It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Marcia Freedman's Geneva Accord TranscriptLive from Geneva with Brit Tzedek Board President Marcia Freedman
December - 2003 Marcia Freedman speaks from Geneva on the Geneva Accord Commitment Ceremony
[TRANSCRIPT NOW AVAILABLE]
Joanne Witt: Good evening. I am Joanne Witt, from the education committee, and it is my honor to present to you, live from Geneva, our president Marcia Freeman and our vice-president Diane Balser. Marcia Freeman, as you know, was one of the founders and leaders of the feminist movement in Israel in the early seventies. In 1973, she was elected to the Knesset and served through 1977. A rare spokesman for women's issues in the Kneeset, Ms. Freeman raised concerns that had never been publicly discussed in Israel, such as domestic violence, breast cancer, rape, incest, and teenage prostitution. Freeman currently divides her time between Berkeley and Jerusalem. In fact my understanding is she's on her way to Israel after today. In Israel she founded the newly established Community School For Women, a school without walls that provides women's studies in the community, as well as courses designed for economic empowerment. She's also an active member of the Israeli Women's Coalition for a Just Peace. In Berkeley she is a frequent lecturer and an advocate for Israeli women and peace issues in the North American diaspora. She is immediate past president of the San Fransisco Jewish Film Festival. She is the author of an acclaimed memoir Exile in the Promised Land, and numerous articles and reviews. And Diane Balser, who is our new vice-president, also served as co-chair of the advocacy and public policy committee, and is the former co-chair of the Boston chapter. Ms. Balser is a professor of women's studies at Boston University. Diane Balser is a dedicated social and political activist. She has organized numerous workshops on anti-Semitism and racism in the U.S. as well as organizing similar workshops for Jewish and Palestinian women in Israel. She also leads workshops and consults widely on gender issues, women's organization, and leadership development internationally. Diane has founded and built the largest network for women's organizations in Massachusetts. She has advised political officials, government leaders, and non-governmental leaders on public policy issues related to women. It is my pleasure to introduce both of them to you this evening. Marcia?
Marcia Freeman: Thank you everybody and hello from Geneva. It's one o'clock in the morning here and it's been an extremely long, long, long day. First a couple of apologies if I'm not totally coherent. Please remember it is one a.m. It has been an eighteen hour day, and secondly, Diane has asked to please be excused from the call. She has to get up in two hours to catch a plane back to Boston where she's teaching today or tomorrow.
So you have only myself this evening. I'm going to give you a brief rundown of what the day was like, and then be open to your questions and your comments and your concerns. I think probably the major highlight of this day was around noon-twelve hours ago I guess that was, thirteen hours ago, and when at the Intercontinental Hotel about 150 Israeli and Palestinians came pouring in from Israel and Palestine to celebrate this wonderful day. A hugely moving and exciting time, I must say. And to see them all coming up the elevator and feel the excitement that they were feeling both about being together, about the new hope they all have in their hearts, and we're talking about very vociferously and in very moving ways. And to see that again, that renewed energy of the Israeli peace movement as well as the movement for peace among the Palestinian moderates was just a very extraordinary event and I feel hugely privileged to have been here for that. The event itself, which lasted more than three hours, was long. But it had to be long, because there were many voices that needed to be heard.
The master of ceremonies for this full afternoon's event was Richard Dreyfus the actor, and there were international dignitaries literally from around the world. I think probably one of the major highlights was an address by Jimmy Carter, who really recalled, as you all recalled, a movement towards Israeli-Arab peace in the late 1970s by being the architect of the first Camp David Accords, the agreement between Israel and Egypt which was an enormous breakthrough, and he was recalling that. And looking at that long line of now twenty, thirty years-thirty years, really, of attempting to keep on moving forward on the axis of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and particularly the Israelis and Palestinians. Other international dignitaries was Les Volenka, Jonathon Hugh, nobel peace prize laureate from Northern Ireland, Mosama al-Baz with a message with Hussein Mubarrak in Egypt, Amjuri Ansulai with a message from the King of Morocco.
There was a video clip of Nelson Mandela, who couldn't make it, but he spoke very, very movingly about what he had learned about peace. And what he said was that in his long history, the major lesson that he had come away with was that no matter how much hatred there could be generated by both sides, no matter how much each side felt they were absolutely right and the other side was absolutely wrong, there was always room for reconciliation and forgiveness and compromise and just settlement. For those of you who are fans of Israeli music, there was the supreme musical group of Aviv Gefen sang with Miftah , which is an Israeli Palestinian rap group. And it was just quite wonderful. So this went on and on.
I must say, one of the more moving moments in this whole day were very brief reports by Amnon Shahak, who was a retired general and head of the center party several years ago together with Munir al-Manashir who was the mayor of Jenin and member of Palestinian Liberation Organization. And Muhir al -Manasser was recalling the moment that Amnon Shahak finally ordered that barred him from returning to the West Bank and cast him into exile. And these two men were really reaching out across worlds with a message of reconciliation from each one of them. Munir al-Manasser said that we need to stop fighting. We need to now fight for a new future. And he said very clearly, we are not fighting you, he said to the Israelis, we are fighting to end the Occupation. And Shahak said something very, very similar. These are two military men, so they speak in war terminology. He called the present a war against fear and against hate. And the big work that had to be done from tomorrow on was to build trust between sides, and we have to choose life.
The other very major moment in this time of these presentations was presentations by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abd Rabo and you could really sense very strongly the clear feeling of understanding and partnership between these two men. One of the most important things that I think Abd Rabo had to say to us was that we are extending our hands in peace, for peace. We are heading for a future of pain and suffering. And the separation wall that is now being built can very easily become an excuse for a permanent solution, which will never ever be a permanent solution, and will just continue the fighting and the suffering for generations on end. Both he and Yossi Beilin were speaking very, very clearly from a point of view that was saying that this really seems to be a very last ditch effort to let people know that peace was possible. That there is a partner for peace, that there is a plan for peace. They stressed very strongly that the Road Map is a very important set of steps that can be taken to resume the negotiation process.
The Geneva Accord was in fact the third stage of the Road Map. That if and when the Israelis and Palestinians have reduced it down, and they both believe that will happen, the negotiated peace, this is what the peace is going to look like. And everybody, really, was very clear about that. I think that they have felt that they have reached a major breakthrough in public opinion on both sides. Our newspapers this morning were showing more than 30 percent of Israelis and 30 percent of Palestinians were in full support of the Geneva Accords and there were 30 percent more on both sides that said they weren't sure. They didn't know. Which was very, very interesting. That is to say, those are the people who can be brought across in support of the two state solution and the kind of agreements that were negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians through the Geneva Accord.
I think that the sense of real hope at the same time that there was a sense that things have progressed on the ground in the region to a point almost of no return, but there is a place to return. There seems to be every indication that the current government of Israel is feeling the pressure of the Geneva Accord, and is beginning to-they're of course calling the negotiators traitors and collaborators and all sorts of other dreadful things, but at the same time Ariel Sharon is beginning to make noises about possible steps for peace. That his popularity rating has dropped incredibly has helped that to happen. And I think on both sides people were very, very clear that the big job is going to begin for them tomorrow morning when they wake up in Israel and need to begin working on the campaign for public support for the Accords. Another important piece of information about the Accords in terms of public opinion both among the Israelis and the Palestinians is that a survey that was done by the Rice Institute, James Baker's Rice Institute, which did not ask specifically about the Geneva Accord, but listed five of the major principles of the Accord in asking whether or not people would accept peace on those terms, more than 50 percent of Palestinians and Israelis said yes they would.
So as I said, there's on the one hand this sense of enormous hope and energy that has not been felt from the peace forces of both sides of this terrible conflict for years. And at the same time a sense that it has gone so far that something major must happen now in order to pull back from the brink. I think that that's all I'm going to say you about the day, because I think you probably have questions and/or comments about the Accords themselves or other questions about the day's events. There were ceremonial dinners, there were ceremonial lunches, there was a great deal of press. We had a team of videographers here with us-Brit Tzedek did, and we are going to be producing a wonderful video based on the events of this day so that you all can have that at chapters and for house meetings and so on in order to garner support for the Accords.
JW: Well thank you Marcia. We are recording tonight's call also. That will be available. It sounds very exciting, and I'm sure those of us who are on the phone wish we could have been there physically with you, but we were all there in spirit. I wonder if before we start the questions if you could just go into what some of the major points were of the Geneva Accord.
MF: The overall biggest major point of the Geneva Accord was up on the stage in huge letters. It said there's a partner for peace. There's a plan. And I think that that's more than anything else, the message of the Geneva Accords. But the overall points are the recognition of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside of Israel, a settlement of borders-a negotiated settlement of borders that was really down to the last 10 meters of ground. Very, very detailed maps have been published and will be available on our website shortly. But basically what it means is that something like 97.5 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip would become the Palestinian state. 2.5 percent of land in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel, and another 2.5 of what is now Israel on the Israeli side of the Green Line would be annexed to the Palestinians. It means that the borders of Israel around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv would be expanded to include all of the major settlement blocs that have been established over the past 25 to 30 years, and that means 75 percent of the settlers could actually remain in place. But all of the rest of the settlements would be evacuated. The infrastructure, the buildings, all of that would be left for Palestinians, which I think is a very important point of the Accords. The Palestinian state would be demilitarized and international forces called for headed by the United States to maintain the peace along the new border between Israel and Palestine. And a number of security guarantees have been given to the Israelis by the Palestinians, including the fact that the Palestinian state would be a demilitarized state. The other major point and, of course, as we all know, major bone of contention between the two sides is the future of Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself would be a divided city with the capital called East Jerusalem, which has a majority Arab population of 200,000. Palestinian Arabs would gain al-Quds, which would be the capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem together with all of the Jewish neighborhoods that have been built around Jerusalem, on the eastern edge of Jerusalem, would become Yerushalayim, and it would give Israel and the Jewish people the largest Jewish capital ever in our history. The Old City would be divided, but it would be divided in terms of sovereignty, but it would be undivided in terms of any kinds of fences or border markings. So that the Jewish quarter and the Wailing Wall and all of that area, under Israeli sovereignty. The Temple Mount would be under Palestinian sovereignty along with the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Armenian quarter. This map is so detailed that which gates go to which people is clearly de-marked in this. The Jaffa Gate being the one that would be open to both peoples and under international supervision. I think that those are the major, overall points of the Accord. And as you know, as Brit Tzedek, we are not dealing here with the issues of the particulars of the Geneva Accord, and this message was heard again and again and again from everyone who spoke. That this is not the final negotiated settlement, because the final negotiated settlement has to in fact occur, and some of these details may change when we come to real final status talks, and not symbolic ones. But on the other hand, all of the major, tough issues, including the issues of the refugees, have been tackled and have been everybody's requirements for justice and viability have been met by these Accords. And so they're very close to what will probably be a final settlement.
JW: Well thank you Marcia. I'd like to remind everybody who's on the phone that if you'd like to submit a question, our email address is email@example.com. And now for the first question from New York. Now that the Accords have been circulated amongst both the Israeli and Palestinian people, what has been the popular response? And if you know the answer to that because you've been to Geneva, do you feel that there's a significant popular mandate to generate pressure on the powers that be. If so, how can this manifest itself?
MF: Well you know that's the big question that nobody has the answer to, and I wouldn't pretend to have the answer. As I said earlier, the opinion polls are very favorable at this point in time, and are getting better all of the time. Apparently-I got an email from friends in Israel who were just saying that the Israeli press has given major coverage to the events of today, which is very, very important. And I think that nobody is really thinking yet in the terms of electoral politics. They're really thinking about the struggle for public opinion. I was about to say the battle for public opinion. It's hard not to use military terms when talking about this issue, though I do try to avoid it as much as possible. But there will be a big battle for public opinion. From everything that we have known up until now, all of the groundwork for support of the Accord was there, and what was missing was a sense of trust by one people for another. And I think that that is still going to be the case and is going to remain the case for awhile to come. But there is a fairly large cross-section that has been amassed in order to conduct public opinion within Israel and in Palestine as well. And one possibility, one possible scenario, is that this exerts enough pressure on the current government of Israel as well as on the United States, which is obviously going to play a very important role, to begin to move, if nothing else, to move the Road Map forward. Because what everyone has been pointing out very clearly, and I think correctly, is that the Geneva Accord is the end game to which the Road Map leads. You can't get to end game unless you go through these steps of confidence building and reestablishing trust between the two sides. That's not impossible. I think people did think it was very possible. And the very long term of course is that ultimately, there are elections coming up in Israel, and the current government does not seem to be as nearly as popular as it was a year and a half ago, and I would imagine that what is happening in Israel, and what I hear is happening in Israel is the fact of the signing of the Geneva Accords has really cast a very dark light on the failure of the Sharon government to deliver what was promised in two elections now, which was to bring security and peace. Israelis feel certainly no closer to peace, and certainly don't feel any more secure than they did before. Life with the Palestinians is as bad as it could possibly be. And so I think that there is a willingness and a readiness among people on both sides for a settlement. And what is going to be the unknown question here is what is going to be exact road that we take in order to get there. And again I would stress very, very strongly, and you've heard this from Israelis and Palestinians, that the role of the United States is crucial in all of this. And nothing can happen without the United States. Jimmy Carter was very, very clear about that, and correctly so, I believe. And many were saying to us, the Israelis were saying to us, the role of the American Jewish community is going to be very crucial. And our work is going to be key. One of the things I would point out which was very encouraging was that we were present as Brit Tzedek V'Shalom, Americans for Peace Now were present, representatives of Meretz U.S.A. and the Israeli Policy Forum were all present. And we are really beginning to talk now that we need to begin to work collaboratively and cooperatively to move the Road Map forward. And I'm hoping that we're looking forward to a series of meetings to make that happen.
JW: Well I think we're all looking forward to hearing more on that in the future. On to our next question from Austin Texas. The Geneva Accords are incredibly important, and address the physical needs of both parties. What steps, inside or outside of the Geneva Accords groups are being taken to address the emotional needs of the parties, particularly agreeing on a fair narrative around the events of 1948?
MF: I think the real emotional steps that are being taken have begun today and actually have been taken throughout the whole process of negotiating these accords, and that is the reestablishment of trust. At the moment it's the reestablishment of trust between a rather small group of people who were involved in these negotiations, and all of those who came to Geneva today to mark what was billed as a public commitment to the Geneva initiative. So the emotional work is not yet at the point of reconciliation and it's not yet at the point of accepting one another's truths. The immediate emotional needs are just once again gaining acceptance as we had to do in 1993 for some basic level of belief that peace with the other party is possible, and that the other side can be trusted to carry out its commitments. I think that that is the major work to be done. In terms of narratives, personally, this was not a question that was being discussed today. I think that there is an obvious understanding on both sides that very different narratives are still in existence for each side. And one of the things Abd Rabo said was that we do not have to destroy each other in order to achieve our dreams. And again, he said at a different point of his speech, we do not need for each side's dreams to become the other side's nightmare. And I think that that is the real peace that has to be done. We as Israelis and Palestinians have got to overcome the enormous amount of fear and even hatred that has generated, particularly over the past three years.
JW: I'd like to apologize. That question did not come from Austin, TX. It came from somebody else who I don't know what state they're from. I'd like to remind everybody who'd like to submit a question, that our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Now here in the United States we've been able to take a look at the internet and see what some of the latest news is. And the next question will be referring to what Ha'aretz said today. Since the news that many of the Palestinians did not come for the signing, and, I don't know if you heard about this, but according to Ha'aretz, several hundred stayed home. In fact, there was a whole article about-that they were blocked from leaving. That they were trying to get into Egypt and that they weren't allowed to go by Arafat, but some people were allowed to go by Arafat. I don't know if you saw that particular article. Is there a reason to assume that they are not in favor of the Accords-that is, the Palestinians that didn't come-and that Arafat doesn't support it, or that they fear being labeled as collaborators and killed?
MF: I think that one of the things that's going to be happening, and that we're going to be seeing a lot of is accents on the negative here, because it's going to be a little bit more newsworthy than something else. And there were some stories of that sort. All of the Palestinians that were part of the original part of the delegation to Geneva did come to Geneva. There were many Palestinians, and not just Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but also Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel, as well. There was a message from Arafat in which he expressed his support for this process. He expressed his support for the Road Map, he expressed his support for peacemaking of all kinds, including this historic occasion. And so it was not the case that Arafat was not supportive of the Road Map. Yasser Abd Rabo could not be here, and many of the Palestinian dignitaries could not be here if they did not have the support and the backing of Yasser Arafat, and it was very clear in all they had to say that they consider Arafat their leader. I think that one of the hard places in this whole negotiation and culmination of the actual accord that was actually negotiated is the issue of the rights of the refugees, and justice and fairness for the refugees. And I think the Palestinians really did not get everything they would like to get from the Israelis on this, and maybe never will, and maybe sometime way in the future after peace has reigned in the area for awhile we can begin to move beyond that. But there surely is a clear negotiated solution to the problems of the refugees in that they can return to the state of Palestine or to other sovereign states and be entitled to reparations and compensation for their pain and suffering and loss of property in 1948 and again in 1967. Where the Palestinians are having questions is that there's nowhere in this agreement any recognition by Israel of its part of the responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem. And for those of you who have been following this closely over the years, you probably remember that during the Tabla negotiations, there was that recognition that was being talked about as a formula for a settlement, that was not part of the Geneva Accord. So I think that that's where some of the Palestinians, including the Palestinian moderates, it's feeling difficult for them, but not impossible for them. We need to remember that on both sides of this conflict there are extremists both on the Palestinian side as well as on the Israeli side who totally reject any territorial compromise to find a solution to this conflict, and each side will claim all of Palestine or the Greater Land of Israel, and deny the rights of the other people to a state in the region. That 20-30 percent on both sides still exists. It's going to take quite a long time and a changed reality for that to begin to change. So the hardliners will remain the hardliners. But if you're looking to the higher echelons of Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestine National Council, Arafat's inner circles, and the inner circles of the younger members of Fatah around Marwan Barghouti, there is support there and that was very clearly expressed today.
JW: Continuing on with some more information we read today in Ha'aretz, reports were that this accord was not received by Palestinian homes. Rather, it was printed in the newspapers. Do you know if that is true?
MF: Yes. It was very widely printed in Arab language newspapers that are read by Palestinians, those that are published within the Palestinian territories as well as outside of the Palestinian territories. And I believe that the problem of not mailing it to everybody was more of a logistic problem than-because it was easier to do that in Israel, which is a functioning civil society, and the Palestinian territories today and the Gaza Strip are a barely functioning civil society in terms of the infrastructure. So that it was not possible to actually mail this to every home in the same way that was done in Israel, but it was very, very widely published in the newspapers in full.
JW: Well Ha'aretz also reported that 45 percent of Israeli homes didn't receive the documents. Did you hear anything about that?
MF: No, I did not. But the assumption is they will. I mean, the plan was that it was going to every single postal address in Israel.
JW: Okay, I want to remind everybody who's on the phone that if they'd like to send in a question, our email address is email@example.com. Also, for those of you on the phone who may not be members of Brit Tzedek, please feel free to log on to our website. These are the type of calls we hold periodically, as well as there's other wonderful information on our website. We encourage you to join our organization if you're not currently a member, and be counted among the people who are working towards peace. Our website is www. btvshalom.org. On to the next question. Now that the Accord has been signed, what do the authors plan on doing to make it a reality, i.e. will they try to sell it to political parties such as Meretz and Labor?
MF: There is political reorganization going on in the center-left in Israel today. I believe that there was a new party formed, if I'm not mistaken, with the working name of Shahar, but that's probably going to change. And this is a recombination of the Meretz political party and those from the Labor Party who left the Labor Party after the last election. There were many members of the Labor Party here today, including Avram Borg and Amram Mitzna. I think that there's going to be a general reshuffling of the political spectrum. Center-left and I suspect center-right as well. The Israelis and Palestinians have really reached a very clear moment of truth. Either there's going to be a two-state solution or there's going to be prolonged ongoing conflict for a very long time to come with no way out of it. So that I suspect that certainly on the Israeli side we're going to be reshaping some kind of reshaping of the political map. But I think that again, what everybody was very clear about, and we did an interview with Yuli Tamir today, and in that interview when she was asked this kind of question she said the real work right now is with political opinion, political work, political electoral work will come later.
JW: Given that Arafat sent a letter saying that he supports the Accords, that was read during today's event as you reported, is there a feeling that he can be the one that eventually signs the agreements, or are people, especially on the Israeli side, reluctant to work with Arafat, and instead, looking to work with potential successors?
MF: Just to be clear about this, Arafat did not announce that he supports the agreements. As a head of state, as it were, he is in no position to say he supports an agreement that is not between governments. What he did say was that he supported the process that was sought as leading to peace, which is as clear a statement of support as he could give. I wish we had something like that from Sharon, rather than just the opposite. The Israelis have tried to make Arafat irrelevant by declaring him irrelevant, and the United States has gone along with this. And I think that the resignation of Abu Mazan several months ago was a very clear-and the elevation that it gave to Arafat-and it lifted his popularity, as well as the Israeli threat to remove him one way or another, have really reinstated the power of Arafat among his people. I do think that Israel is going to have to deal with Arafat so long as he is still the leader of his people, the only elected leader of his people at this point in time. The solution was, with Abu Mazan, was to deal with Arafat by dealing with the newly elected Prime Minister, and I think that's what's going to be happening with Ahmad Quaeria. Mr. Sharon has already indicated that he is willing to meet with him and is making some demands on the Israelis in order for those meetings to happen, which is a new wrinkle in this. But I think that it's going to be very, very important that the United States begin to understand that Yasser Arafat is a reality, he is a fact, he needs to be reckoned with, and he is a partner for peace.
JW: Thank you. The next question: Is there any way to gauge the response in the Arab world, that is, beyond Palestine, to the Geneva Accords?
MF: Yes there is. I think that the message that came from the king of Morocco, the message that came from Egypt was very, very clear, and the message that was delivered again and again, the Arab states have said that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved on the basis of a two state solution and the evacuation of settlements, then the recognition of Israel will not be far behind. And there was a great deal of talk by Palestinian representatives and other representatives of Arab governments, that this was a preliminary date solution for Israel's peaceful and secure existence as a state and recognized state among equals in the Arab world in the Middle East. We've all known this for a very long time, and it is now being said very explicitly.
JW: Marcia, to what extent can we expect support from the Bush Administration, beyond lip service, and what pressure can we bring to bear?
MF: Well, we used to call it the 64 dollar question, and then it was called the 64 thousand dollar question, and it's probably now the 64 million dollar question. I think that again, this is something I would be very, very hesitant to make predictions about. On the one hand, the Bush administration might still decide this is too much of a hot potato and keep on avoiding the issue throughout the electoral season, until November of 2004, which would be very, very bad in my opinion. I think we probably would all agree with that. And on the other hand, there seems to be, I think, a growing recognition within the United States, and therefore certainly by the Bush Administration, that the fact that the growing, I would say, hatred of the United States in the Muslim world has very much to do with the very one-sided handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and an even-handed approach is going to be required. It may well be that the growing dismal nature of the situation in Iraq will convince the Bush Administration that it needs to demonstrate to the Muslim world that it is also in favor of a two-state solution in a real way and not just in terms of lip service. So I think it can go either way, but I'm somewhat hopeful that-and it's unfortunate that this would be the reason-but the deepening quagmire in Iraq may be that thing that tips the scales for the Bush Administration to reengage. And you know Beilin and Abd Rabo are going to be going to Washington. They're hoping to meet with the State Department next week, as well as members of Congress. Congress, by the way, Congresswoman Lois Capps was present today and has introduced a resolution-if you haven't gotten your action alert about that yet, you should be. I understand that all the servers were down for a day and so it may be stuck in cyberspace, but Lois Katz has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, and even more important, I think, Senator Diane Feinstein has introduced a resolution in the Senate, which is a major breakthrough, really, in support of the Geneva Accords and calling on the Bush Administration to reengage in peacemaking in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And that is a real crack in the wall, I think, of this [inaudible]
JW: So Marcia, one of the things I heard you say is that, as far as the pressure we can bring, is obviously, when we get our action alerts, acting upon them. For those of you who are not members of Brit Tzedek, joining Brit Tzedek so our numbers grow. Are there other things we can be doing?
MF: Well, first of all we are still promoting the Call to bring the settlers home, and that call is probably now more relevant than ever before. One way to support the Geneva Accords is to sign the Call. We're very close to 10,000 signatures at this point in time if we're not over it already. We should be over it very soon. We're going to be getting to work on a congressional strategy to bring it to the members of Congress, and therefore through Congress to bring it to the White House. And it is one step in the direction of a negotiated settlement, and it is something that we can all do, and we can do very simply, not just signing it ourselves, but getting other people to sign it. But the other thing I would say to reinforce what Joanne has been saying, it's important to understand that Brit Tzedek today is not a small organization. We have a network of about 15,000 members and supporters, and we have grown from about 200 to 15,000 in the space of a year and a half. There's no reason that we can't double and even triple that number in the next year's time, and that totally depends on all of us. We have chapters now in 30 cities around the country. We're going to be organizing very strongly in many different ways to work on the grassroots level garnering support within the Jewish community for the Geneva Accord, and hoping to put pressure on our leaders, the leaders of the Jewish community, from the bottom up. We are the only Jewish organization that is poised to do that kind of work and that is work that we each need to do. It's not something that we can sit around and wait for somebody else to do. And there are already simple things that can happen. You can show your support by joining the organization, by signing the Call, by getting others to sign the Call, by sending out emails to your personal lists of family and colleagues and friends and things. This is an important organization, check it out. This is an important action to sign the Call. We are going to be calling for individuals through a major internet advertising campaign in the very near future, to sign a pledge of support for the Geneva Accord, and thereby asking to join our network of people who want to be working on that on the local as well as the national level. So there's an awful lot of organizing to be done right now, and I hope there's a great deal of energy for it.
JW: Okay, our next question comes from somebody who watched PBS tonight. Early accounts indicated that Palestinians had expected limited return of refugees. But PBS tonight said that this remains a point of disagreement. Any clarifying on this?
MF: It certainly doesn't remain a point of disagreement between the negotiators. That is one of the major achievements of the negotiation at the Geneva Accords. That there was an agreement reached that was at least minimally satisfying to both sides. And I would say much more minimally to the Palestinians than to the Israelis. So I don't know if it's a point of disagreement. From what I've heard, speaking with Palestinians today, it is a point of disappointment. And the disappointment is not that there is no right of return to the state of Israel, but the disappointment is really that there's no recognition on the Israeli side that a wrong was done to the Palestinians, and that the Israelis bear some responsibility for the wrong that was done. And I think that this is going to be a sore point for some time to come, and it's going to be one of the problems for the Palestinians organizing around the Accord. Nobody seems to think that-people that I spoke with today on the Palestinian side-think it's going to be a major obstacle for garnering support for the Accords. And I think in the very long view of things, the real issue of truth and reconciliation, if I can use those words, is going to depend on recognition of a sense of one another's narratives. And we're not there yet.
JW: This next question comes from Chicago. Who were the featured speakers from the U.S. other than Jimmy Carter, and what did they say?
MF: I'm looking at my list of speakers. Most of the speakers were not from the U.S. As I said, there was a message from Bill Clinton, a very strong message from Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. And the Congresswoman Lois Katz was here, did not speak today. But most of those present were not U.S. representatives.
JW: So there weren't any representatives from the current U.S. Administration?
MF: No there were not.
JW: What role did Palestinians have in the ceremony today?
MF: It was a totally equal role. I mean, that was one of the most carefully scripted pieces of it in terms of the number of speakers, in terms of the musical entertainment. There were both Israeli and Palestinian musicians and Israeli and Palestinian speakers, and many, many international dignitaries.
JW: Our next question. What can happen under the current leadership of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon? Yasser Arafat gave his limited support for the Geneva Accords. He has said he supports it, but thinks there should be a right to return for Palestinians to pre-48 Israel, and Sharon is doing everything possible to discredit it.
MF: I'm wondering if that is factually correct, that Arafat said that he thinks there has to be a right of return for Palestinians to Israel. He was never demanding this from 1993 on. So I think that again, from the Palestinian point of view, and what Arafat is expressing, for political reasons, is that this is symbolically an extremely important issue for the Palestinians. It's a sore point. It's a point of their narrative not being fully known, fully accepted by the world and by the Israelis. I think that that is going to remain a sore point. I don't think-I don't think indeed-we've seen in fact, that it does not have to stand in the way of the two sides reaching an agreement for a two-state solution that's just and viable. And as I said before, there's going to be another step and many other steps that follow that one. The fact that we have not the best of leadership on both sides is very, very difficult. That's why we're in the situation we're in today. It think that if we were very honest with ourselves and in our assessments, we've got to understand that Sharon is much more deeply opposed to anything like a just and viable two-state solution with genuine territorial compromise and return of most of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in order to achieve that. And Arafat is much closer to acceptance of that position than Sharon is. So politically I think the Israelis have the much harder road to hoe here.
JW: Marcia, as you're probably aware, many of the U.S. peace movements seem to respect Palestinians who oppose the Geneva Accords, and speak to the single democratic state which is a code for the end of Israel the way we know it today-a code for Israel's demographic solution, which is basically a codeword for mass expulsion of Israelis.
MF: Well I think that that latter point is going slightly too far. That's just making an assumption that we don't know is correct, or would be correct, and it might just as well be, but I don't know that one would have to assume it. But I don't think that that's the point, really. From the point of view of Jewish Diaspora, and from the point of view of the majority of Israeli society, and I would say the overwhelming majority of the Jewish Diaspora, the fact of the continued existence of Israel is absolutely a non-negotiable point. And I think it's very fair to say, and this is what people are saying, that if we can't reach a two-state solution, then the only thing that can happen is either continued bloodshed for, you know, an indefinite future, very far into that future with a great deal of pain and suffering on both sides, or a sort of de-facto creation of two states, and that can happen in any one of a number of ways, none of which is going to be good for the Jews. As my grandmother would say, is it good for the Jews or bad for the Jews? And on the one hand we can have-and I think Avram Borg put this very clearly in the article he wrote towards the end of August, the choices would be if we don't move towards a two-state solution, the choices are we have a democratic Israel which cannot therefore be a state with a majority of Jews, and a homeland for the Jewish people in particular, or we move towards a state that's a Jewish state, and cannot possibly be a democratic state. I mean, those are the realities. So I would question the point was stated at the beginning of this question that most Jewish peace organizations are not in favor of a two state solution. I think all the major Jewish peace organizations, certainly including our own, for us a two state solution is the only position that we think is at all viable, certainly from the point of view of Israel and the Jewish people. And I think that most of the major-I know that all of the major organizations have exactly the same principles on that particular point. I think that there are small groups, perhaps, of Jewish peace organizations that have local viability here and there, and even there I'm not quite sure that the one state solution is really very primary.
JW: This was actually the U.S. The general peace organizations. I think the person was referring to the non-Jewish.
MF: Well my assumption is that's probably looking at something like United for Peace and Justice, the anti-war movement. And I think that for United for Peace and Justice, their position is still being negotiated internally. And for ANSWER, the other major American peace organization has been one-sidedly pro-Palestinian all along. So that's not anything new.
JW: Okay. We have a follow-up question from Chicago. About the Palestinians who oppose the Accord. How do the Palestinians who support the Accord think that they can win over or neutralize these forces? Also, it would be nice to know a progressive Palestinian who supported and/or helped author the Accord, aside from Barghouti. It can help us neutralize some of the exiles who are dogmatically tied to the right of return.
MF: I think that we have to look at this-the Palestinians who negotiated the Accords really come from many walks of Palestinian life, including representatives from the refugee camps. Representatives of the younger leaders of Fatah, who are the people around Marwan Barghouti. Leaders of the older generation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Fatah, who are the people around Arafat that include Muhir al-Manasser and Yasser Abd Rabo and others. There's a very, very large cross-section of Palestinian public opinion that is committed to the Geneva Accord. And I think that we need to recognize that that is the case. There is an extremist element among the Palestinians who will not accept it, and there are those-they're living in a reality today of closures and road blocks and incursions. It happened today just in Ramallah-the constant arrests and so on. That made an enormous amount of mistrust for the Israelis among the Palestinians, and that has to be overcome. And that is going to be a problem for the Palestinians who are organizing support for the Accords. But the overwhelming majority of their leadership are supporting it, and are represented in the group that sat and negotiated with the Israelis.
JW: It's such wonderful news to hear live from Geneva. All of the wonderful things that have happened today. Here's a question from the San Francisco Bay Area. Do you think it is important that we write to our congressional representatives to publicly support peace initiatives such as the Geneva Accord?
MF: I think it is not only important, but I think it is crucial, and particularly right now, when this week in Congress there are being resolutions that specifically support the peace process and call on the White House to get reengaged, within the Senate and the House of Representatives. It's really a breakthrough moment in terms of American U.S. politics on the congressional level, and of course we need to support that, and we need to do that very vocally, and very vociferously, and in great numbers.
JW: Here's a question from Sommerville, MA. Can you describe some of the range of responses from the leaders of the Likud, and the right-wing rejectionists that have seemed to change as a result of the publication and advocacy of the Geneva Accords. Has the Center moved yet, and if so, how?
MF: Well you know the Israeli Center moved very much to the right at the start of the second Intifada, and is now just really beginning to recover itself. And I think the Geneva Accord is one major step in that direction. What I was saying earlier when I was reporting to you the mood of people arriving here from Israel, was the peace camp just feels itself reenergized for the first time in a very, very long time, and it's palpable. You can sense people's excitement, you can sense their return of their energy to do something. The return of hope that something can be accomplished. So I think that that is going to sort of right the balance-right left the balance in Israel. And I think we're going to be seeing that fairly soon. I also think it's very important to understand there's a certain stridency and almost hysteria on the part of the Israeli right and the Sharon government to the fact of the Geneva Accord. It is shown I think-Amram Mitzna said that at our conference in Chicago. They've shown that the emperor has no clothes. That Sharon does not have a plan. That Sharon does not have any way out of this situation that we're in. That he knows only from military solutions, and it's very clear that the military solutions are bankrupt, and you can't win this struggle militarily, and I think that the Israelis are beginning to understand that in large numbers. It's important to pay attention to the fact that Sharon's approval rating are down to somewhere in the mid-30s, which is the lowest ever, since he was elected for the first time and reelected the second time around. So there is definitely a shift. It's also interesting that the settler movement has come out with its' own peace plan and YESHA has come out with its own peace plan, and the Labor Party is working on its own peace plan and so on. The whole beginning to think in terms of well, we need some other solutions. We need political solutions to this conflict. That has taken hold already within Israel, and I think that this is just a beginning seed of something that will grow over time.
JW: This question is from Texas. What else can we do in our local communities to promote the Geneva Accord?
MF: We are going to be having this wonderful video. I hope to soon as possible be able to distribute to all of our local communities, and those who are organized as Brit Tzedek, and those who just want it on their own. I would suggest that we hold house meetings, I would suggest that we hold public forums in Jewish community centers and synagogues around the country. I think that we just need to begin to get the word out very, very strongly, and that the message is there is a partner for peace, and there is a plan. The problem right now is not that not that we don't have-who to negotiate with, or we have nothing to negotiate about. The problem now is to develop the political will in our own country and our Jewish community and the United States government to begin to make that happen.
JW: Marcia, can you take a few moments to explain how our Bring the Settlers Home Campaign fits in with the Geneva Accord?
MF: Well bringing the settlers home would be one step towards the Geneva Accord. I mean, the beauty of the campaign to bring the settlers home is it takes cognizance of the fact, the known fact, that a very large majority of the settlers would already leave if they could possibly do so. They are being held hostage in many respects by economics to their continued residency in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But we know from surveys that have been done that 90 percent of the settlers would accept the lawful order to return immediately, and some 30 to 40 percent have said most recently that if they had the economic wherewithal, they would do it today. Now that means that they have to be bought out, to be very simple about it. People need to be able to purchase for themselves living accommodations that are at least somewhat equivalent to what they already have. And nobody's buying their homes and apartments in the West Bank. So the Call to bring the settlers home is really a call to establish an international fund that would provide housing grants to Israelis who wish to leave right now. Now, if we had that fund in place, if you can think about that for a minute, and internationally it's not a lot of money, 2-3 billion dollars, if we had that fund in place, we could say with a great deal of certainty that particularly the settlers that are on the outlying settlements that are not going to be included in the new borders of Israel with the establishment of a Palestinian state, would take advantage of those housing grants and leave. Which means you get a voluntary evacuation of settlements, one family at a time. That is a major step towards undermining the entire policy of the settlements, which is the policy of the current government of Israel. Major progress towards undermining the constant press for more extension of settlements, more housing units being constructed that are staying empty, by the way. And more appropriations of Palestinian land. So part of what building the fence is is there's this huge land grab going on. So you know, there are only 230,000 settlers altogether, and if we can bring home 30 or 40 percent of them, I think we have pretty much solved the issue of the settlers and the settlements.
JW: So Marcia, that was really the last question. I want to express to you some of the thoughts that were in a lot of these questions. And that was, you know, after everybody asked the question, there was a lot of support and a thank you to you and Diane for going to Geneva, for representing us, for being our eyes and ears, for all the work you're doing of building bridges. For the work you've done today, for the continued work. And I just want to say personally, that I am just amazed at how coherent you are after working so hard and spending so much time traveling. We wish you Godsend on your trip to Israel, and look forward to hearing more about the wonderful work you're doing on behalf of Brit Tzedek.
MF: Well, those words are very much appreciated, but I want to say thank you to all of you, and thank you to Brit Tzedek for sending us. This was an enormous privilege to be here today. It was a long, hard day, and I'm glad I was still coherent, but this wasn't work. This was one of those days of real joy, which are fairly rare these days.