Because of the Oslo process, the basis for a viable and minimally fair two-state solution has been completely destroyed. The Israeli “peace camp” and the Palestinian leadership ought to have learned from the calamities they helped bring about and changed their ways. The so-called “Geneva Accord,” an informal agreement prepared by Israelis, led by former Labor Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and other Oslo-era luminaries, and Palestinians close to Yasser Arafat, demonstrates a determination to repeat the tragic errors of the past. Oslo allowed Israel to double the number of colonists on occupied Palestinian land, while the PLO transformed itself into a Palestinian Authority whose mandate was to protect Israel from the victims of the ongoing colonization. There is no better account of the bad faith with which Israel’s leaders approached the peace process than Tanya Reinhart’s book Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how Palestinians and Israelis reached the bloody impasse they are in today.
While its creators have tried to sell the Geneva Accord as some sort of breakthrough, it is nothing of the sort. The document recycles the unworkable arrangements that Israel and the United States tried to impose at Camp David in July 2000. A Palestinian “state” would be established in the West Bank and Gaza, but without sovereignty or control of its own borders or airspace. Israel would be permitted to keep military forces in it forever, while the Palestinian “state” would not be allowed to defend itself. The Palestinian state would be occupied by a “Multinational Force” that could only be withdrawn with Israeli agreement, and so on.
Israel would annex most of its West Bank settlements, including vast swathes of territory in and around Jerusalem and other major cities, a simple endorsement of most of the illegal territorial conquests Israel made since 1967. Crucially, the document completely cancels the basic rights of Palestinian refugees by giving Israel an absolute veto on the return of even a single person to his or her home.
That the Geneva “negotiators,” freed from any real accountability, could not come up with anything better than they did, underscores the utter bankruptcy of the glacial “step-by-step” approach toward a two-state solution, while that two-state-solution has galloped away because of Israeli colonization. The authors seem to believe that the Palestinian people are like a donkey that will forever chase after a carrot dangling from a stick attached to its own head. They fail to recognize that the intifada was foremost a rejection of such manipulation.
Should anyone feel that this presentation is overly negative, just look at how Amram Mitzna, the “dovish” former general who led the Labor Party to massive defeat at the last Israeli election, and one of the authors of the document, presents it to Israelis. In an October 16 Ha’aretz commentary, Mitzna claimed that: “For the first time in history, the Palestinians explicitly and officially recognized the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people forever. They gave up the right of return to the state of Israel and a solid, stable Jewish majority was guaranteed. The Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter (of Jerusalem) and David’s Tower will all remain in our hands. The suffocating ring was lifted from over Jerusalem and the entire ring of settlements around it — Givat Zeev, old and new Givon, Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Neve Yaacov, Pisgat Zeev, French Hill, Ramot, Gilo and Armon Hanatziv will be part of the expanded city, forever. None of the settlers in those areas will have to leave their homes.”
Since these settlements account for the largest land expropriations in the most dense Palestinian areas, and for a majority of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, Mitzna is simply following the Labor Party tradition of assuring Israelis that they can enjoy peace, international legitimacy and the spoils of conquest all at the same time. They cannot.
Perhaps the most dishonest claim is Mitzna’s assertion that the Palestinian side in the Geneva project “was represented by an authentic, broad Palestinian leadership that enjoys the support both from the official Palestinian Authority leadership and from the activist leaders at street level.” Who is this “authentic” leadership? The Palestinians who went to Geneva did so in secret, and had no mandate whatsoever, except from themselves and the Israelis who anointed them. They certainly do not speak for the refugees whose fundamental rights they so blithely offered up, or for the Palestinians whose land was stolen for colonies that will remain intact. The Palestinian Authority, which apparently backed them, has itself lost all legitimacy as a representive body, because it is unaccountable.
As for the Israeli delegation, one would do well to remember that the Labor Party in opposition speaks with a different voice than Labor in government. The former has always appeared more dovish than the latter. As independent agents, the Israeli negotiators can renege on any commitments they made. Yet, judging from history, the concessions they extracted from the “authentic Palestinian leadership” will become a new bottom line from which any future negotiations would proceed. Any new Israeli government, even one headed by Labor, would come to the table with ever more demands, and new facts on the ground that would have to be accommodated.
If the Geneva authors were serious about a two-state solution, they would recognize that if it still has a remote chance, that can only be if Israel were at a minimum willing to withdraw every soldier and settler, without exception, behind the lines of June 4, 1967, including in Jerusalem, and allow the Palestinians to establish a state no less independent and sovereign than Israel. As the Geneva document demonstrates, not even Israel’s most “dovish” figures are willing to contemplate that. So instead, they push a hopeless and unjust formula, claiming that this is the “only alternative” to the bloodthirsty way of Sharon, and pretend that the Palestinian people have agreed to it.
In fact, since Israel can’t or won’t allow a real two-state solution, there is an alternative — the creation of a single, democratic state that will allow all Israelis and Palestinians to peacefully cohabit the entirety of their common homeland as equals. To dismiss this possibility, and to refuse even to explore it as a serious way out of the deepening crisis is immoral.
Ali Abunimah is one of the co-founders of The Electronic Intifada. This article was first published in The Daily Star on 28 October 2003.