The response that the Geneva Accord elicited from the right was disproportionately shrill and frightened, but also hackneyed and expected. Certainly none of the document's signers ever deluded himself that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the rightist ministers would welcome a peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinians - especially not an initiative developed by leading doves, and which is liable to rebut the government's stubborn contention that "there is no one to talk with." One should not be surprised by inflammatory statements such as those of Benny Elon, who termed Yossi Beilin "a collaborator with the enemy."
The hysterical response of Shinui Chairman Yosef Lapid - who said, among other things, that "this is an irresponsible proceeding" and that "negotiations should be conducted by the elected government, not by a collection of failed politicians from the left" - was also unsurprising. Lapid occasionally claims that his political views are centrist, but his harsh statements and his surprising decision to forbid MKs from his party to support the document testify to the contrary. Not only Lapid, but all of Shinui, which marketed itself as the political center, is functioning as a submissive partner in the hard-line rightist coalition.
The disappointing responses came from members of the Labor Party, who ought, albeit with due caution, to have supported the hopeful tidings enfolded in the accord's dozens of pages and articles. The first to attack was former prime minister Ehud Barak, who said: "When we see the details of the agreement, it will become clear that there was no simple and direct concession of the right of return nor any recognition of Israel's right to be a Jewish state. This is a proceeding that harms the interests of the state of Israel; it is political irresponsibility of the highest order."
This is a bizarre assault. Until the agreement has been formally signed, Barak will know no more about it than any other citizen. His unbridled criticisms are themselves a serious display of irresponsibility. Barak of all people, who failed in the last negotiations with the Palestinians - which, according to everything that has been published, were based on fairly similar principles to those that appear in the Geneva Accord - should have examined the apparent change in the other side's positions and encouraged those behind the initiative.
Barak's response and that of others in the Labor Party - the typically sour silence of party chairman Shimon Peres, the squirming of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and the reservations of Ephraim Sneh and Haim Ramon - attest to confusion and the loss of Labor's way. Ever since the failure of the talks at Camp David, and even more so since the outbreak of the intifada and Labor's ouster to the opposition, its leaders have remained silent on every issue. Not one of them has proposed an alternative to the diplomatic wasteland of the Sharon government.
If any of the vocal critics from Labor still retain a desire to once again have an impact on Israel's future, they must overcome the political pettiness and small-mindedness that weaken the peace camp, cause the Labor Party to disintegrate and strengthen the government's citadel of rejection. The Geneva document offers a different agenda for Israel. Labor must decide whether it wants to mutely trail along after the right, or whether it will be a partner in the brave effort of promoting peace at a difficult price.