From Geneva with Hope

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I wish I could have been in Geneva today, where hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians gathered to make public their demand for peace.

Sharon called them "subversive", two cabinet ministers called them "traitors – a crime punishable by death", but all the Israeli media still were there covering the event (with the exception of the Israeli Russian press, ferociously right wing), and it featured mightily on the prime time evening news.

Sharon, posing for 3 blood-drenched years as the man who would make peace, was furious to think he was being upstaged. In a desperate attempt at a diversionary tactic, he had the army pummel Ramallah today, killing 4 Palestinians including an 8 year-old boy, and demolishing a four-story building in the hope that a "wanted terrorist" was inside. We await reports of how many unwanted civilians were wounded and how many more homes destroyed in yet another colossal affront to human decency.

Last week’s polls showed just over 50% of Israelis in support of the Geneva Accords. Today’s Ha’aretz showed 31% in favor and 38% opposed (31% had no opinion at all). This is an amazing show of support for a leftwing platform condemned by the prime minister as subversive.

With all the anger I feel about the Geneva Accords having left women, Mizrahi Jews, and Israeli Arabs out of the negotiations, there is no doubt that they have begun to dramatically change the political landscape: They have demonstrated to Israelis that there is a partner for peace, and they are forcing Sharon to look more attentive to his campaign promises to ‘make painful concessions’ for peace. To understand quite how much he feels the pressure, you would have had to hear the many statements coming from Sharon’s office last week about his initiatives for peace. And to understand how the bottom has fallen out of Sharon’s peace credibility, here’s another statistic from today’s Ha’aretz: 68% of Israelis believe that Sharon’s recent overtures for peace are just "media spin" and a mere 16% believe they are serious. (Interestingly, only 18% had no opinion about this one.)

The more pressure on Sharon, the better. The Geneva Accord can serve as the catalyst for a groundswell in Israel that could sweep along many, and even force some politicians to begin to open their ears.

But next best to the speeches in Geneva was the letter to the editor today in the International Herald Tribune (and perhaps other papers as well. While we can’t all be former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, or secretary-generals of the United Nations, when 58 of them come together, the decibels are distinctly audible. I loved the idea of Sharon squirming in bed tonight, with the voices of all these world leaders scolding him.

Clearly Sharon isn’t going to wake up tomorrow having drawn the right conclusions, but here’s hoping that the groundswell will shorten his term of office, and save more lives and misery.

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