Ira Chernus  



The Geneva Initiative for Israeli-Palestinian peace is an opportunity not to be missed for peace and justice activists here in the U.S. By actively supporting it, we can help two tragically war-torn peoples. We can also throw a monkey wrench into the U.S. war and globalism machine.

A big push for the Geneva Initiative will not detract from our campaign to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. The two go hand in hand. They both aim at the same goal: letting the people of the Middle East determine their own destiny, free of the heavy hand of U.S. imperialism. Hereís why:

The Geneva Initiative already has the support of more than half of Israelis and Palestinians, according to some polls. No longer can Ariel Sharon and the right-wingers claim there is "no one to talk to" on the Palestinian side. Now, a negotiated peace agreement is not a question of if, but only when. So the rightists are loudly talking about "peace proposals" of their own.

Palestinians are not fooled by this subterfuge. Most Israelis wonít be fooled either. It will soon be clear that the Geneva plan, or something very much like it, is the only viable way to peace. Since Sharon will not support anything very much like it, his political power will decline. As the Initiative grows in popularity, so will its political sponsors. If they can promote the peace process successfully, they will stand a very good chance of ousting Sharon and his Likud acolytes.

A change of government in Israel would be a major blow to the Bush administration's neo-conservative hawks. They rely on a close alliance with the Israeli government to promote their grand strategy of domination in the Middle East. A more liberal government in Israel would still stay friendly to the U.S., but it would be a moderating influence on the more hawkish U.S. plans. By making Bushís own peace proposals look obsolete, the Initiative and its sponsors will indirectly weaken his chances in the 2004 election, too.

As the Geneva Initiative de-fuses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it will also de-fuse tensions throughout the Middle East. The anti-U.S. sentiment in that region rests heavily on perceived U.S. opposition to Palestinian (hence Arab) interests. Once the Palestinians are clearly on their way to a viable state with international support, a major source of unrest will ease throughout the Middle East. That means less excuse for U.S. military intervention and imperialist policies.

Imperialism will suffer another kind of blow, too. The Initiative is proof that democracy really works in the Middle East. Local leaders, sick and tired of war, can take matters into their own hands. They can find reasonable dialogue partners in very influential positions on the other side. Together, they can steer their nations toward peace. They do not need roadmaps or quartets or any other help from outsiders. That is a frightening thought to U.S. policymakers, who expect to call the shots that really matter in the Middle East.

It should also be a frightening thought to the multinational corporate interests that work hand-in-hand with U.S. policymakers. If there is genuine democracy in the Middle East, not just the formal appearance of it that George W. Bush touts, then the same local leaders who make peace can also take control of their own economic destiny. If they donít need roadmaps drawn in Washington, why should they need trade or labor or environmental policies imposed by foreigners?

If the Geneva Initiative becomes the basis of lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, with the independence and security of both nations guaranteed, it will show that peaceful resolution of conflict, through indigenous democratic processes, is indeed possible. Most of the U.S. elite have their doubts about this as a principle. If it can be shown to work in this most intractable international conflict, it can work anywhere.

Many Israelis and Palestinians want their governments to make real compromises, because they know itís the only way they can ever get free from the violence that haunts their daily lives. They have learned what peace activists have known all along. Conciliation and compromise of international conflict is not merely a tender-hearted ideal. Itís the most practical, realistic way for a nation to achieve security.

The Geneva Initiative could open the way to many positive changes in the Middle East. They are all the kinds of changes that peace and justice activists here work so hard for. It could also be a model for peacemaking around the world. It is only logical, then, that U.S. activists should bend their efforts to help see the Initiative implemented.

It is also vital. The Initiative probably cannot succeed if the U.S. government actively opposes it. The Bush administration has plenty of reason to do just that. In an election year, though, the administration is especially sensitive to public opinion. Our own public can be swayed to support this agreement, because it is so reasonable, so hopeful, and so strongly supported by Israelis and Palestinians. But the public has to hear about it and be encouraged to care about it. That is where activists can make a crucial contribution, pushing this issue to the front of the public agenda.

It will not be easy. There are powerful forces in the U.S. determined to sabotage this Initiative. They are a curious alliance of right-wing Jews, right-wing Christians, and left-wingers supporting the views of rejectionist Palestinians. The right-wingersí arguments can be healthily ignored. They can hardly call you anti-Semitic for agreeing with millions of Israeli Jews.

The Palestinians who reject the Initiative are a different story. They are being asked to compromise their full right to return to their ancestral homes. It is a hard not to sympathize with them. But this agreement is not being imposed on Palestine by outsiders. It was negotiated by Palestinian leaders. As long as most Palestinians and their leaders seem to support it, U.S. progressives can do the same in good conscience, while recognizing the tragic element in this realistic path to peace.

By helping Israelis and Palestinians get what they want, U.S. peace and justice activists can also help ourselves get what we want. Letís make the Geneva Initiative a major item on our agenda for 2004.