Monday, October 13, 2003

Geneva and Palestine
Haaretz agrees that the Geneva Accord is the first hopeful thing to happen in Israel-Palestine in months. Negotiated by leading Israeli leftist Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian negotiator Abed Rabbo, the accord builds on the almost-but-not-quite negotiations at Taba in January of 2001, before Sharon took office but after the violence of the second Intifada had erupted. As sober voices like Penn's Ian Lustick have been saying for three years, the basis for a final settlement is tantalizingly close, if only negotiations would resume. Though Beilin does not, of course, have to answer to the Israeli electorate, 'and though Sharon has attacked the negotiations as treasonous, it is the negotiators who look good here and the embattled Prime Minister who looks obstinate.

Geneva gives the lie to the ridiculous notion that there's "no one to talk to" on the Palestinian side. Add to that the fact that the vast majority of Palestinians favor a cease-fire, and you have the stirrings of real progress. But so long as Bush and Sharon remain fixated on going around, rather than through, Arafat, nothing much will change.

The accord requires real, painful sacrifice from Israel, as well as the final abandonment of the right of return on the part of the Palestinians. In agreeing on the status of the holy sites in Jerusalem, the two sides have bridged the most yawning gap that had yet remained. Two questions are obvious - are Israeli voters ready for this compromise? And how do we get from academic-style negotiations to political reality with the odious Sharon in power? I don't have the answer to those questions. If I did, I'd probably be on the State Department's payroll (and the neocons hit list).

The political scientist Aleander Wendt wrote, in his 1999 book Social Theory of International Politics, about the different logics of anarchy. There's the Hobbesian logic, the war of all against all, the Lockean logic, of rivarly, competition, and grudging respect for sovereignty, and the Kantian logic, where Ego and Alter share a sense of common destiny and have a stake in the fate of the other. Israel and the Palestinians are stuck in the Hobbesian logic -- neither yet fully recognizes the right of the other to survival, and both states are led by men straight out of the Leviathan. They served their purposes, once upon a time. But it's not clear to me that Arafat, and particularly Sharon, have the vision to transform the relationship into a Lockean logic.

But despair alone is not a strategy, and hope, as we know after the Iraq debacle, is not a plan. Beilin and Rabbo should be applauded for their efforts, for their struggle to reconstitute the relationship between their long-suffering peoples into one of respect, if not love.

Kant can wait, but Locke beckons.

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