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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
A Rare Dose of Hope Illuminates SwitzerlandBy STEVE MASTERS, co-chair of Advocacy and Public Policy Committee and chair of the Philadelphia chapter
Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia
January 15, 2004
As a life-long Zionist, I went to Geneva earlier this month to witness whether it was true that Israelis and Palestinians, who had led their respective military forces against each other, had actually come together to embrace reconciliation and forgiveness.
What I witnessed exceeded any expectations I could have had.
When I came home, however, I was saddened to see critical headlines and articles in the Jewish Exponent, and the low profile given the ceremony in the U.S. mass media.
In Geneva, I met Israeli and Palestinian political, military and security leaders who had struggled through their frustration and anger to complete a comprehensive peace agreement to resolve outstanding claims between the two peoples. The agreement included solutions to issues such as the fate of Palestinian refugees and the sacred places in Jerusalem's Old City.
For me, the highlight of the ceremony was the emotional high shared by the Israeli and Palestinian delegations as they stood together and received a standing ovation from the crowd. As Israeli Yossi Beilin and Palestinian Yasser Abd Rabbo beamed, it felt as if the entire room joined in embracing these courageous peacemakers.
I knew that the negotiations had been contentious because we saw video clips of difficult sessions, where negotiators were unmistakably tense and frustrated. All of that was behind them. This was especially poignant when Israeli Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak and Palestinian Brig. Gen. Zuheir Manasra stood together on the stage; during the first initifada, Shahak had signed the order placing Manasra in administrative detention.
As a witness, I want to report the following. My ears are sensitive to anti-Israel rhetoric, and I did not hear any from the speakers in Switzerland. Israelis, world leaders and Palestinians called for an end to Palestinian terror. Rabbo devoted much of his talk to a special appeal to world Jewry to join together to make the spirit of Geneva a reality.
Another claim I've read is that the initiative undermines Israeli democracy. What I saw in Geneva was democracy in action. In the face of three years of relentless violence and without any success at sustaining meaningful negotiations, the architects of the accord demonstrated their patriotism by reaching across the divide, and exploding the myths that have kept peace negotiations moribund since the collapse of the talks facilitated by President Clinton.
The Geneva accord has brought an end to the accepted wisdom in Israel that "there is no one to talk to and nothing to talk about."
A poll from the Baker Institute for Public Policy found that 53 percent of the Israelis and almost 56 percent of the Palestinians support the spirit of Geneva. A similar peace initiative called the People's Voice - launched by former Mossad Director Ami Ayalon and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Sari Nusseibeh - has garnered signatures from some 129,000 Israelis and 70,000 Palestinians.
Today, Israel is a nation whose citizens share an increasing sense of despair about their government's failure to protect them from suicide bombings and terrorist strikes via military actions alone. The Geneva accord has provided a rare dose of hope for a future of security.
Israel's friends in Congress, such as Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), sensing both the urgency of the security crisis facing Israel and the unique promise offered by the Geneva initiative, introduced congressional resolutions to support the spirit of the Geneva initiative.
The Philadelphia Jewish community should raise its collective voice to urge our congressional delegation to co-sponsor these resolutions - and extend full U.S. diplomatic support for this vital peace initiative.
Steven Masters of Philadelphia is the national chair for advocacy and public policy of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.