ago rather than negotiate on essentially the terms of the Geneva Accord–aside from what the Times would call nitpicks. So someone who believes that he is willing to accept this agreement now needs to have a theory about why he has changed, and to point to evidence that he has.

Certainly the war Arafat began after he rejected the Camp David offer of a Palestinian state has greatly increased Palestinian popular feelings against Israel–as well as similar feelings among Muslims and West Europeans. It would have been much easier to make peace with Israel in 2000 than it will be in 2004.

The Times also misunderstands the parties to the debate in Israel, describing Beilin’s team as “Israelis of good will” and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as an extremist. But Beilin and his supporters were resoundingly defeated at the polls by the Israeli people, and Sharon stands at the center of Israeli opinion. While Sharon is not as popular now as when he was elected, his assessment of the Palestinians reflects the thinking of probably more than three quarters of Israelis.

Anyone is free to think that Sharon is wrong, but calling him an “extremist” betrays complete misunderstanding of Israel.

Of course the Times is entitled to think that the great majority of Israelis are not “people of good will” but extremists who want peace less than the Palestinians do. But if that is what the Times thinks, it should put forth this implausible proposition rather than hiding behind the fantasy that Sharon is an extremist who has somehow hijacked the democratic politics of his country.

The Times’s discussion of the “central elements” of the Geneva Accord follows the usual assumption of outsiders and Israeli doves, that issues of morality and principle are just words–what the Times describes as “endless arguments over whose religion grants what land to whom”–and that what counts is practical points such as borders. Therefore the Times would describe concerns about what the agreement carefully implies about rights and justice as “nitpicks.”

It is a “nitpick” that the “agreement” does not use the word “Jew” or “Jewish,” because of Palestinian refusal to recognize that there is a Jewish people, much less that that people has the normal right of a people to a state.

It is a nitpick that the agreement requires Israel to compensate the Palestinians for every acre of land it keeps from the territory occupied by Jordan before its 1967 aggression against Israel–not because they need a few acres of Negev desert, but because they care about the principle that the land Israel acquired in 1967 has always been “Palestinian land” rather than disputed territory to which Israel has strong legal claims.

It is a nitpick that the agreement provides that Israel compensate the Arab countries where Palestinian “refugees” have lived–but makes no mention of compensation to the larger number of Jews who were ethnically cleansed from these same Arab countries when the Palestinians left, and in some proportion were thrown out of, Israel during Israel’s War of Independence.

Clearly, the Times believes that Israel should admit anything in order to induce the Palestinians to sign an agreement.

What is truly momentous about Geneva is how quickly the promoters of the roadmap that was strongly loaded against Israel have turned away from it once the Palestinians demonstrated that they would not live up to what it required of them.

And what is momentous about Secretary of State Colin Powell’s support for Geneva is that it so squarely conflicts with the U.S. policy that Israel should only make an agreement with a new Palestinian leadership that is responsive to the needs and wishes of the Palestinian people.

Max Singer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies of Bar-Ilan University.


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