The document launched in Geneva on Monday is, as Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo said, a virtual agreement. "But," they added, "we are real." Indeed, the power of the festive and emotional ceremony, which was diligently prepared and managed, is not to be found in the small print of the agreement, which does have its flaws and most of which has not been written, but in the intentions of both sides to prove "there is somebody to talk to" on the other side. The ceremony was impressive, but no less impressive were the preparations that preceded it. Together with the efforts to win the support of the Israelis and Palestinians for the understandings, the agreement's authors devoted much effort to enlist the support of international leaders and personages from around the world.
And, indeed, the results of the efforts invested in the agreement are clearly evident. Since the document was first distributed to the wider pubic, it has had some surprising reverberations. Politicians and known peace rejectionists may have predictably responded with vehemence, and condemned this initiative, but, in general, it seems the understandings made a certain difference in Israeli public opinion.
The relatively high level of support for it - 31 percent - and the relatively low level of objection - 38 percent - that emerged from a public opinion poll published in Haaretz early this week, and the emotional and hopeful involvement of people from all walks of life - authors, artists and social activists - are encouraging and raise expectations for what is yet to come. It is regrettable that the Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, chose to express reservations about the understandings and even condemn the agreement. The entire political system feels the need to present various new, different and even strange initiatives as a result of the Geneva Accord. But those moves all seem like clumsy efforts to foil the Geneva initiative, intrinsically valuable initiatives of their own. They will collapse as quickly as their clumsy predecessors.
But the fate of the Geneva Accord is also not clear. In the last decade, Israeli and Palestinian delegations have attended festive ceremonies and agreed on papers full of good intentions, but the warm embraces, the friendly relations and the sincere concern for coming generations were not translated so far into action. Oslo's failure, the settlement expansions, and the strengthening of the right's hold on the government in Israel, the intifada and the murderous terrorism, and the haplessness of the Palestinian Authority and its leader - it has all raised the walls of suspicion and hostility between the two peoples and driven both societies to despair and crisis.
Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo were invited to a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington. The American administration, which at first had reservations about the initiative, is now signaling that it has found favor in Washington. But those signals alone won't help if they are not accompanied by vigorous and determined action to restart the dialogue and negotiations between the sides. Hopefully, the understandings will develop broad and consistent support among Israelis and Palestinians, who will influence their leaderships not to ignore the clear message that arrived from Geneva - there is someone to talk to on the other side.