Geneva Pact Generates Ray of Optimism

Some thoughts, optimistic ones, on the effects already felt from the Geneva agreement:

1) The view from the Israeli street is that the agreement is another trick, another Palestinian trick to fool Israel into believing that they really want peace, and then, when our guard is down, they’ll swallow us whole.

Yet if that’s the case, why is the Palestinian street up in arms? Yasser Abed Rabbo and his Palestinian delegation to Geneva have been branded traitors and collaborators by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and thousands of furiously protesting Palestinians. This is as good as a death sentence.

Rabbo’s house has been sprayed with gunfire. A campaign of "intimidation and terrorism" has been carried out by Fatah hardliners against pro-Geneva party members, according to The Jerusalem Post.

All this is a reminder that the Palestinians, as a whole, are by no means ready to make peace with Israel. Violent, uncompromising forces are still calling the shots in that society, literally and figuratively. As for the Palestinians’ leader, his view of Geneva, like his view of all matters, depends on how he sees it affecting his power and prestige on a given day.

But all this, on the other hand, says something very different about Rabbo and the several hundred Palestinians who went to Geneva with him. Why are they subjecting themselves to such abuse from their own people, why are they placing themselves and their families in danger, if all they really want is to destroy Israel?

If that was their goal, they would have done much better to stay home, go along with the program, keep Israel bogged down in the West Bank and Gaza and just let demography run its course. That’s the way to destroy Israel.

Instead, despite the bullets, the threats and the fatwas (religious decrees), they left their homes, signed a "virtual" peace agreement with Israelis in the most publicly exposed forum imaginable and came home again. These are brave people.

They are not anywhere close to being in power in Palestinian areas, in fact, they are held in contempt by the powers that be there, but they are a force. Who knows, maybe even one with potential.

For decades, Israelis have been demanding, "Where is the Arab world’s Peace Now?" It was just founded in Geneva.

2) The focus of Israeli criticism of the agreement is that the Palestinians don’t really give up the right of return, that it’s a trick, they actually keep the right of return and all 4 million Palestinian refugees can come swooping down on Israel, and there’s nothing we’ll be able to do about it, because Yossi Beilin signed this agreement, this death warrant.

But again, ask the Palestinian street if the Geneva agreement gives up what they hold sacred as their right of return. This is what all the uproar in the territories has been about.

This is why, on the day of the signing ceremony, "[T]he Palestinian Religious Scholars Association, one of the leading Islamic bodies in the Palestinian Authority, issued a fatwa forbidding any Muslim from signing an agreement that forgoes the right of return for all refugees to their original homes in Israel," as The Jerusalem Post reported.

If this is another Palestinian trick, why aren’t they laughing in the refugee camps?

3) Given the entrenchment and determination of the settlers and their political backers, starting with Ariel Sharon, it’s easy to believe that Israel will never find the strength to cut the rope with the Palestinians. Yet the overwhelming Western support for the Geneva accord is a reminder that the settlers and their friends are up against the aggregate will of every government in the world — including the Bush administration, the best friend the Israeli right ever had in the White House.

The presence at the Geneva signing ceremony of an official U.S. observer and the meeting in Washington between Beilin, Rabbo and Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a rude message to the Israeli government. (Since the Sharon government doesn’t respond to gentle U.S. criticism of the occupation, rudeness has become necessary.)

The Bush administration’s message was that it does not view the takeover of the West Bank and Gaza as part of Israel’s defense. Moreover, it does not view the Israeli takeover as part of the U.S.-led war on terror but rather as a huge obstacle to progress in this war.

By encouraging the Geneva agreement, was the Bush administration out to destroy Israel, too?

4) The agreement is a reminder to the rest of the world that not all Palestinians and Israelis are dug in for eternal war and unmoved by any other possibility. The reaction to Geneva from the street — both streets — is a reminder that this description does fit most Palestinians and Israelis. Not everyone, though. There is an opposition — on both sides, now — and it may have just come alive.

All in all, not bad for a "virtual" peace agreement.

Larry Derfner is The Journal’s Tel Aviv correspondent