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From Geneva with Hope
Gila Svirsky, Israel
December 1, 2003
I wish I could have been in Geneva today, where hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians gathered to make public their demand for peace.
Sharon called them "subversive", two cabinet ministers called them
"traitors —a crime punishable by death", but all the Israeli media still were there covering the event (with the exception of the Israeli Russian press, ferociously right wing), and it featured mightily on the prime time evening news.
Sharon, posing for 3 blood-drenched years as the man who would make peace, was furious to think he was being upstaged. In a desperate attempt at a diversionary tactic, he had the army pummel Ramallah today, killing 4 Palestinians including an 8 year-old boy, and demolishing a four-story building in the hope that a "wanted terrorist" was inside. We await reports of how many unwanted civilians were wounded and how many more homes destroyed in yet another colossal affront to human decency.
Last week's polls showed just over 50% of Israelis in support of the Geneva Accords. Today's Ha'aretz showed 31% in favor and 38% opposed (31% had no opinion at all). This is an amazing show of support for a leftwing platform condemned by the prime minister as subversive.
With all the anger I feel about the Geneva Accords having left women, Mizrahi Jews, and Israeli Arabs out of the negotiations, there is no doubt that they have begun to dramatically change the political landscape: They have demonstrated to Israelis that there is a partner for peace, and they are forcing Sharon to look more attentive to his campaign promises to 'make painful concessions' for peace. To understand quite how much he feels the pressure, you would have had to hear the many statements coming from Sharon's office last week about his initiatives for peace. And to understand how the bottom has fallen out of Sharon's peace credibility, here's another statistic from today's Ha'aretz: 68% of Israelis believe that Sharon's recent overtures for peace are just "media spin" and a mere 16% believe they are serious. (Interestingly, only 18% had no opinion about this one.)
The more pressure on Sharon, the better. The Geneva Accord can serve as the catalyst for a groundswell in Israel that could sweep along many, and even force some politicians to begin to open their ears.
But next best to the speeches in Geneva was the letter to the editor today in the International Herald Tribune (and perhaps other papers as well), which I reprint below. While we can't all be former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, or secretary-generals of the United Nations, when 58 of them come together, the decibels are distinctly audible. I loved the idea of Sharon squirming in bed tonight, with the voices of all these world leaders scolding him.
Clearly Sharon isn't going to wake up tomorrow having drawn the right conclusions, but here's hoping that the groundswell will shorten his term of office, and save more lives and misery.
More hopefully today.
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.
To Israelis and Palestinians:
A statement of support on the occasion of the signing on Monday of the Geneva Initiative —a blueprint for peace negotiated by teams of Israelis and Palestinians led by Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli justice minister, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, a former Palestinian information minister —we express our strong support both for this and the "People's Voice" petition initiated by Ami Ayalon, the former head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, and Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University, Jerusalem.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taken far too great a toll already. Both peoples have paid dearly in lives and livelihoods in a war both are losing. Every passing day undermines the prospects for a peaceful, two-state solution. As long as the conflict endures, it will be a source of instability and violence for the region and the international community as a whole.
We believe that the best way to move forward is to address at the outset, not at the end of an incremental process, all the basic principles of a fair and lasting solution. Postponing the final outcome makes any progress hostage to extremists on both sides. A process must be devised to give practical and political expression to the heartfelt desire of clear majorities on both sides to end this conflict once and for all.
The Geneva and People's Voice initiatives both reflect that public opinion and can help give it new momentum. On the Israeli side, they can help undo the myths that have taken hold since the collapse of the peace process and onset of violence: that the Palestinian people are not prepared to accept a two-state solution and Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. On the Palestinian side, they can offer an alternative to the current mindset that sees in violence the only possible means of ending the occupation. They send a powerful signal that an alternative to the current situation exists. They have the potential to transform the domestic political dynamics on both sides.
International support will be crucial to translate these endeavors into a concrete mechanism to bring about a lasting peace. The international players most relevant for this purpose —the "quartet" composed of the U. S., the EU, Russia and the UN, and the members of the Arab League—should wholeheartedly back these initiatives. They should urge both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to be guided by the outcomes most of their peoples want. And they should make clear their own willingness to lend all the political, economic and military support needed to help implement a comprehensive peace agreement.
The Israeli and Palestinian peoples, by making clear their belief in the Geneva and People's Voice initiatives, can help turn the principles embodied in them into reality. You can count on our support in this endeavor.
Martti Ahtisaari, former president, Finland; Ali Alatas, former foreign minister, Indonesia; George Alleyne, former director, Pan American Health Organization; Oscar Arias Sánchez, former president, Costa Rica; Lloyd Axworthy, former foreign minister, Canada; Alexander Bessmertnykh, former foreign minister, U.S.S.R.; Carl Bildt, former prime minister, Sweden; Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former secretary general, UN; Lakhdar Brahimi, former foreign minister, Algeria; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president, Brazil; Ingvar Carlsson, former prime minister, Sweden; Lord Carrington, former foreign secretary, U.K., former secretary general, NATO; Jorge Castañeda, former foreign minister, Mexico; Claude Cheysson, former foreign minister, France; Jacques Delors, former president, EC; Jiri Dienstbier, former foreign minister, Czechoslovakia; Ruth Dreifuss, former president, Switzerland ; Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, former foreign minister, Denmark; Gareth Evans, former foreign minister, Australia; Mark Eyskens, former prime minister, Belgium; José Maria Figueres, former president, Costa Rica; Malcolm Fraser, former prime minister, Australia; Hans-Dietrich Genscher, former foreign minister, Germany; Bronislaw Geremek, former foreign minister, Poland; Mikhail Gorbachev, former president, U.S.S.R.; I. K. Gujral, former prime minister, India; Bob Hawke, former prime minister, Australia; Bill Hayden, former governor-general, former foreign minister, Australia; Raffi K. Hovannisian, former foreign minister, Armenia; F. W. de Klerk, former president, South Africa; Wim Kok, former prime minister, Netherlands; Masahiko Komura, former foreign minister, Japan; Budimir Loncar, former foreign minister, Yugoslavia; Barbara McDougall, former secretary of state for external affairs, Canada; Gianni de Michelis, former foreign minister, Italy; Boyko Noev, former defense minister, Bulgaria; Sadako Ogata, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Lord David Owen, former foreign secretary, U.K.; Surin Pitsuwan, former foreign minister, Thailand; Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, former foreign minister, Colombia; Fidel Ramos, former president, Philippines; J. J. Rawlings, former president, Ghana; Mary Robinson, former president, Ireland; Michel Rocard, former prime minister, France; Nafis Sadik, former executive director, UN Population Fund; Salim Ahmed Salim, former secretary-general, OAU; Cornelio Sommaruga, former president, International Committee of the Red Cross; Kalevi Sorsa, former prime minister, Finland; Eduardo Stein, former foreign minister, Guatemala; Pär Stenbäck, former foreign minister, Finland; Max van der Stoel, former foreign minister, Netherlands; Thorvald Stoltenberg, former foreign minister, Norway; Hanna Suchocka, former prime minister, Poland; Alex Sceberras Trigona, former foreign minister, Malta; George Vassiliou, former president, Cyprus; Hubert Védrine, former foreign minister, France; Franz Vranitzky, former federal chancellor, Austria; Ernesto Zedillo, former president, Mexico.
The above letter was initiated by the International Crisis Group (IGC), an independent, non-profit, multinational organization, with over 90 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. For the full report see International Crisis Group.