Talking Out of Both Sides of their Mouths

Repeat fiery slogans to the countrymen and get them all excited while quietly negotiating a compromise of basic principles and human rights. Welcome to the Geneva Accords –” Palestinian-style.

Does it ever dawn on Palestinian leaders that they might have an easier time winning the hearts and trust of their own people if they would just be upfront about what they plan to do instead of making empty promises they do not intend to keep? Even now, President Yasser Arafat has thrown his weight behind the Geneva Accords while at the same time declining to give the Accords his official seal of approval. Vintage Arafat — keep ’em guessing. However, as Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister Kadoura Fares told the UK Independent, “There is a blessing.”

Already surmising that there was a PA blessing, the populace responded in-kind. Palestinian protesters tried to prevent community leaders from crossing into Egypt on their way to Switzerland to commemorate the Geneva Accords. The scene wasn’t pretty. After all, the Geneva Accords unilaterally gives up the right of return to all Palestinians forced into exile by the Israelis in 1948.

The reality is that most refugees will probably opt not to return. After all, it is unlikely that a successful Palestinian refugee businessperson in Europe or the United States would shut down his or her business to start all over again. But what about the refugees in Lebanon who live in slums and have been promised for decades that they will return? The right of return was “the red line” that would never be crossed in any future peace agreement, or so the refugees have been told repeatedly by their leaders. Ultimately, it is the individual choice of each refugee to decide whether one wants repatriation or restitution. It is NOT a right that privileged Palestinian negotiators can give away.

And while it is understandable that leaders need to be cunning chess players to survive in the Middle East, that understanding will go out the window when those leaders play this game with their own people. It is simply going too far. The Palestinian people deserve better than that after such a tragic and humiliating history with others. In fact, the last three years of the Palestinian uprising for freedom have been a personal evolution of sorts because of the methods that PA leaders are keen on.

Indeed, nobody can ever doubt the courage of Palestinian youth –” the gold of Palestinian society. But the betrayal by the PA was predicted, as were future mediocre peace agreements. Was it worth it for the uprising to continue and to lose the next generation of Palestinians? The will to be free certainly was the driving force behind the uprising but to discount the rhetoric and promises of the PA would be a mistake.

In fairness, the Israelis act out a similar circus for their people but the circus is not as grandiose for the simple fact that “compromise” is to be expected –” they are the dispossessors and occupiers. And their “compromises” are not really worthy of being called compromises when one considers that the wrongs of an Israeli past marked by mass destruction, mass starvation and mass rape do not have to be righted. Consider also that Israelis can remain on at least 78% of what was originally Palestine in 1948.

Still, nobody stands to gain from an end to the conflict more than the Palestinians themselves, so this article should not be taken as being in opposition to all peace efforts. But it is strange that Palestinian negotiators never seem to take the lesson made most popular by the Israelis themselves and that lesson is this: Time can pass but righting the wrongs of the past will be our mantra.

Lawsuits for compensation to Jewish Holocaust survivors have continued and Nazi guards from the WWII era are still sought after for extradition to Israel. These efforts are to be supported and applauded. What’s not to love about demand for justice? The problem is: where is this same vigor for justice for Palestinian victims? Indeed, righting the wrongs of the past ought to supercede spectacular notions of establishing nations designed to cater to one religion.

There are a couple of upsides to this Geneva Accords fiasco: 1) the Israeli government’s sincerity toward peace efforts has been revealed for its hollowness. It is safe to say that President George W. Bush’s proclamation that Ariel Sharon is “a man of peace” has never seemed more ridiculous; and 2) the Geneva Accords, though not an agreement between governments and one that may never be implemented, will provoke some discussion and soul-searching among the Palestinians themselves. After all, Palestinian government and community leaders have revealed that so-called red lines are mere rhetoric. The leaders have also proven that they don’t even recognize the basic concept of Palestinians determining their own fates.

I guess all of the previous talk on the Palestinian right to self-determination was lip-service, too.