Two sane men ask for peace in a shared land

December 07, 2003|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,PERSPECTIVE EDITOR

FROM THE hate-filled babble of Israel and Palestine's deadly conflict last week two voices were raised pleading for sanity, for peace. One was Israeli. The other was Palestinian. They spoke and acted unofficially, but many, many of their people want them to succeed.

The Israeli was Yossi Beilin. See what he said:

"We are saying to the world: 'Don't believe those who tell you that our conflict is unsolvable. Don't try to help us manage the conflict. Help us to end it,'"

The Palestinian was Yasser Abed Rabbo. This is what he said:

"We can't wait and watch as the future of our two nations slides deeper into catastrophe."

The occasion for these remarks was a ceremony in Geneva to mark the signing of an "unofficial" framework for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, worked out by Beilin and Rabbo over a period of months. They did so with the help of supporters on both sides who are desperate and furious that their own "official" leaders have been unable to put a stop to the violence that has left some 800 Israelis and 2,200 Palestinians dead, and thousands more injured in the past three years.

Given the tragedy that grips the Arabs and the Jews of the Holy Land these days, the reaction of the official leaders was stunning.

Though one would expect them to be grateful for any help they can get, officials in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced the so-called Geneva Accord. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, did say the accord looked like a good idea. But his capacity for obstruction is infinite. Islamic militants, who are responsible for terrorist suicide bombings against Israelis, called Rabbo a traitor. Hard-line Israelis called Beilin a traitor.

This much we have to be thankful for. President Bush, whose important responsibility to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table has been pathetically unfulfilled, said the plan was "productive." Over the fierce objections of some members of Sharon's government, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with Beilin and Rabbo.

Those two men are not newcomers to the task of trying to bring peace to their people against overwhelming odds. They both played an instrumental part in trying to implement the Oslo Peace Accord - Beilin as a senior aide to Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, and Rabbo as a senior aide to Arafat.

In their work to develop the Geneva Accord of 2003, they were obstructed. In an article by both that appeared in The New York Times Monday, they wrote: "Our path was filled with obstacles. ... Israelis were forbidden from entering the Palestinian territories; Palestinians, meanwhile, found it difficult to obtain permission to enter Israel and travel abroad. Thus, sometimes we would meet at checkpoints, where we negotiated in a car."

The provisions of the Geneva Accord are ambitious, to say the least. They include the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Israel would withdraw to the border that existed before the 1967 war. Some Israeli settlements would be dismantled, but three-quarters of the 200,000 Israelis settlers on Palestinian territory would be allowed to remain under Israeli protection.

The accord calls for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and for Israel and the Palestinians to share control of their holiest places there, such as the Temple Mount and the Western Wall - anathema to Israeli hard-liners.

It also calls on the families of Palestinians who fled their homes during the 1948 war to give up the right of return to their land in what is now Israel - anathema to many Palestinians, certainly to the 3.5 million living in refugee camps around the Middle East.

As Beilin said last week, "The document is virtual."

But he added, "All of us are real, and our heartbeats are real."

The provisions of the Geneva Accord are not new. Anyone who has spent any time studying the conflict understands that major concessions need to be made by both sides for peace. These same components were anticipated in the Oslo Accord. Their necessity - modified one way or another - has been conceded by every serious negotiator engaged in the area for the better part of four decades.

But surrounded by the hatred and militant stubbornness that characterize the most influential forces on both sides, it was an act of heroism for Beilin and Rabbo and their supporters to work on this accord and to bring it the world stage.

Those supporters, incidentally, are growing in number.

They include many in the Palestinian leadership who are fed up with Arafat and with murderous Palestinian militants who have brought their people catastrophe.

They also include a growing number of Israelis who have come to think that Sharon's tough strategy is not working; it's making matters worse. On the Israeli side they include soldiers and pilots who have refused to serve in that strategy, an army chief of staff who has expressed doubts about it and four former heads of Israel's security services who have complained that Sharon is leading Israel to ruin.

They all seem to be speaking from a simple, unavoidable and irreversible reality. The Palestinians are not leaving; they have nowhere else to go. The Israelis are not leaving; they have nowhere else to go. They must find a way to share their homeland in peace and in dignity.

The real traitors are those who say it cannot be done, and who obstruct others who would try.

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