Fault lines betrayed
For some the Geneva Accord was a model peace agreement, for others the ultimate betrayal. In Jerusalem Graham Usher looks at Palestinian dissent
On 1 December -- ten years after the Oslo peace process was launched -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Geneva finally sealed a peace agreement that "constitutes an end to all claims on both sides". Before world leaders old and new, the Palestinians agreed to share sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem, including within the Old City, and renounce the right of return. The Israelis agreed to withdraw from most of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and evacuate 115,000 settlers out of the 400,000 who currently reside there.
"This day will mark a new beginning in progress towards a historic compromise," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the Palestinian authors of the agreement, known for posterity as the Geneva Accord.
It was virtual of course, and not just because the blood of the Al-Aqsa Intifada long washed away the Oslo peace process. None of the delegates who attended Geneva were there in any kind of official capacity. Yasser Arafat blessed the "brave initiative" but hedged on the outcome. Ariel Sharon said it was seditious. Even those Palestinians party to the agreement were at pains to stress the tactical nature of the exercise.
"Our aim was to create divisions inside Israel and block the growth of the right-wing," explained Fatah signatory, Hatem Abdel- Qader, to the Jerusalem Post on Monday. "But we didn't get the OK from Arafat, and this paved the way for street protests".
It is easy to see why the Palestinian leader withheld his signature. For the more the details of the Geneva Accord became known the greater Palestinian political opposition to it. Not for the first time a Palestinian move aimed at polarising Israeli opinion has ended up polarising its own.
The Geneva Accord exposes with brutal clarity the ambiguity lying at the heart of contemporary Palestinian nationalism. Is the fundamental national goal to achieve sovereignty over the territories conquered by Israel in 1967? Or is it to return Palestinians to homes, lands and properties lost to them when Israel was established in 1948?
For years Arafat and the Palestinian leadership have cloaked that crucial distinction in the thick veils of "international legitimacy", which entitles the Palestinians to both. The value (or danger) of experiments like Geneva is that it strips those veils away.
Once the Palestinians recognise "the Jewish people's right to a state" behind its pre- 1967 borders they are accepting that return is no longer a national and individual right but a gesture subject to Israel's "sovereign discretion". Legally, the Palestinians may be entitled to self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza and repatriation to lands in another nation state beyond it. Politically, it has long been one or the other.
According to one poll 56 per cent of Palestinians in the occupied territories support the Geneva Accord. If so, they are a constituency un-represented in Palestinian political society. None of the Palestinian factions have embraced Geneva. Fatah's West Bank general-secretary, Hussein El-Sheikh, made it clear his movement opposed the agreement, especially the clauses on Jerusalem and the right of return. The Popular and Democratic Fronts said much the same. The closest to endorsement came from the formerly Communist Palestinian People's Party: it said Geneva needed to be "developed".
As for the younger Palestinian movements born of the Israeli occupation and current uprising, they were even more rejectionist, suggesting that the emerging Palestinian discourse is again starting to flag "return" and faith rather than sovereignty and independence as the ultimate seals of nationalist legitimacy. From mosques and refugee camps Hamas and Islamic Jihad condemned Geneva as much for its "Judaisation" of Jerusalem as for the renunciation of the right of return.
The Fatah linked Al-Aqsa Brigades cried "treason", reflecting their base in the refugee camps and portending the class, regional and political schisms to come should an agreement along the lines of Geneva be signed. In a statement circulated on the eve of the ceremony the militia warned Palestinians "whose personal interests are linked t othe American-Zionist scheme" against "liquidating the Palestinian cause by relinquishing the right of return".
The threat was not idle. On 29 November shots were fired at Abed Rabbo's home in Ramallah. The next day several hundred Palestinians assailed a convoy of cars taking Palestinian delegates to Geneva via the Rafah crossing into Egypt. The delegates were denounced as "traitors".
So great was the swell of opposition to Geneva that Abdel-Qader and three other Fatah signatories announced they would not attend the ceremony without Arafat's written authorisation. Instead the Palestinian leader bestowed protection, together with the stewardship of his National Security adviser Jibril Rajoub. This may keep the Geneva caucus safe from the arms of the Al-Aqsa brigades but it is unlikely to fill the chasm its attempt to form an alliance with the Israeli peace camp has exposed at the core of the cause.