If It's So Bad for Sharon, It Must Be Good for Us, Palestinians Say

The Palestinian media, which have hitherto almost completely ignored the Geneva Accord (the "Swiss Agreement," as some Palestinian spokesman are calling it), yesterday began giving the subject conspicuous coverage.

The Palestinian media, which have hitherto almost completely ignored the Geneva Accord (the "Swiss Agreement," as some Palestinian spokesman are calling it), yesterday began giving the subject conspicuous coverage.

There are several reasons for this: First, because Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and other government ministers have sharply attacked Yossi Beilin and his colleagues. If these agreements so annoy Sharon, the Palestinians immediately wonder if maybe, from their perspective, there's something positive here. Most of the Palestinian public now sees the conflict as a zero-sum game. Ergo, if these accords are so bad for Sharon, they must be good for us.

Another reason for heightened Palestinian interest in the accords is Beilin and Yasser Abed-Rabbo's Cairo meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and presidential adviser Osama al-Baz. Photos from the meetings appeared in the Palestinian press, and if the Egyptians are taking the matter seriously, Palestinian public opinion can't ignore it.

The third reason concerns the reports as to which Palestinian figures were involved in the negotiating. They include three former ministers - Abed Rabbo, Hisham Abdel Razeq and Nabil Kassis - and members of the young guard from Fatah and the Tanzim: Qadoura Fares and Mohammed Khourani (both members of the Palestine Legislative Council, and considered followers of Marwan Barghouti), plus experts and security people from the first rank of the Palestinian establishment. In other words, the Palestinian public understands that this isn't just one of several "private" initiatives that haven't managed to take off, like the People's Voice initiative by Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, but rather something more serious.

It is now clear to all that Yasser Arafat and his close associates are behind this. Some of the Palestinian figures mentioned take no step without Arafat's authorization. But guesswork isn't required here. Certainly we can believe Abed Rabbo when he says explicitly that he had the blessing of Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia. We can also believe the senior Palestinians who are saying that there's been no official Palestinian response because the Israeli side is represented by private individuals, without official status - and the PA has to behave accordingly.

That Beilin and Abed Rabbo were working on such an agreement was known. What's new here is this dramatic step of taking it public, and the complete support evidenced by Arafat and his people. Why are they doing this? Sharon, Olmert and the others who are angry at Beilin are saying, among other things, that Arafat is now looking to save his own skin. At Arafat's bureau in Ramallah, everyone was sure last week that the mobilization of reserve units being widely discussed in Israel was part of the preparation for a major military move to take the Muqata. Arafat, ill and mired in endless wrangling over the composition of the new government, was thus very afraid (suggests this version) and decided to go ahead with a dramatic initiative to prevent the Israeli attack.

That may be true, but it doesn't invalidate the Geneva Accords. Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud prime minister in 1991, understood very well why Arafat was permitting his people to come to the Madrid conference that inaugurated the peace process. Following the (first) Gulf War and Arafat's support of Saddam Hussein, Western countries stopped sending money to Arafat; the PLO was isolated and rejected, almost to the point of disappearing totally. Arafat and the PLO leadership (embargoed by Israel) decided who would represent the West Bank and Gaza at the Madrid conference, and it's no exaggeration to say that their willingness to come to Madrid saved the PLO.

One could say that Arafat went with the Oslo Accords because he was in trouble, just as one could say that President Sadat launched his peace initiative because he was in trouble. Such are the rules of the game in politics.

Whatever may be motivating Arafat and his people to support the Geneva Accord, what matters is that the accord could promote the possibility of reaching an agreement.