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PLC Member Editorial: Arabic Newspaper Essay

Tawfiq Abu Baker, Dar Al Hayat, 22.02.04

(Note: The following was translated from Arabic)

Even those in the Palestinian and Arab media who oppose the Geneva Accords - and Arab satellite channels open their arms and their screens wide to them - cannot deny that the initiative has stirred the stagnant waters in the lake of peace, which has been frozen for a long time since extremists and hardliners from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides took matters into their own hands.

The Accords have instigated a new wave of political initiatives, especially on the Israeli side, ranging from Ehud Olmert's statements to Shimon Peres' initiative, to the secular Shinui party's initiatives, as well as others. Some of these initiatives assumed the form of passive resistance, such as objecting to military service in the Palestinian occupied territories - an infection that has reached the elite commando unit 'Sayeret Matkal' which is described as the most committed and dedicated unit in the Israeli armed forces.

This is the same unit responsible for assassinating three Palestinian leaders in Beirut in 1973, and for assassinating the Palestinian leader Khalil Al Wazir (Abu Jihad) in Tunisia in April 1988. Another form of passive resistance is the disobedience of air force pilots. There was also sharp criticism by four former leaders of the Israeli counter-intelligence and security agency, Shin Bet, who issued a joint statement to Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's most widely circulated daily newspaper, criticizing the government - an unprecedented phenomena.

Although all of these initiatives protest the continuation of the status quo by demanding an end to the occupation, the Geneva Accords come to clarify, for the first time, the features of a detailed permanent agreement at all levels, which was considered taboo in the past.

The Clinton Initiative came close to such issues related with a permanent agreement, but within a much more general framework. The Taba negotiations did go into some details, and the Geneva Initiatives used these as guidance. But this is the first time that specific details of a proposed permanent agreement have been published, complete with about thirty maps. Perhaps this is the reason why there was such a huge uproar against the Initiative at the outset, in both the Israeli and the Palestinian arenas, for most of these details had been taboo, and had been rejected by those opposing peace in principle.

Israeli extremists, the proponents of historic 'Eretz Israel', have called for the trial of signatories of the Accord as 'traitors' in a time of war - a hysterical reaction unfamiliar to Israelis. A similar thing happened in the Palestinian arena, where those opposing peace, in principle, until the last Jew leaves Palestine, took to the streets, demonstrating loudly against the 'accord of shame and treason', as they described it in their rallies and statements.

The hysterical reaction reached the stage of physical assault on the Palestinian participants in the Geneva Initiative ceremony (1st December 2003) as they were leaving the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, to travel to Geneva through Cairo's airport. Frighteningly, character assassination can pave the way for physical assassination.

I agree with describing the initiators of the Accord as 'commandos' for addressing the taboos and bringing them down to earth from their high tree, shaking it vigorously in search of historic reconciliation, in which each party makes painful concessions, giving up some of its demands in order to meet the other party halfway. This has been the essence of every historic reconciliation process in which negotiations of this type took place.

Eventually, the storm calmed down, and many started reading the Initiative when it came to their doorsteps, to discover that the truncated headlines in the daily papers, separated from their subject matter, do not convey the true spirit of the Accord. And, at the end of the day, it must be remembered that the Accord is subject to scrutiny and revision, when there is an official framework for negotiation between officials from both sides. This is one of the document's basic objectives.

According to a recent survey carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, in cooperation with the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University, only 44 percent of Israelis oppose the Geneva Accord, and part of those surveyed still have not made up their minds.

Matters are different on the Palestinian side, however. A majority still opposes the initiative, but according to a previous survey, one third of Palestinians have not read the agreement. Publishing it as a supplement in Palestinian daily newspapers was not the best method to ensure a careful reading of a rather lengthy document full of details. We, in the Arab world in general, have developed the belief that a newspaper supplement carries no importance, and is dedicated to only light issues that cannot make it into the main body of the paper. Consequently, many Palestinians formed their attitudes based on the newspaper headlines, satellite channel commentaries and rallies organized by various political factions.

In pursuit of safety, others thought it wiser not to express opinions opposing the general sentiment, in order not to expose themselves to criticism and slander. This is one of the most known dilemmas of the Arab intellectuals in general, who are themselves led, instead of leading the masses in what they believe is right. It is true that, when going against popular opinion, they may receive a drizzle of criticism and slander at the outset, and perhaps even an accusation of treason. However, had Galileo succumbed to public opinion in his time, he would have never talked about the earth's spherical shape. Instead, he apologized when compelled to do so, by saying - 'I apologize, but the earth will continue to rotate.'ong the ironies of the Accord, perhaps as a result of its delicate wording or because people tend to look at the empty half of the glass, and according to the survey previously mentioned, 61 percent of Israelis oppose the section related to refugees because it includes the right of return, while 72 percent of Palestinians oppose the same section because, in their opinion, it abolishes the right of return (as some satellite Palestinians insist as they ride the waves of satellite channels, day and night, from daybreak until the last star fades from the sky).

Such are the intricacies of the Geneva Accords that border on taboos, then delve into their depths, courageously and solidly.

At the end of the day, only right prevails.
Tawfiq Abu Baker
Palestinian National Council Member And Director Of The Jenin Center For Strategic Studies