Analysis / A Virtual' Event Offers Some Hope

Initiators are drawing encouragement from a public opinion poll which showed a support-rate of over 30 percent among Israelis for the draft.

The decor and dim lights at the venue of the ceremony to launch the Geneva initiative suited the occasion: They deceived the members of the audience and made it difficult for them to decipher what they were viewing.

Officially, the event was defined as "the public commitment ceremony for the Geneva initiative." In practice, it was a well-timed sound-and-light show, filled with touching statements and theatrical gimmicks, honest cries of distress alongside calculated plucking on feelings of guilt and compassion.

In the exaggerated language of advertising that is accompanying the initiative, the occasion was defined as "a launch" - as if a new CD or bar of soap had just come into the world.

But behind the estranged terminology lay good intentions and real concerns from a world apart, in which people from rival nations are wrapped up in fear and enmity, and lose their lives because of it.

Geneva on Monday did not see the signing of any agreement whatsoever; it was a completely virtual occasion, yet it held out a chance for change in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Its initiators drew much encouragement from a public opinion poll published Monday in Haaretz, which showed a support-rate of over 30 percent among Israelis for the document of understandings. Those who participated in formulating the document hung high hopes on the interest aroused by the journey to Geneva; in their eyes, it reflected a yearning for peace and a willingness to pay its price.

But even the initiative's activists didn't know if they were experiencing a real event or an illusion - and they also don't know where it is leading. They arranged an occasion that was primarily symbolic and media-oriented, under the assumption that in and of itself, it would be enough to prompt the peoples and their leaders, in Jerusalem and Ramallah, to turn away from their current policies and break the cycle of violence.

The encounter between Israeli and Palestinians emphasized the surreal nature of the event: People, who only a month ago faced each other from opposite sides of a sea of blood, which could return tomorrow morning, embraced each other as if there was no residue of grief and hatred between them.

And to intensify the confusing nature of the occasion, a statement was read out from Yasser Arafat, who expressed a commitment to peace and support for the Geneva understandings. What Israeli would attribute any seriousness to a process to which Arafat gives his blessing?

In any event, in preparation for the start of the event, the Israelis changed their attire and showed up in ties and festive dresses – as if they were heading for a real peace-signing ceremony.

Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the architects of the initiative, were in fact the ones who brought all those present back down to reality: The document is a virtual one, but we are real, they said; don't help us to direct the conflict - help us to resolve it.