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
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.