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The Geneva Initiative: Mitzna’s Mitzvah or Mistake?
by Aaron Goldstein
06 November 2003Israeli Flag

Amram Mitzna was recently in Boston promoting the Geneva Initiative, the latest plan for peace between Israel and Palestine.


In January 2003, the Israeli Labor Party took its worst drubbing at the polls since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.   They won only 19 seats under Amram Mitzna, a former General who was in command of the West Bank and later became the Mayor of Haifa.   

The Labor Party’s platform could be best described as the longest suicide note in Israeli political history. Mitzna wanted to go back to negotiating with Yasir Arafat at a time when the White House was isolating him. He wanted to unilaterally give up the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, half of Jerusalem and dismantle all the settlements even if the negotiations failed. If Arafat was going to be rewarded with these things even if the negotiations failed why even go to the negotiating table at all?  Most Israelis concurred and Ariel Sharon became the first Prime Minister to win consecutive elections since Menachem Begin.

A staggering defeat of this magnitude would relegate most people to obscurity and a retreat from public life. But as the late British Prime Minister Harold Wilson often quipped, “A week in politics is a lifetime.”    

A mere nine months later, Amram Mitzna is traveling across the United States to promote the so-called Geneva Initiative.  Funded by the Swiss Foreign Ministry, Israeli doves like Mitzna and Yossei Beillin and Palestinians such as Yasser Abed Rabbo put together an agreement that would recognize Israel as a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital, recognize its borders, in which Palestinian refugees would not have the right of return, and all Israeli settlements would be dismantled and settlers relocated.  This agreement has been written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

I had the opportunity to hear Mitzna speak in Boston before a gathering of the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace (a.k.a. Brit Tzedek v’Shalom).   Founded in 2002, its members are decidedly far left of center. Dennis Kucinich buttons were as commonplace as yarmulkes.   

Mitzna pulled few punches in his speeches describing Israelis who believed that there was “no one to talk with and nothing to talk about” as “brainwashed.”    “Society always must initiate solutions again and again and again,” Mitzna implored. He described Israel as being in a “collapsing situation” with regard to its military power, economic and social strength and to the will of Israelis. He lambasted the Sharon government for having “no strategy only tactics.” In particular, he took aim at the security fence currently being erected by the Sharon government. Mitzna ceded that he initially supported the idea of the fence but opposes it because he views the fence not as a fence but rather as a border and described its implementation as a “catastrophe.”  “The fence will evoke lots of unrest, more opposition from the free world and put Palestinians in ghettoes. Nothing good can come of it.”

At times, Mitzna seemed to put the blame for the increase in global anti-Semitism on Israel. “If we are not careful enough we will evoke all the Muslims in the world.  If we behave as we behave it increases the dangers for anti-Semitism. It is becoming a real issue and we must understand it.  Not excusing ourselves.  Not an excuse.  It is our problem.”

Mitzna argued that these dangers are reversible only if the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (and for that matter other Arab States) accept the Geneva Initiative, frequently opining that there is “no other alternative.”   He hailed the Geneva Initiative as the “end of all claims, end of all arguments.”  

I have no doubt that the Geneva Initiative will resonate with some segments of the Israeli electorate. It is entirely possible that if the current situation does not improve (not to mention Israel’s dire economic situation), Mitzna might find himself in power. Even if that does not come to pass, I have no doubt that there are a critical mass of Israelis who are prepared to bend over backwards to achieve peace with the Palestinians. This sentiment has been true when Levi Eshkol offered to return all territory Israel gained in the Six Day War, when Menachem Begin returned the Sinai to Egypt or when Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew Israeli troops from Lebanon. Mere months before the Oslo Accords were signed, then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres remarked, “Negotiation is not so much a question of talking with the other side as it is talking with your own.”

The question is what, if any, influence will the Palestinians who signed the Geneva Initiative have on the Palestinian Authority?    After all, the Palestinian Authority names soccer tournaments after suicide bombers and honors them with music videos on Palestinian Authority run television. Recently, Palestinian Authority Spokesman Abdul Rahmen compared Palestinian suicide bombers to American patriot Patrick Henry while testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Defense, in the presence of Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others.

I posed this very question to Mitzna.    He chose not to answer it, instead claiming that “there is no other alternative.”

Now, if Mitzna makes a political comeback on this platform more power to him.   If the Geneva Initiative succeeds then more power to him. Yet  I cannot help but think that this agreement like all others before it are built on a foundation of wishful thinking.   Mitzna can dismantle every last settlement in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, can hand over the Western Wall to Arafat and can tear down the security fence, and it would not make a smidgen of difference.  Israel encourages democratic thinking. The Palestinian Authority punishes it.    

But what can one expect from someone who considers the Oslo Accords “a big breakthrough” and “a historic turning point?”    Trying telling that to Israelis who cannot board a bus or eat a pizza without thinking it might be their last moment on earth.   Try telling it to Palestinians who believe it is their mission to die so that there will be no Israel and no Jews.    

Amram Mitzna’s intentions are good.    But as Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, “The primrose path to hell is paved with good intentions.”  In the event that Mitzna succeeds he will have done a mitzvah.   But in all likelihood the Geneva Initiative is nothing more than a mistake.

Aaron Goldstein, a former member of the socialist New Democratic Party, writes poetry and has a chapbook titled Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and Dead Musicians. His poetry can be viewed on www.poetsforthewar.org.

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