The Geneva Document Is Not Barren

The Geneva initiative is not barren. It is not a useless intellectual exercise by a group of eccentrics. The document embodies the most serious and comprehensive effort ever undertaken to end the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

The Geneva initiative is not barren. It is not a useless intellectual exercise by a group of eccentrics. The document embodies the most serious and comprehensive effort ever undertaken to end the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Therefore, it indeed is an historic document. Even before it has seen the light of day, it is laying down solid political facts that will be impossible to annul and impossible to ignore. For good or ill, the Geneva paper will be a central element in shaping the Israeli future.

It's still too early to judge its essence. Even those familiar with its details can't judge it before it is fully published. However, already it can be said that the Israeli team that participated in formulating it did accomplish at least one dramatic achievement - the first Palestinian recognition of its kind of the right of the Jewish people to a state.

The Israeli team also achieved some other accomplishments: explicit recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall, implied recognition of the Jewish people's affiliation with the Temple Mount and recognition of the right of some 300,000 Israelis to live beyond the Green Line.

However, it is also clear the Israeli team failed on a series of matters that could turn out to be fateful. It did not win an explicit Palestinian renunciation of the right of return - nor the concession on that issue included in the Clinton understandings; it granted sweeping authority to international mechanisms that might turn out to be hostile to Israel and even threaten its existence; it completely gave up the demand for Palestinian democratization and granted renewed legitimacy to the dictator Arafat.

Thus, the question whether the Geneva paper is an inspiring national rescue document or a dangerous paper leading Israel to disaster must remain an open question at this stage. But before getting into a serious debate about the document, the moral questions it raises must also be addressed.

These questions are very significant. Are opposition elements allowed to work with foreigners to come up with a draft of an international document that could be imposed one way or another on the Israeli majority? Is a closed and determined group of peacemakers entitled to knowingly topple the policies of an elected government through secret contacts with hostile states?

Didn't Beilin's people act precisely the same as the settlers when they placed their absolute truth above the state's rules and above the properly ordered decision making process in a democratic society?

The answer is complex. If the Geneva document is only an exercise then there's nothing wrong with it. But in that case, its importance is limited. If all that Beilin, Mitzna and Oz did on the magical banks of the Dead Sea was to play simulation thought games with a few generous Palestinians, they did not sin at all - but neither did they make much of a contribution.

If, on the other hand, this elitist group created the conceptual die, the outlines of which no future Israeli government will be able to shake free, then the group took upon itself a weighty historic responsibility. It undermined the very Ben-Gurion type of statism in whose name it loves to speak and made a decisive contribution to the Lebanonization of the state of Israel.

Therefore, the moral stature of the Geneva document will not be determined by its content, which deserves a separate debate, but in the way it is marketed. If it is aimed at the Israeli home, inward, it will not only be legitimate, but welcome. By offering a significant alternative to the lost path of the Sharon government it will awaken a deep discussion of the entire existential dilemma facing Israel at the end of three years of useless war.

But if the initiative is aimed outward, to the international community, through some glamorous Clintonian summit that isolates the state of Israel, it will serve Arafat and break the neck of the legitimate Israeli government, and thus will become terribly grave, a deed that no sovereign democracy can allow or accept.

After proving an impressive capability for action, it is now up to Yossi Beilin, Amram Mitzna, Amos Oz and their colleagues to decide which way they are going. They have to give up the foul concept of a Swiss summit and focus on an attempt to speak at eye level with Israeli citizens.

If they do so, if they go from house to house and knock on every door and every heart in an attempt to persuade the Israelis of the justice of Geneva, it is very possible the document will have real value. It might even pull Israel onto a new road that is not easy or paved but at least does not lead straight to the abyss.