by Martin Sherman
“We are [peace] partners. Are you?” This is the message with which the public is currently being bombarded. It comes from a long procession of wellknown Palestinian figures – none of whom has any real political clout – portrayed on giant billboards along main traffic arteries in major cities, or by means of computer screens and well-funded websites. Couched in solemn tones and accompanied by earnest gazes, this slickly choreographed appeal is the cornerstone of a resuscitated and reenergized PR campaign to promote the failed chimera of the Geneva Initiative.
Reflecting its Helvetian origins, the Geneva Initiative is striking similar to Swiss cheese – very tempting but full of holes and rich in components hazardous to one’s health. For some reason this delusional Oslo-derivative has recently been resurrected by the same perversely self-anointed “pragmatists” who originally concocted it several years ago and now are attempting to re-peddle the same defective merchandise in a more sumptuously seductive wrapping.It is difficult to identify just what initiated this renewed marketing drive.
After all, from an Israeli perspective, this is an enterprise that has proved to be fundamentally unsound in terms of the political philosophy on which it is based, and extremely perilous in terms of the practical consequences it portends.
MOREOVER, IT is difficult to discern any tangible changes in the prevailing political and security conditions that might lead one to believe that the Geneva Initiative has a significantly greater chance of success today than it had in the past. Indeed if anything the reasons for skepticism are even greater:
• The Palestinian leadership obdurately refuses to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, openly declaring it will never give way on this position.
• It publicly maintains that this is intended to preserve the demand of the “right of return,” the fulfillment of which annul for all practical purposes Israel’s status as a Jewish state.
• The vitriolic incitement to hate of Jews and of Israel continues unabated in the Palestinian education system and media.
• The prestige and power of the radicals is growing continuously. In fact, given the striking parallels with the earlier “Oslo initiative,” the current endeavors of the champions of the Geneva Initiative – at least the Israelis among them – could be expressed in the following metaphorical allegory: A man of goodwill, brimming with idealistic fervor, decided after long hours of observing birds in flight that the condition of mankind could be substantially elevated if human beings, too, could fly. “If they can do it, so can I,” he declared with commendable resolve, as he climbed to the roof a nearby five-story building to prove the validity of his lofty vision by hurling himself off it into the heavens.
Friends tried to dissuade him from the hazardous attempt. Advisers pointed out that his aspirations were incompatible with law of gravity and in total violation of the principles of aerodynamics. Accordingly, they warned, failure – and resultant grave injury – would be inevitable.
But all the caveats and entreaties went unheeded. With an impatient wave of his hand, he dismissed the both doubts and doubters. “These naysayers suffer from a lack of vision,” he declared exuding self-confidence. “They are narrow-minded, short-sighted and mired in past. I, on the other hand, represent the future. My efforts will break through the encumbering constraints of yesterday and lead to the new possibilities of tomorrow.” With that, he launched himself from the roof-top and – flapping his arms with great vigor – crashed to the ground below.
Despite the serious injuries he sustained, he somehow survived the catastrophic fall, and after a long period of convalescence began to remove the bandages and plaster casts from his wounded body and broken limbs. Undeterred by the unfortunate consequences of the unsuccessful pursuit of his lofty goal, he set about analyzing the causes of its failure.
After some reflection he arrived at his conclusion: The problem was not the conceptual validity of the basic principle but in the practical execution of the experiment. Therefore, he determined, an additional attempt must be conducted immediately, only this time in more favorable conditions – i.e. from a higher building to enable greater momentum needed to facilitate flight.
So once again, armed with high hopes and short memory, our intrepid hero climbed to the roof of another building – this time 10 stories high. Once again he ignored the counsel of advisers and the pleas of friends. Once again he determined to defy the law of gravity and flout principles of aerodynamics. Once again he condemned critics for being unable to visualize the future benefits of his bold initiative. Once again he leaped from on high hoping that his sincerity and goodwill would allow him to soar aloft before smashing into the hard earth below.
THIS THEN is an accurate allegorical portrayal of the renewed Geneva Initiative – and other similar Oslo-spawned clones – that are bandied about with tedious regularity. All these so-called initiatives are nothing but desperate reruns of marginally modified Oslo-like measures that have been tried in the past (in arguably more amenable conditions) and brought nothing but trauma and tragedy to both Israelis and Palestinians. There is thus little – if any – reason to believe that persisting with efforts to implement such an initiative will not precipitate similar, and perhaps even greater, calamity.
Of course, opposition to initiatives of the type of Geneva (or Oslo) does not reflect any intrinsic resistance to peace per se, or any the inability to appreciate the potential benefits it could usher in, but rather skepticism as to its feasibility. Just as in the allegory, the opposition to the attempt to effect human flight did not reflect a lack of recognition of the theoretical advantages it might herald, but rather a gloomily pessimistic assessment of the endeavor’s chances of success – and of the consequences of its failure.
Accordingly, in light of past experience, the almost obsessive insistence to persist with a failed concept seems to indicate the existence a very flat – indeed virtually horizontal – learning curve on the part of its advocates. After all if any lesson is to be gleaned from past precedents, it is that the chances of success are remote and cost of failure enormous.
This is a fact that makes the compulsive obstinacy to press on with the Geneva Initiative appear not only a highly imprudent exercise, but a wildly irresponsible gamble. But unlike the lone leaper in the allegory above, whose poor judgment imperiled only himself, the leap of faith prescribed by Geneva disciples, involves the fate of many others.
Martin Sherman is academic director of the Jerusalem Summit and lectures in security studies at Tel Aviv University. He was also an Israeli Schusterman scholar at USC and HUC.
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