Border Control / A Tale of Two Agreements

The Geneva Initative says it wants leaders to say yes to a final-status peace deal. So why is Yossi Beilin dusting off an old interim-arrangement plan?

The smokescreen used by politicians to shroud political processes often hides a dead end. There are cases where optimistic ideas from foreign ministers are not meant for anything other than to provide a rosy tinge to the smoke.

One such case, argues Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, is the direct negotiations that U.S. President Barack Obama just launched in Washington. The man who was an aide to the U.S. secretary of state during the Carter administration and later a senior columnist at The New York Times, warns that this time where there's smoke there could be fire.

In a piece that appeared last week on the Daily Beast news website, Gelb wondered where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton derived her belief that the parties "are serious about reaching an agreement." He says that many government officials said to him that during the talks with Obama, neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered any basis for a compromise. (I received a similar report from my humble sources in Washington ).

According to the officials, the two did not offer anything more than random statements, meant to please their host. The chasm that separates them on the way to a final status agreement remains as deep as ever.

There are some, for example, the ambassador-cum-diplomatic adviser Dennis Ross, who recommended taking baby steps across the chasm. For them, the important thing is that there should be "momentum" and "confidence building gestures."

Gelb argues that a stalemate in the negotiations is preferable to another futile round. If it turns out that there really is no basis for the optimism, Gelb believes, the Palestinians will lose their remaining hope of seeing an end to the occupation. The Palestinian Authority will not survive another failure in negotiations, its security and civilian mechanisms will collapse and terror will again strike Israel.

And there are others, for example Yossi Beilin, recommending a third option. The father of the Geneva Initiative, a document proposing a detailed outline for a final status agreement, took the interim arrangement out of the closet.

"I'm not sure he's prepared for an interim agreement," he wrote in these pages on September 6, "but to me it seems more practical than futile talks about security, the environment, water and the Jewish character of the State of Israel."

Beilin's unilateral withdrawal from the "Yes to a [permanent] agreement" slogan infuriated quite a few friends whose signatures adorn the final-status agreement that was formulated with great effort together with Palestinian public figures.

Among the list of those who were disappointed one can find the director general of the Peres Center for Peace, Ron Pundak, Dr. Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University, Talia Sasson, who reported on outpost activity, and Prof. Yossi Yonah of Ben-Gurion University.

In an e-mail sent to activists two days ago, Yonah sought to convene the movement's council as soon as possible to discuss what he termed "ideological cacophony."

"It seems that the Geneva Initiative has encountered a serious identity crisis," he wrote, "on one hand there is an impressive campaign that is faithful to our political and values agenda, which stipulates that it is possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians and that support should be provided to anyone who seeks to promote this objective. On the other hand, we are hearing repeated comments, mostly from Yossi Beilin, with unfortunate timing, that today there is no partner for peace, and the goal should be interim agreements only."

Yonah signs his words with a pointed question: "Is the Geneva Initiative undermining itself?"

Yonah and several of his colleagues in the movement were noticeably absent two days ago from the Geneva Initiative conference, in protest over the invitation of Ehud Olmert to deliver the keynote address. Zahava Gal-On, a former Meretz MK, said she could not stand to see a photo of Olmert, the father of the Second Lebanon War, and the perpetrator of Operation Cast Lead, in the arms of Meretz chairman Haim Oron, and the previous chairman, Yossi Beilin.

The absentees missed an opportunity to hear Olmert call on Netanyahu to recognize the 1967 borders now as a basis for the final-status agreement.

"The invitation is not a matter of course, nor is the former prime minister's appearance among us," wrote the director general of the Geneva Initiative, Gadi Baltiansky, to critics of the evening forum. "Apart from the presumption of innocence that stands in his favor, it would be inappropriate to lose the interest that will be generated (and is already being generated ) by his appearance, and moreover may also serve the central message of the initiative, which is what we are working toward."

What messages? The message "Yes to an agreement" of a permanent nature advocated by Olmert, or the message "Yes to an agreement" of an interim nature, advocated by Beilin?

Ariel for beginners

Three or four eighth-grade boys and girls from the Atidim junior high school in Hod Hasharon will remain at home this morning. During that time, their classmates will visit the sophisticated facilities of the National Leadership Development Center inaugurated several months ago in the settlement of Ariel. The site, referred to as "a challenging, educational retreat," was built with the help of a generous donation solicited by Mayor Ron Nachman from an American couple that operates a similar facility in California. The center focuses on "developing individual skills on the basis of values, faith and challenge."

The school administration notified the few parents happy over the selection of this site that the Ministry of Education's unit of social affairs and youth included the site on the list of its recommended sites. They were assured "there is nothing political here."

Several parents, albeit a small number, were not convinced that the town considered by many Israelis and much of the world occupied territory, is an appropriate place for the development of values, faith and challenges in their children.