A Blessed Initiative

By Sha'anan Streett, via Mako
via Mako, (translated from Hebrew by Geneva Initiative Staff - click here for Hebrew original)
Is the Geneva Initiative a success of a failure? It is most tempting to say it failed. Leaders did not proceed in its path and, as we all know too well, the two peoples living here still do not have two states. But after participating in a conference in the city after which the Initiative is named, I think the truth says otherwise.
Several days have passed since my return from Geneva, where I traveled on behalf of the Initiative which carries the name of that clean, organized city in Switzerland, a trip that was funded by the Swiss Foreign Ministry. Although it was just several days, but to me it seemed enough to separate between the essence and the secondary. Everything was new to me in Geneva: the city itself – which I had never visited before, the company that surrounded me – which included Israeli Knesset members and Palestinian Parliament members, past and present. Even the peculiar feeling of sharing, with this specific forum, one that I was included in for the first time, my inner feelings about our region and its future – even that was new to me.
Therefore, it was natural that with all these firsts, I encountered difficulty answering the simple question that all my acquaintances asked upon my return: "How was it?" But now, several days after my return, I can wholeheartedly say that I am proud that I was invited and satisfied that I went. Sometimes we forget that peace will not happen by itself. That we need to work in order to bring it. That we need to sweat. And my meeting of people, on both sides, who have already devoted years to bringing it closer to us, awoke in me a deep sense of appreciation and a bit of a desire to shed my shoes in humility.
Beyond this, there were specific issues that I was happy to be exposed to so up close. For instance: the centrality of the discussion of women's status in internal Palestinian discourse. The Palestinian delegation contained quite a few powerful and influential women who serve in a variety of political and communal positions throughout the West Bank, women who emphasized how unequivocally important the issue of gender equality is to our Eastern neighbors. "Honestly, as a woman, I should be a lot more distressed about the Hamas issue than all of you," said Reem Aboushi, Director General of ASALA, an organization for Palestinian businesswomen.
Another issue to which I had not given much thought prior to the trip is Shas' unequivocal support for a two state solution. Three had three representatives in the Israeli delegation, and all three, at their turn, repeated Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's commitment to a peace agreement in our region. Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, MK Yitzhak Vaknin, was the Israeli representative at the evening event at the University of Geneva, and his speech – which included the phrase "land for peace" several times – awakened appreciation among those present in the auditorium and even squeezed out a compliment from an Iranian exile who sat in the audience and briefly held the microphone. I am not quite sure how Shas's sweeping peace-ness settles with Eli Yishay's last visit to Joseph's tomb and his call to renew Israeli presence there. But, if attorney David Glass says in the presence of the Swiss President that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef supports a two state solution, then that must be a good start.
Vicki Idzinski, a social protest activist and immigrant from the Former Soviet Union, confronted Bill Clinton's known position that Russian immigrants pose a challenge to peace with reality as they know and understand it, and opened the eyes of Israelis and Palestinians alike. In short, a variety of topics were raised throughout this two-day conference, all central and important to our lives here, and all related to the topic of Israel, Palestine and our joint future.
So, did they succeed?
So what is all this worth? How do we summarize the eight years of the Geneva Initiative? And, most importantly, is it a success or a failure? It is most tempting to call the Initiative a failure. Leaders did not proceed in its path and, as we all know too well, the two peoples living here still do not have two states. It is most tempting to say that all that remains from the most detailed peace initiative this conflict has ever known is polite English words and pampering desserts and European beers. But that is the populist way of thinking, it is not the truth.
The truth, as I see it, is that the Geneva Initiative started from the end. One can agree or disagree about the end that was reached, but no one can argue the fact that lots of work was done, and its results are impressive. Anyway, from the moment in which the creators of the Geneva Initiative realized that their end was not yet relevant, they began a process which can be called "the preparation of the heart". This way, the Geneva Initiative continues to act, and create activities that ultimately allows a conference in Geneva about "civil society and the peace process" to bring not only the usual suspects, but also a Shas member, a rapper and a philosopher.
After years of conflict, no one doubts that the Israeli-Palestinian channel is currently blocked more than a traffic jam in Jerusalem. The difference is that in the Israeli-Palestinian channel, people are still working for change.