Few issues divide college campuses across the country, and even the world, the way the Israeli/Palestinian conflict does. The issue is so divisive that even within both the Jewish and Muslim communities there is vociferous debate and infighting on many basic issues. Because of this diversity of opinion, it is near impossible to find something that has the potential to bring both sides into agreement. This may have all changed with the release and imminent signing of the Geneva Accords.
The Geneva Accords represent the work of many Israeli and Palestinian legislators and past cabinet officials, during secret negotiations in Jordan without a government mandate from either side, to create a document which could be used as a platform for meaningful peace negotiations in the future. The agreement represents a remarkable compromise; both sides gave way on intensely emotional issues. The agreement hands over sovereignty of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to Palestinians while allowing Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall. It also allows Israel to keep 20 settlements on the border of the West Bank green line and gives Palestinians land in southern Israel to offset this extension of territory. Israel would dismantle all of its settlements in the Gaza strip. The plan does not allow for Palestinian refugee repatriation within Israel but offers land in the new Palestinian state, as well as monetary compensation for the refugees.
Since Ehud Barak’s failure to secure a final-status peace deal at Camp David in 2000 and his subsequent landslide loss to Ariel Sharon, the Israeli left has been reduced to tatters. No leader has stepped up to compel Israel toward peace. The Geneva Accords provide the opportunity to galvanize mainstream Israelis to once again feel that peace is possible. Unfortunately, Sharon’s government has already denounced this agreement as reckless “freelance diplomacy.” Without serious intervention by the Bush Administration, this potentially heroic document will wither away.
The administration must realize that the Road Map is dead – that, in fact, it could never work. The Road Map was plagued by the same “leave it ’til later” attitude as the Oslo process, by which the most difficult issues surrounding peace were left until the last possible moment. Yossi Beilin, the primary architect of the Oslo Accords and a main contributor to this process, realized this fact and pursued a different route in the development of the Geneva Accords. President George W. Bush must realize the Palestinians hold no cards in negotiations right now and that many feel terrorism is the only way to keep their issue in the public eye, regardless of their near unanimous condemnation of suicide bombings. Immediate Israeli compromise on some issues will show Palestinians that there is hope for the future. This will help remove the desperation from the lives of Palestinians that allows Hamas to seduce people into thinking that suicide bombings are the only way out. Once this desperation is gone, Palestinians will no longer look to the extremism of Hamas for leadership.
If pushed correctly, this agreement has the potential to dramatically change Israeli society. Israelis are desperate, as well. Many of them do not know when they get on a bus or go to a restaurant or the beach if they will come back alive. This desperation, coupled with no leadership on the left, forces Israelis to turn to someone, anyone, who claims he or she can solve Israel’s problems. Unfortunately Sharon, a despicable extremist, has risen to the Israelis’ collective call. The Geneva Accords could show that peace is possible once again. After the fear evaporates, the left will reemerge and Sharon will be exposed as the visionless leader he is.
All of this begs the question: What can college students do to ensure this agreement receives the support it deserves? The only answer is unity. Campus groups of all sides claim to support a just peace. Jewish and Muslim groups, both on campus and at the national level, must stop for a moment and realize that in this document, suffering Palestinians and Israelis may have a real hope for peace. Even if the agreement is not 100 percent satisfactory to either side, the campus community and national organizations must rise in one voice to call on President Bush to explore this option as a serious alternative to the status quo. If Muslims and Jews cannot agree that they must work for peace, sacrifice for peace and continually dream of peace, there never will be peace.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet contributing editor.