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"Lanterns swaying in the breeze Autumn growling Chabad tunes In the square an argument foments Between supporters and opponents How can the soul not rage How can one sleep soundly Peace is sawing at the brain Peace is making the blood boil."

Thus wrote Natan Alterman in 1934 in the poem "Peace," which Miki Gavrielov turned into a hit when he composed a catchy tune to it.

Alterman was either ironic or utopian in decribing a vision in which "Color merges with color / Diplomat with diplomat / Tel Aviv will be Geneva / Both will have the same spirit."

Whether he was mocking those who believe this possibility or yearning for it, the poet perceived that the idea of peace is troublesome and has become itself a bone of contention.

Tomorrow Tel Aviv is going to Geneva to an event that proves Alterman's statement has withstood the test of time. The peace initiative due to be signed there, drafted by Israeli and Palestinian teams headed by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, has become a new point of friction among Israelis. Granted, a number of important Israeli authors are partners to the Geneva initiative and praise it, but the dominant voice accompanying it is that of the political establishment, both Likud and Labor, who oppose it. They oppose it so strongly that some of them question the very legitimacy of the attempt to offer the Israeli public a real alternative to the government's policy.

This country has known exceptional moves by individuals wishing to break the cycle of hostility and suspicion in which the Jews and Arabs are trapped. Some were perceived, in their time, as adventurers, often as eccentrics. In retrospect, it may be more apt to describe them as pioneers. Such is Uri Avneri and his early contacts with PLO leaders; such was Nahum Goldman, the president of the World Jewish Congress, who went on his own accord to Egypt with a peace plan, evoking the fury of then prime minister Golda Meir. Ezer Weizman had contacts with the PLO despite prime minister Yitzhak Shamir's objection and was forced to resign from the cabinet. Even Abie Nathan, who tried to meet president Nasser and met Yasser Arafat, should be remembered in this context, although he was regarded at the time as a naive publicity hunter.

The Beilin initiative is a totally kosher political act. There have been talks between Israel and the Palestinians since September 1993. The state of war between them was officially canceled with the signing of the Oslo Accords, therefore the talks that Israelis and Palestinians have been holding since, whether on state business or privately, are perfectly legitimate. Indeed, the state of hostility was not replaced with peace. Both sides are in an interim period in which violence and negotiations are combined. This is a known phase in international conflicts. If the prime minister and his ministers are allowed to conduct political talks with Arafat and his envoys, public figures from the opposition or rank and file civilians have all the more right to do so.

The Geneva document to be signed tomorrow has quite a few flaws and the main work is still ahead of its draftsmen - translating it into an itemized agreement, with all the required appendices in whose details is God or Satan. And yet, this initiative has already had positive results - it has caused a shift in the political establishment and forced the prime minister, the Labor and Shinui parties and even the Yesha Council to produce their own proposals. The difference between the proposal of Beilin and his colleagues and the approach of Sharon and his partners, is that the former see the continued grasp of the territories as a disaster while the latter wish to immortalize it. This is the choice facing the public.

When Alterman sang of Geneva, it was the seat of the League of Nations, which was considered by Tel Aviv as a den of hypocrites that allowed the Nazis to run rampant and laid obstacles in the path of the Zionist Movement. The Geneva in which the ceremony will be held tomorrow is different. So is Tel Aviv.