The Geneva Accord moves to center stage
Television stations in the territories have been broadcasting an Israeli-Palestinian campaign since last week that is promoting the accord. The marketer: an advertising company owned by Abu Mazen's two sons
"Half a year ago they asked us to broadcast the campaign, but this was a very big problem for us because the public response after similar broadcasts had been harsh. Now the reactions are not as harsh as they were in the past. There are those who express reservations and those who protest, but this does not go beyond the bounds of ordinary debate. There is no doubt that if the campaign were to have started after the elections for the Palestinian Authority, which will be held on January 9, it would have been more convenient for us, but the advertisers insisted and in the end we agreed. We are a commercial channel and we had no reason to refuse their request."
This is how Tariq Jabara, the director of the Qalqilyah Channel - the largest local television station in the city - explained the public atmosphere in his city with regard to the Geneva Accord campaign, which he started broadcasting last week. According to him, this consists of clusters of broadcasts that are shown several times a day.
The campaign got under way on the first anniversary of the Geneva Accord, and it is called a "mirror campaign." Six short films, one minute each in length, of former Knesset speaker Avrum Burg, Yahad chairman Dr. Yossi Beilin, Labor MKs Amram Mitzna and Yuli Tamir, Brigadier General (res.) Giora Inbar and Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli are broadcast by local television stations in the territories, and the speakers stress their support for the idea of two states for two peoples.
At the same time, in films shown on Internet portals and in cinemas, former Palestinian minister of information Yasser Abed Rabbo and Minister without Portfolio Kadoura Fares, who were among the original signatories to the Geneva Accord, as well as new supporters in the persons of Yasser Arafat's former national security advisor Jibril Rajoub, Negotiations Minister Saeb Erekat, Minister of Women's Issues Zahira Kamal and Feisal Husseini's son Abed al Kader al Husseini, address the Israeli audience.
Rajoub, who also speaks Hebrew and English, addresses the Israeli public in Arabic and stresses, without declaring his explicit support for the accord as an agreement that he accepts, the importance of the existence of partners on both sides as well as the possibility of arriving at an agreement on the basis of the 1967 borders. He does not relate to the issue of the right of return.
Erekat also takes care not to declare his adoption of the provisions of the accord. "I respect what the Geneva Accord has done because it proved that there are partners in Palestine and in Israel," he says. Kamal concentrates on the suffering of women on both sides. She too does not go so far as to express her support for the agreement itself.
`A soldier for peace'
The Israeli speakers in the campaign also stress the existence of a partner to an agreement on the Palestinian side. Beilin emphasizes in the broadcast the importance of coexistence between the two peoples. Inbar, who was the commander of the liaison unit in Lebanon in the past, tells the Palestinian viewers, "I wasted most of my life on activity that today I have realized I must change, and I am reporting for duty as a soldier for peace."
Mitzna stresses the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for independence and asserts that a Palestinian state is an Israeli interest.
Jabara's remarks exemplify the change that has taken place in the Palestinian public since the launching of the initiative a year ago, and especially among the current leadership, headed by Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala). He relates that the reactions to the broadcasts have not been belligerent.
"There are those who have reservations and call the station, but they are a lot calmer than they were in the past," he says. In order to understand the change, it is important to remember that the accord has found its place in the Palestinian consciousness primarily on the backdrop of the propaganda of the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and representatives of the refugee camps in the territories, who were furious about it and argued that the Palestinian partners to this formulation - Abed Rabbo, Fares and others - had knowingly given up the right of return in the context of the accord.
As was his wont, the late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat tried to have it both ways and related to the accord at most as a trial balloon, in the framework of a maneuver aimed at rescinding the isolation in which he was sequestered. However, he refrained from backing the initiative, and above all he refrained from defending the signatories at a time when the attacks against became life-threatening.
Jabara relates with sympathy to the local television stations in the territories that tried to show the broadcasts only a few months ago. A television station in Ramallah was sabotaged by masked men and had to cease broadcasting for several days after it announced it intended to broadcast the campaign. The owner of a station in Nablus who dared to start broadcasting the films was threatened in posters by people from the military arm of the Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and shelved the broadcasts.
The other stations in the territories - and there are about 45 of them, the vast majority without any clear organizational affiliation - took the hint, and despite the recession and the expected significant income, refrained from broadcasting the campaign.
Arafat's death changed the way the wind was blowing in a single stroke. Jabara's station and at least five other stations began to broadcast the campaign last week, which cost $200,000 on each side and has been funded by donations.
Seven other stations - in the cities of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron - have said that they have received the material and will start broadcasting it in the coming days. At least one Arab satellite station, Al Arabiya, which broadcasts from the Persian Gulf and is very popular in the territories, has agreed to broadcast the spots for pay. But above all, the official broadcasting station of the PA was scheduled to begin broadcasting the spots last night, and thereby take the most significant step in thrusting the accord into the Palestinian mainstream, which has thus far kept away from it.
What is currently bothering Jabara and the directors of other stations, who agreed to talk to Haaretz on condition of anonymity, is not the fear that they will be attacked or that posters against them will appear. Their anxiety in essence is commercial. The veterans at the television stations have pleasant memories of the income from the campaign broadcasts of the candidates in the Palestinian elections in 1996. Now, after four years of intifada and unprecedented economic slump, the broadcasts have been delivered into their hands right in the midst of the local election campaign broadcasts in 26 localities in the West Bank. Those campaign broadcasts began a week ago, a week before the start of the official campaign for the elections for the head of the PA, which could fill the stations' coffers.
The station owners fear that candidates who are slated to contend against Abu Mazen, such as Democratic Front candidate Taysir Khaled for example, will refuse to advertise themselves parallel to the broadcast of the Geneva spots, whether in fear that their names will be linked to the initiative or because of their strong opposition to the accord itself.
Another anxiety among the station owners, who are now trying to get clear bearings on the leadership's attitude toward the accord before they broadcast the spots, is that viewers will decide to boycott the stations because of the broadcast of the campaign, a boycott that would mean heavy losses.
Change of Palestinian attitude
In any case, it appears that something is on the move of late with respect to the attitude of the Palestinian leadership toward the Geneva Accord, although there has not been any official expression of this. Since Arafat's death, Abu Mazen and Abu Ala have refrained from any mention of the accord. A meeting between its Israeli heads - Beilin and others - and Abu Mazen that was supposed to have taken place two weeks ago was postponed at the initiative of Abu Mazen's bureau. The meeting had already been arranged and the members of the Israeli delegation were supposed to come to Ramallah, but at the last minute it was canceled.
Two hours later Abu Mazen was already on his way to a speech in the Palestinian parliament in which he outlined his principles for an agreement with Israel, among them the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and the right of return in accordance with United Nations Resolution 194.
Close associates of Abu Mazen and Abu Ala explained then that they had no objections in principle to such a meeting, but they made it clear that as far as they were concerned it would be far more convenient to hold it after the elections. According to these sources, even though the two of them support the accord in principle, they don't need nodes of opposition during the period prior to the elections, and they prefer not to deal with controversial subjects at the moment.
Thus far Abu Mazen himself has not related publicly to the accord. Abed Rabbo made it clear at the Herzliya Conference only a few days ago that under the accord there will not be a "collective return" to Israeli territory. It is to be remembered that the part of the accord that relates to the refugee issue states that Israel alone will decide upon the entrance of refugees into its territory, taking into consideration the number who will be absorbed by other countries. Abed Rabbo, incidentally, is considered to be very close to Abu Mazen these days, and the rumor mill in the PA has it that he is expected to receive a senior position after the coming elections.
Beyond the various anxieties, a positive atmosphere on the whole prevails among the owners of television channels in the territories with respect to the Geneva campaign spots. Most of them explained that the reason for this is the identity of the marketer of the campaign: Sky, the largest media company in the territories, which is owned by Abu Mazen's sons, Tariq and Yasser Abbas.
Sky is much more than a large advertising agency, which sells most of the advertising space and minutes of air time in the media in the territories. It is directly connected, in the eyes of the station owners, to Abu Mazen, who looks likely to be elected the leader, and to the new spirit among the Palestinian leadership with respect to the Geneva Accord. Just as Arafat's non-intervention in the accord was interpreted at the time as opposition to it, Sky's involvement in marketing the campaign on the Palestinian side is interpreted as Abu Mazen's official blessing.