POLITICS DECEMBER 15, 2003
Some two million Israeli homes recently received in the mail the 47-page text of the Geneva Accord, which claims to be the comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Accord, a European-funded effort secretly negotiated by Palestinian officials and Israeli public figures for two years--and signed in a symbolic, lavish ceremony in Geneva this week--states that Israel will withdraw to the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state will emerge with its capital in Jerusalem, and the two peoples will recognize each other's right to statehood and resolve the refugee issue. Though its formulators insist that the Accord is merely a proposal by private citizens, the text is presented as a "permanent-status agreement" between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), complete with highly detailed articles and color-coded maps. In his introduction to the Hebrew version, renowned novelist David Grossman assured Israeli citizens, "who have withstood innumerable wars and horrible terrorist attacks," that the Accord will produce a "thriving and ... egalitarian" Israel, freed "from the fear of war and annihilation."
For Israelis, exhausted after three years of terrorism, Grossman's words are seductive. Indeed, the Geneva Accord coincides with an historic transformation in Israeli public opinion. Most Israelis are now ready to forfeit the results of the 1967 war--control over the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem--in return for Palestinian acceptance of the outcome of the 1948 war. Most Israelis also view the creation of a Palestinian state not as a mortal threat but as the only means of preserving Israel's Jewish and democratic identity. In 1992, a year before the beginning of the Oslo peace process, Labor's Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister on a platform that negated Palestinian statehood; today, the Likud's Ariel Sharon routinely declares his acceptance of an independent Palestine. For Israel, then, the question is no longer whether to create a Palestinian state, but how.
The centrist Israeli majority supports establishing a Palestinian state, but only after the Palestinians have ended terrorism, reformed their government, and renounced their insistence on returning Palestinian refugees to Israel. The Accord, though, ignores even those minimal expectations. Instead, it would grant the Palestinians a state while they wage a terrorist war, legitimize and even strengthen Yasir Arafat's rule, and force Israel to accept the principle of repatriating refugees. In addition, it undermines the global war on terrorism and would threaten any future compromise in the region.
If there's a fundamental gap between the expectations of the Israeli majority and the fantasy of Geneva, it's because the architects of Geneva aren't part of that majority. The Geneva leader, Yossi Beilin, was voted out of the Knesset precisely because of his central role in the failed Oslo process. Other signatories include politicians Amram Mitzna, Avraham Burg, and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, all of whom tried and failed to achieve national office. This creates a fundamental asymmetry between Geneva's Israeli negotiators and their Palestinian counterparts, most of them Fatah and Tanzim officials acting with Arafat's blessings.
Most Israelis have long since lost any faith in the willingness of Arafat's regime to uphold any agreement with Israel. Under Oslo, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) pledged to refrain from incitement, actively combat terrorism, limit the weaponry in its arsenal, and peacefully resolve all disputes with Israel. Instead, it has educated a generation of Palestinian youth to revere suicide bombers, actively abetted terrorism, smuggled in tens of thousands of illegal weapons, and responded to Israel's peace offers with a war that has killed or wounded thousands on both sides.
The Geneva Accord, however, pretends that the last three years never happened. Absurdly, Geneva again invites the Palestinians to commit themselves to combat terrorism, refrain from incitement, limit the weapons in their arsenal, and accept the permanence of Israel. In contrast to Oslo, though, which was a process of stages in which the Palestinians had to fulfill the agreement to receive a state, this time the Palestinians get their state first and only later have to prove good faith.
Not only does Geneva ignore the collapse of Palestinian credibility; it denies Israel the means to defend itself. While even Oslo gave Israeli security forces the right of hot pursuit against terrorists, Geneva would place Israel's security in the hands of a multinational force composed of contingents from the "U.S., the Russian Federation, the EU, the U.N., and other parties." The force would be charged with monitoring Palestinian compliance with the Accord, patrolling borders, and preventing terrorist attacks and arms-smuggling. Israel and Palestine would have the right to assent to the force, but the Accord is unclear on whether the two parties can veto the countries providing monitors. Consequently, given international pressure on Israel, can anyone imagine it being able to veto the participation of, say, France and Belgium?
Worse, Israel's experience with such multinational forces is hardly encouraging. Beginning in 1949, border disputes were supposed to be resolved by joint Arab-Israeli committees under the U.N.'s aegis. But these committees proved powerless to prevent terrorist incursions into Israel, and their failure helped precipitate the 1956 Sinai War. U.N. peacekeeping forces placed in Sinai after that conflict were summarily evicted by Egypt in May 1967, triggering the Six Day War. More recently, U.N. observer forces in Lebanon have failed to prevent Hezbollah attacks against Israel and have even been implicated in the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. (Israel's history does offer two examples of successful international peacekeeping: on the Golan Heights after the 1973 War and in Sinai after the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979; in both cases, though, success has depended on the Syrian and Egyptian determination to maintain a quiet border.) Yet the Geneva Accords would resurrect the failed 1949 model of joint committees and entrust Israel's security to international peacekeepers.
Given the record of the Palestinians and of international monitors, two scenarios would be likely. One is that terrorists would operate from behind the backs of the international force, provoking an Israeli response and triggering a clash between Israel and the monitors. The other is that the monitors themselves would attempt to suppress terrorism and become targets for attack, leading to their evacuation. There are ample precedents for both scenarios--from clashes between Israel and U.N. forces in Lebanon to the recent flight of U.N. personnel from Baghdad. It is in anticipation of these scenarios that Arafat has made the internationalization of the conflict his stated goal.
One would have expected the Israeli negotiators of the Geneva Accord to recognize that unprecedented Israeli concessions would require even more stringent security guarantees. Geneva does allow for Israeli-operated early warning stations in the West Bank, though the threat of an invasion from the east has disappeared since the fall of Saddam Hussein. But, against the far more serious security threat posed by an independent Palestine, Geneva offers provisions that even a country with benign neighbors would find daunting. The threat to Israel's security is compounded in Jerusalem. Under Oslo, the resolution of Jerusalem's status was postponed until the end of the process, after the parties had presumably developed the mutual trust necessary for jointly governing the city. Geneva, by contrast, ignores the trust-building stage and within 30 months would award the Palestinians sovereignty over most of the Old City, including the "Al Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount Compound." Consequently, worshippers on their way to the Western Wall would have to pass through Palestinian territory, where their safety would be entrusted to a "Multinational Presence," which could include members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and to Palestinian goodwill--a questionable benevolence given that Palestinian leaders, from Arafat to Ikrima Sabri, the Haram's mufti, have repeatedly denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and its holy sites. The tunnels along the Western Wall would be under Israeli control but Palestinian sovereignty, leaving unclear how any dispute over the tunnels would be resolved.
However acute, the dangers to Israel's security are overshadowed by Geneva's threat to Israel's continued existence as a Jewish state. The architects of Geneva have assured the Israeli public that the Palestinian participants have renounced the demand for the return of refugees to pre-1967 Israel. Yet even a cursory reading of the Accord belies this claim. There is no explicit renunciation of the right of return. So, while Israel is to tangibly repudiate its claim to Greater Israel by removing settlements, the Palestinians under Geneva aren't even obliged to verbally renounce their claim to Greater Palestine. "The assertion that the Accord cancels the right of return ... is inaccurate," Palestinian signatory Jamal Zaqout recently wrote. "It was spread by Israeli figures trying to make the document more palatable to Israelis." Zaqout is correct: The Accord cites both the Saudi peace plan for the Middle East and U.N. resolution 194, both of which say that refugees should return to Israel. So, while the Accord does recognize "the right of the Jewish people to statehood" (without saying that Israel is the fulfillment of that right), that concession is effectively nullified by the implicit endorsement of the right of return, which would make Jewish statehood untenable.
Beyond declarations, however, Geneva provides a mechanism for threatening Israel's demographic integrity. The number of refugees to be absorbed by Israel would reflect the average number admitted by third-party countries--Western and Arab--but no ceiling is set. In principle, Israel would retain the right to control the number of returning Palestinians. In practice, though, having already conceded the moral legitimacy of return, Israel could be exposed to international pressure to accept massive numbers of refugees. Similarly, the failure of Geneva to limit Israel's compensation to the refugees--Palestinians demand up to $600 billion--would leave Israel vulnerable to extortion. Overall, granting the international community responsibility for Israel's borders and a say in refugees means abrogating Israeli sovereignty. No other country in history has ever been expected to voluntarily submit to this extent of international control.
Not surprisingly, careful readers of the Geneva text, among them Gilead Sher, a former chief negotiator with the Palestinians, have concluded that the Accord would be a defeat for Israel on nearly every count. Under Geneva, no Jew could remain in the Palestinian state, but Palestinians could live in both Israel and Palestine. Palestinian refugees would be compensated, but the even larger numbers of Jewish refugees from Arab countries aren't even mentioned. Israel represents only its own citizens, and not the Jewish people, while the PLO represents "the Palestinian people," presumably everywhere--even in Israel. And, while the Accord would require Israel to pay Palestine for damages caused by the settlements, the Palestinians are forgiven any debts for decades of terrorism. In fact, the Accord adopts the Palestinian perspective on nearly every key issue. It accepts the Palestinian definition of the Temple Mount as an exclusive Islamic possession, of East Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods as "settlements," and of U.N. Resolution 242 as mandating Israel's return to the 1967 borders. It implies acceptance of the Palestinian narrative on the origins of the refugee problem. Tellingly, the Accord devotes obsessive detail to restrictions imposed on Israel--from yielding a Christian cemetery in West Jerusalem, to the number of hours allotted Israel to complain to foreign monitors--yet it becomes vague when dealing with Palestinian obligations like curtailing terrorism and incitement.
If implemented, Geneva would not only be disastrous for Israel but also fatal to America's Middle East policies. The United States has championed a two-pronged policy of waging war on terrorism and promoting democracy. In advocating the road map, the Bush administration made the suppression of terrorism a prerequisite for the creation of a Palestinian state. That was a revolution in America's peacemaking strategy. If, in the past, Israel were required to relinquish territory before receiving peace, now the Palestinians would first have to demonstrate peaceful intent before acquiring territory.
Geneva undermines these objectives by rewarding terrorism, compromising democratic norms, and strengthening dictatorial rule. Consider the trajectory of concessions offered by the Israeli left. At the Camp David talks in 2000, the Barak government proffered 92 percent of the West Bank. When the Palestinians rejected that offer and responded with terrorism, Ehud Barak proceeded to up the offer to 96 percent. When that, too, was rejected and terrorism intensified, a part of the Israeli left proceeded to negotiate what became the Geneva Accord, which is willing to forfeit all of the territories, the Temple Mount, the ability of Israel to defend itself, and Israel's inviolate opposition to the Palestinians' right of return. The trajectory was not lost on Mamdouh Nowfal, Arafat's military adviser, who told Jordan's Al Rai, "What was proposed at Taba was better than what was proposed at Camp David, but what was proposed at Geneva is twice the progress."
This progression of concessions negates America's efforts to prove that terrorism doesn't work and to democratize the region. Under Geneva, the Palestinians would win immeasurable gains from their terrorism campaign. And, at a time when American forces are arresting terrorists around the world, thousands of Palestinian terrorists would be released from Israeli jails. What's more, the Accord undercuts democratic norms in the only country in the Middle East that upholds them. The Sharon government was elected in a landslide victory to pursue a policy fundamentally incompatible with Geneva. The losers of that election are now trying to circumvent the electoral process and, together with the P.A., impose their will by summoning international pressure for the Accord in order to delegitimize the Sharon government. The Accord further denies a basic democratic choice--of citizenship--to more than 200,000 Palestinians and several thousand Armenians in Jerusalem who, though they hold Israeli identity cards, are to be placed without their consent under Palestinian rule. Finally, by discarding the U.S. demand for Palestinian reform as a prerequisite for statehood, Geneva deprives the Palestinians of the hope for democracy.
Arafat, for one, certainly realizes that Geneva would destroy the road map, with its stipulation for ending terrorism and implementing reform. "Does this mean that the Geneva Accord is making the road map irrelevant now?" asked Hussein Hejazi, a media adviser to the P.A.'s foreign ministry, on October 18. "The answer is yes. ... Bush's or Sharon's involvement ... is becoming irrelevant to a permanent solution." Yet some American officials don't seem to understand this. Colin Powell, for one, plans to meet this week with the signers of the Accord. One can understand why frustrated Israeli opposition politicians, along with Palestinians and Europeans intent on hobbling U.S. policy, would champion Geneva. Why the American secretary of state would do so is inexplicable.
Watching Monday's festive ceremony celebrating the signing of the accord in Geneva by some of Israel's leading intellectuals and artists--a ceremony that included messages of support from Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and other luminaries--we wished we could have shared in the celebration. We, too, as terror-sick Israelis and parents of children in national service, are not immune to the allure of Geneva. From our office window, we overlook Cafe Hillel, site of Jerusalem's last suicide bombing. No one needs to remind us that peace is worth painful sacrifices.
Yet we believe that Geneva will bring the opposite of peace by making future compromise even more difficult: Based on every precedent, Arafat can be expected to pocket the Accord's concessions and proceed to the next round of terror-backed demands. Finally, given the Arab world's immersion in anti-Semitism, its simultaneous denial of and approval of the Holocaust, and its routine portrayal of the Jewish state as demonic, the notion that the Middle East can sustain a comprehensive agreement at this time may be Geneva's ultimate delusion.
Geneva is the product of Israelis who have forgotten how to defend their nation's most basic interests. That was reinforced at the Geneva signing, where Carter blamed the conflict almost entirely on Israel, Palestinians denounced the occupation, and Israelis in attendance spoke only of their hope for peace, without mentioning the Palestinians' violent rejection of the Israeli left's peace offer three years ago. Worse, the Geneva Israelis seem to have lost faith in their country's future and believe, as Avraham Burg wrote in his recent article "a failed israeli society," that the country is "collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall."
But we see an Israeli society that has heroically withstood terrorism aimed at demoralizing us and forcing us to sacrifice our most vital national interests. That is precisely what the negotiators of Geneva have done--signed on a document of surrender. After providing the world with an example of strength in the face of terrorism, there is no reason now for Israel to concede defeat.
Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi are fellows at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
By Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi