Saturday, August 14, 2004

The Only Game in Town

The Only Game in Town
by Sima Kadmon, Yediot Aharonot, August 13
(...) This week, there was an intensive debate in "The Majority Headquarters", the coalition of political parties and extra parliamentary movements which organized the giant rally at Rabin Square two months ago. The debate mainly concerned the slogan to be used in a projected new publicity campaign. Yariv Oppenheimer, general manager of Peace Now, offered a simple text "The majority decided: get out of Gaza ". But the Geneva Initiative organizers made clear that they will not take part in any campaign which does not explicitly refer to the need for negotiations with the Palestinians.
The problem is far deeper than the drafting of a slogan. In everybody's view, it is vital that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip takes place. If the withdrawal is blocked, it would be taken as a proof of the impossibility of ever evacuating settlements and ending the occupation: "If even Sharon could not do it, then no prime minister could ever do it". On the other hand, in order for the left wing camp to do such a far-reaching step as supporting a Likud government, much more than a withdrawal from Gaza is needed.
It is no secret that the left is unhappy with the Sharon plan, which denies altogether the existence of a Palestinian negotiating partner. On the other hand, everybody understands that this is "the only game in town", at least for the next two years. That is the reason for the debate going on inside the left. The leaders of Peace Now and the Labour Party, and some in Yahad/Meretz, feel that the left should take the lead in supporting the Gaza Disengagements; the Geneva people, to the contrary, tend to stand aside rather then find themselves supporting Sharon .

Tzali Rehsef, one of the founders of Peace Now, thinks that the left wing should lead this campaign, and be ready to cooperate with moderate elements who support disengagement, in the political centre and even in the right-wing: "Public support for the Gaza Disengagement must be mobilized, in face of the big anti demonstrations organized by the settlers - and if we don't do it, nobody will".   

To the contrary, Yossi Beilin is torn between his colleagues in the Israeli left and his Palestinian partners. In the last weekend, some seventy central Israeli and Palestinian activists of the Geneva Initiative held a met at the Moevenpiek Hotel on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea - the place where what came to be known as the Geneva Document was worked out a year ago. The conspicuous feature of the recent discussions was the Palestinians' strong reservations about the whole idea of a unilateral Israeli "disengegement".

Quite a few of the Israeli initiators of Geneva support the idea of disengagement, among them [former Labour minister] Yuli Tamir, [Yahad/Meretz KM and kibbutz leader] Haim "Jumes" Oron, [maverick Likud member] Nehama Ronen and [former Labour Party leader] Amram Mitzna (who even supports Labour's entry into the government, in marked difference from his previous positions). The Palestinians, however, regard "disengagement" as a Sharon trap.

As they see it, Sharon has undertaken this unilateral step out of his apprehension of Geneva becoming the dominant diplomatic initiative, and with the intention of buttressing Israeli hold over the West Bank - just as Menachem Begin gave up Sinai in 1982, in order to get a free hand for the big settlement-creation drive of the 1980's and 1990's.

Further, the Palestinians regard Sharon 's move as deliberately promoting a situation of chaos and gang warfare in Gaza , in order to weaken the pragmatic elements in the Palestinian society. For these reasons, the Palestinian participants strongly condemned their Israeli colleagues for accommodating themselves to the Sharon plan instead of fighting it.

At the conclusion of the debate, Israelis and Palestinians agreed upon the drafting of a new position paper, entitled "From Gaza to Geneva" - i.e., a paper setting out the possible ways of transforming the unilateral action and making of it a stage in a process leading to a comprehensive agreement.

[P.S. from Adam Keller: 
The Geneva Initiative's own website: gives (in Hebrew only) an account of the meeting in which the disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians are not mentioned, and which rather concentrates on the main points needed, in the initiators' view, in order to move "from Gaza to Geneva." These points, now in the process of being elaborated into a detailed document, include:
- Giving a greater role to third parties, regionals and international; 
- Complete ending of the occupation of the Gaza Strip,   including evacuation of the Israeli-ruled  "Philadelphi Corridor" which separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt;
- Opening the air and sea ports to unhindered Palestinian use, while finding security arrangements which do not necessitate Israeli military presence;
- Economic agreements regarding both the fate of infrastructure left behind by Israel and the creation of jobs for the chronically-unemployed Palestinian population;
- Creating a "judicial-political linkage" between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, so as to prevent a permanent division between them;
- Ways to reach cease fire, so as to facilitate the opening of formal negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.

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