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What happens to a peace deferred? More than 800 Israeli and 2,200 Palestinian deaths into the second intifada—deaths that scorn Bush’s Roadmap, like Clinton’s efforts at Oslo, Camp David and Taba—Langston Hughes would answer without equivocation. It explodes.
From an escalating cycle of terror and retaliation, one would hope, should come desperation for peace. But with graveyards from Gaza to Ramallah lined with accords, plans, treaties and thousands of innocent civilians, history suggests that enough is never enough for hell-bent factions in the Holy Land. Every effort crumbles either because of bad intentions or because the best intentions, championed by moderates in both camps, are hostage to those who prefer homicide over the death of their radical dreams.
Among advocates for peace, there are no optimists. There are only those like former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin, and former Palestinian information minister Yasir Abed Rabbo, who refuse to endure a grim status quo. After two and a half years of back-channel negotiations, they signed their unofficial Geneva Accord on Dec. 1, a detailed vision of a two-state solution that settles questions that previous efforts, including Bush’s stillborn Roadmap, dared not touch.
Regarding Jerusalem, borders and refugees, the accord spells out the kind of bitter compromises that an eventual peace will require. Palestinians would control a demilitarized state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, while abandoning the so-called right of return—the option for Palestinian refugees to resettle inside Israel. In the West Bank, Israel would retain settlements containing 75 percent of Jewish settlers in exchange for an equal amount of Israeli land for Palestine. Had the controversies over Jerusalem, borders and settlements been addressed in isolation, talks would have quickly stalled. But within a comprehensive framework, both sides were able to avoid a zero-sum gridlock by trading weighty concessions.
Beilin and Rabbo’s bold initiative will not itself bring peace, a bleak history suggests, but can advance the cause—as long as the U.S. wrests the accord’s future from Sharon and Arafat. As soon as he knew of the accord’s success, Sharon dismissed it as subversive and treasonous, because it skirted his government, courted Arafat’s approval and boosted the political stature of opponents like Beilin, intent on Israeli regime change. Arafat, meanwhile, has qualified his private support with public vacillation, at once praising the plan to U.S. and Israeli ears while insisting to hard-liners in the West Bank and Gaza that he will not compromise on settlements and the right of return. It’s a risk-free opportunity, as Arafat sees it, to destabilize Sharon’s government and boost his own credentials as a friend of peace, without changing his tone among constituents.
Decisive action from Bush during an election year, in short, is all that can rescue the accord from irrelevance. Among world leaders, only Bush can bypass Sharon and Arafat and appeal directly to moderate Israelis and Palestinians, who, in turn, can force their intransigent leadership to the table. Peace will require gradual reeducation on both sides, given decades of rhetoric about victory without compromise. Bush could encourage that process by confronting both populations with the reality that, as The New York Times editorial page puts it, “this is more or less how it has to end.”
By acknowledging the accord’s overall fairness and the inevitability of tough compromises like those it details, Bush could restart the peace process and restore his credibility as an honest broker, lost as it was with his reluctance to enforce the Roadmap. Israeli and Palestinian moderates might agitate for a cease-fire and a settlement freeze—required in the Roadmap’s first phrase—if Bush offers them details about the kind of two-state solution they stand to lose. Like Oslo before it, the Roadmap failed in part because it left the questions of Jerusalem, borders and refugees half-answered. An effective peace plan, as Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright and National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger argue in a Financial Times op-ed, must spell out “a clear picture of what a final peace would look like, so both sides [can] focus on the benefits that peace would bring rather than on the costs of getting there.”
If Bush insists on following the Roadmap, he should incorporate the Geneva Accord as a starting point for eventual negotiations. In the long-term, Roadmap or not, options like the Geneva Accord will accelerate agreement once both sides sit down at the table. Bush should also offer financial and diplomatic support to those Israelis and Palestinians, inside and outside of government, who want to develop alternative diplomatic solutions. To dampen the political costs of defying Sharon, Bush could support Sharon’s decision not to negotiate outside of a cease-fire while insisting that extra-governmental dialogue, with U.S. backing, will accelerate negotiations once a cease-fire is reached.
Bush should encourage the kind of hard thinking that eventual negotiations will require, while, at the same time, preparing moderates on both sides for the concessions that their leadership must one day trade for peace. By bolstering the bi-national peace movement that Beilin and Rabbo represent, and by promoting creative solutions like the Geneva Accord, Bush’s work today may rescue future negotiations when they sag like a heavy load—before peace explodes.
Blake Jennelle ’04 is a social studies concentrator in Adams House. His column usually appears on alternate Mondays.
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