The Geneva Peace Accords: A Debate Between Rabbi Michael Lerner, AIPAC and Palestinian professor Naseer Aruri

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Despite protests from Israeli Prime Minister Gen. Ariel Sharon, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfwitz are expected to meet today with the architects of a new proposal for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. We hold a three-way debate on the proposal. [Includes transcript]

The United Nations and the European Union endorse it. Some Israelis and Palestinians oppose it. And U.S. officials say they are still considering it.

The prototype peace plan known as the Geneva accord is creating a stir in the Middle East.

The peace plan was agreed to by unofficial Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Geneva Monday. The main points of the accord include a division of Jerusalem along religious and cultural lines, a mutual recognition of statehood and for Israel to dismantle a majority of the settlements and return to its 1967 borders. Palestinians are to renounce their right to return to properties left in 1948.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfwitz have announced they will meet the architects of the accord–former justice minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. The decision was met with a quick rebuke from Israel who strongly opposes the plan.

Prime minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman Raanan Gissin called the accord a “Swiss golden calf,” and an assembly of rabbis said the authors should be “cast out from human society and brought to trial.”

Meanwhile, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades denounced the Palestinian authors as collaborators and someone opened fire on Palestinian negotiator Abed Rabbo’s home.

Separately in Cairo, Hamas representatives attending a summit meeting of Palestinian factions are resisting a comprehensive truce with Israel and are agreeing only to halt attacks only inside pre-1967 Israeli borders.

  • Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusettes—Dartmouth. His latest book is Dishonest Broker. Along with a number of other intellectuals, he has just released a letter critiquing the Geneva Accord. He joins us from Florida.
  • Rabbi Michael Lerner, is the founder of Tikkun magazine and the Tikkun community. He just returned to California from Washington, DC, where he was attending meetings on the Geneva Accords.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Here to discuss the proposal are Naseer Aruri, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, his latest book is called Dishonest Broker. Rabbi Michael Learner is with us founder of ”Tikkun” magazine he has just returned to California from the UN in New York where he was attending meets on the Geneva accords. And Josh Block is with us, press secretary of the American Israel Public Affair Committee. We’ll begin with Rabbi Michael Learner. You can explain your position on the Geneva Accords?

MICHAEL LEARNER Yes. We’re launching a national campaign in the United States to support the Geneva Accord, and we think it’s an extraordinary occasion to finally have after all of these years a major figures on both sides, people who represented the previous government of Ehud Barrack in the case of Yosi Belin, and Ahbed Rabbo who represented the Palestinian authority in negotiations that were taking place at the time that Ariel Sharon was elected, and then those negotiations were officially suspended but these people continued to negotiate. And they have come up with a deal, a compromise, that is radically imperfect. That means significant sacrifices for some of the Jewish vision of what Israel could be, and requires some sacrifice of the Palestinian vision of what they would want, but that, nevertheless, that actually provides for the fundamental humanity and respect of both sides. So, it’s an imperfect. It’s a compromise. It’s a limited solution. It’s not the — neither side gets the total, but finally, in the details the two sides have come to some significant move here. Of course, it doesn’t represent the government yet, and that’s — that’s what — that’s what needs to happen next is to get government to fully endorse it. But we’re extremely excited to see that these positions which already have the endorsement of — in Israel close to the same number of people support it in Israel as who oppose it in Israel. And significant support in the Palestine — this represents a tremendous breakthrough, and we’re excited about it, and we want our government to — the United States government to back it enthusiastically and we’re calling on people. We’re bringing people to Washington, D.C. April 24th to 27th to have a national teach-in to congress to support it. The Tikkun community is very excited about it. They were making this a major focus on building support and educating the American public about the — its importance.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Naseer Yurri, you are opposed to the Geneva Accord. Can you summarize it and explain what you don’t like about it?

NASEER ARURI: When you say opposed, I’m not opposed to a peaceful settlement. I think any initiative from the grassroots should be welcomed after 36 years of a failed peace process, yet I’m not so sure that this is really a grassroots movement. After all, the architects of this initiative are very close to the establishment. I don’t mean that Yosi Belin is close to Ariel Sharon, but they were architects of Oslo, and Oslo failed, and the Camp David actually was a result of the structure of the flaws of Oslo. I mean it, seems to me that if you are going to really have an agreement that’s going to be — that’s going to be credible and lasting, it would have to be based on a principled compromise. After all, I mean, international law is basically a principled compromise. Yet it, seems to me that this perpetuates, really, the reason — the reasons that have been responsible for the impasse all of these 36 years are still here because the agreement is based on power imbalance. This power imbalance has been the major impediment to a credible settlement. The factor of geo-politics has always prevailed over international law and the agreement really stands against international law. I mean, I can give you just a very quick rundown and maybe I can elaborate later on it. For the Palestinians, I mean, it would be very the very first time that they concede the rights of 5.5 million refugees, their right of return. Israel has obligations under international law, resolution 194, which indeed in 1947 made the admission — made Israel’s admission to the U.N. contingent on its acceptance of honoring the right of return and resolution 194. There are also other provisions of international law. That’s one, I think, major problem for Palestinians. I mean, what does — what does Abed Rabo have to say to the 5.5 million people that say, look, our right of return is collective, and it is individual and it cannot be sacrificed in that way. The second thing is Jerusalem. I mean, I think that it really should — it concedes the reconfiguration of Jerusalem by the Israelis. The fate accomplies that have been administered since 1957, which the United Nations, by the way, that you mentioned, it supports the Geneva initiative, but it is the United Nations that said that these measure were illegal. There’s a third element here that is really problematic, I think, for one point — 1.2 million Palestinian Israeli citizens when is says that the Palestinians have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. It is one thing for Israel to recognize itself as a Jewish state it’s another thing for its victims who have lost their homes and were dispossessed to recognize it as a Jewish state because that means that they are really conceding the rights of these 1.2 million to live in a democratic state of its own citizens. And then four, and last for the time being, let me say that the problem with Oslo being open-ended agreement seem to be duplicated here to some extent because when it comes to resources and national wealth, water, even security, the agreement, as you look at it, and I went through the 50 pages and read it, it talks about annexes. The annexes remind me of the later phenomenon. In other words, it seems to be — this agreement seems to have created its own final status issues. So, we don’t know, and it seems that Belin doesn’t know yet or Abed Rabo doesn’t know what the disposition of these things are, because the annexes are absent and have not been thought about. All in all, it seems to me that if this agreement can really aim towards a principled compromise, then, well and good but I don’t really see that, looking at it now.

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Josh Block, press secretary for the American-Israeli public affairs Committee, a powerful lobby in Washington. What is the response of APAC?

JOSH BLOCK: You know, the problem in the peace process at the moment is not a question of ideas. Ultimately, the final resolution of the Israeli-Arab, Arab-Israeli, and the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict will take mutual recognition on both sides as Rabbi Learner mentioned. I think the Israelis and Palestinians, at least certain percentages of the Israeli public are anxious to have a Palestinian state that will insure their right to exist as Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Middle East as it has for the last 55 years in search of peace. The question is not really which — whether it’s one formulation or another. It’s a question of whether the Palestinian leadership that has so badly betrayed its people’s desire for a better life can now finally build a self-policing society. You know, ultimately, the world, the united states, Israel, the United Nations, the European Union have brought into the — bought into the idea of a two-state solution, but in order to get there, the Palestinian leadership has to build on the foundation of a civil society. It needs to take away guns and bombs from those who have sent people into just as yesterday a high school to detonate a 10 kilogram suicide bomb. That’s a 22-pound bomb strapped to an 18-year-old kid that was caught on his way to blow himself up at a high school. In order for a country to emerge for the Palestinian people, it will require that their leadership take decisive action to again, take away the guns and bombs, shut down the weapons smuggling, reign in the corruption, establish education systems and health care systems that have been neglected because the billions of dollars of national aid have been siphoned off into other nefarious directions. I think there’s no one who wants peace for the Palestinians and Israelis more than the Israelis, and the Palestinian people themselves do. The question is, can the roadmap or any other vehicle come about if the Palestinian leadership is committed to using terrorism as the way to achieve statehood.

AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Michael Learner, your response?

MICHAEL LEARNER One of the things that is so important about the Geneva Accords is that it gets us away from this kind of discourse about the — this group — this side accusing the other of doing something terrible, which they’re right about, and the other side accusing the other of doing something terrible, which they’re right about. The truth of the matter, we have been doing this dance for many, many decades. The truth of the matter is that Palestinian terror is immoral and disgusting. The truth of the matter is that the occupation is just as violent, if not more so, and just as destructive of human rights if not more so. So, this dance between — in which we can now — one side talks about — correctly talks about the outrage of building a wall in the middle of the-or the destructive impact of various aspects of the occupation, and then the other side talks about these outrages of suicide bombers. This kind of discourse can now be transcended because instead of focusing on who did what to whom, what the Geneva Accord refocuses on is how do we get out it. And it has the specific details of how to get out of it. If we could simply get the Sharon government to commit to it, right now, I’m convinced that we would have a solution the second that a government — that the Israeli government wanted to commit to this — to this accord, the Palestinians would quickly commit to it as well, and we would have an end to this.

JOSH BLOCK: If I could say —- you know, I think that’s a terrific -—

AMY GOODMAN: Josh Block of APAC.

JOSH BLOCK: I think that’s a terrific aspiration to have an agreement that would bring about; you know the peace that everyone hopes for. But it’s not solely up to the Israeli government, unfortunately, as the President has said, and one can differ with his policy, but ultimately, he’s correct in order to bring about a peace, it has to be a peace of both sides. The question of terrorism is the one that is preventing the forward movement. It’s not a question of blame. It’s a question of recognizing the situation for what it is. If the Palestinian leadership was willing to invest its energy and the edifice of public discourse and encouraging tolerance, and not encouraging children to become martyrs, they would have a better opportunity to convince their people and for their people to convince their leadership that peaceful coexistence is the right thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, professor, let me bring professor Aruri back into this.

NASEER ARURI: Peaceful coexistence is the right thing. The problem is not the problem of the Palestinian leadership not stopping the violence. I’m not a defender of the Palestinian leadership, I’m a critic of it in my writings and so on. After all in June of this year the designated prime minister, Abu Massen, who was supposed to have been empowered, he succeeded in arranging for a unilateral cease-fire in order to get the roadmap going. Yet, it is really well known, and if it’s not well known to readers of the American press, I think it should be known, that Israel has 14 reservations for its acceptance of the roadmap, one of which is that Israel does not make any concessions with regard to violence. After all, there is something called state terrorism, which even the Israeli press talks about it. Around Israel as a state has been committing it in fact just the other day, two days ago. they did it in Ramallah, killing an 8-year-old boy. 70 Palestinian civilians have been killed since the last suicide bombing. So, the issue here really is not the suicide bombing and the terror. I mean, if we say that there is terrorism on all sides, and it is disgusting as Rabbi Learner said, and I agree with him on that. I think after all, any attack on civilians should never be condoned, and is disgusting. So, if there’s going to be really a way out, we have to really stop the double standard and the definitions of terrorism and suicide bombing and so on and so forth. I mean, even a number of Israeli op-ed writers have written about Sharon utilizing the suicide bombers in order to keep the impasse, because he does not want this, because peace means that woe have to concede territory. He would have to end the occupation, and he is not ready to do that, nor were his predecessors throughout seven years of Oslo.

JOSH BLOCK: Well, Prime Minister Sharon recently has begun to talk about —

AMY GOODMAN: Josh Block of APAC.

JOSH BLOCK: — withdrawal from various settlements in the Gaza Strip and areas throughout the West Bank. He gave an address to the Likud, his political party central committee in Hebrew where he described the fact that Israel cannot be in some of the places where it is today. Ultimately, the decisions will have to be made by direct negotiations between the parties; parties who are committed to a peaceful settlement, and a recognition of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. When the professor talks about the right of return, what he’s really talking about are two Palestinian states. Not a Jewish state of Israel, but two Palestinian states. That’s a truly unfortunate thing. I feel sorry that he and Noam Chomsky and others have not accepted Israel’s right to exist in the world as the majority of Americans and others recognize it’s right to be.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Aruri, would you say —-—

NASEER ARURI: That’s absolutely incorrect. I don’t want to speak for Noam Chomsky, but Noam Chomsky does recognize reality of Israel; so do I. With regard to Sharon dismantling settlements, let it be known that the settlements that he is talking about are the so-called outposts, the illegal settlements which Sharon himself was urging people to construct three years ago. Just as he was campaigning for the Premiership. I mean, Sharon planned for the West Bank having it become a fragmented non-contiguous territory on 42% of 22% of Palestine is rather known. It is for the record.

AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Michael Learner, last word. 30 seconds.

MICHAEL LEARNER This is a debate that will go on and on until there’s a result transcended. This is the moment that it can be transcended. Our task in America is to, number one, insist that every Presidential candidate endorse the Geneva Accord, and number two, to reach out to our congresspeople and speak to them directly to get the congress to endorse it. We can make a breakthrough now, and we need to act coherently to do that, and to stop this debate and this — and the violence that goes on there. It’s in our best interests.

JOSH BLOCK: The American —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you all very much for being with us. Rabbi Michael Learner, founder of Tikkun, magazine, and Josh Block, the director of American-Israel Affairs Committee and professor Naseer Aruri, professor at Dartmouth College, Massachusetts. You are listening to Democracy Now!.

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