The Hoopla in Geneva

By Samia Khoury
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

For the last couple of months, we have been reading details of the Geneva Initiative, and listening to opinions for and against this initiative. So, finally the signing of this document took place in Geneva. But why all the fanfare? Listening to the music and singing, one would think we are really celebrating Palestinian independence. It is bad enough that we commemorate November 15th — the day of the announcement of the declaration of independence — as Independence Day, when in reality we are still under military occupation. So was the hoopla in Geneva another overture for another date to add to our long list of commemorations?

It would be naive to think that people who have been dispossessed for over half a century and living under military occupation for the last 36 years are not anxious to live in peace. But it would be just as naive to think that the signing of this “unofficial document” in Geneva is really a “breakthrough in peace negotiations.”

One would think that the region has learnt enough lessons from the various peace initiatives since the Madrid conference (1991), which was based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These are initiatives that have been doomed to failure, basically because those UN resolutions — and all previous ones, including the right of return — have been defied by Israel all along. What was so magical about this initiative to make its fate any different? Did the occasion really warrant a celebration? It seems that all those dignitaries were getting together to endorse the redundancy of the United Nations and its resolutions, since the stipulations of this initiative, if implemented, are supposed to supersede all previous UN resolutions. So in reality Israel is being rewarded for its intransigence and for defying the United Nations.

To contemplate making compromises on the right of return requires a clear mandate from the Palestinian refugees themselves. Those who continue to live in refugee camps in Arab countries, and those who have been dispersed all over the world, are the only ones who are entitled to speak on behalf of the refugees. We have heard people say that “we need to be pragmatic since many, or most, of the refugees might not want to return.” To start with that is not an accurate assumption. Moreoever, there is a difference between one’s basic right and one’s choice of how to deal with that right. If some of the refugees do not want to return, it should be by their own choice, and not because somebody has made a deal on their behalf to deprive them of that right.

Palestinians have a historical narrative that asserts their rights, and there is no way peace negotiations can move ahead without the recognition of those rights. Unfortunately, Israel refuses to recognize its responsibility for our dispossession and for creating the refugee problem. Yet the Palestinians are demanded to make more concessions of their rights — simply because, strategically, they are powerless, they do not have the privilege of choice. Does this mean it is acceptable to trample over the powerless? In this century when the law of the jungle has been replaced by the United Nations, it would seem an unacceptable justification for the Palestinians to forfeit their rights simply because they are powerless.

It is indeed very sad that Palestinians are helping Israel to nullify the right of return. “Come on,” they say; “do you really believe this can work out?” Why not? Or is it because Israel is involved, and it has become the norm that no power challenges Israel for its violations of international law? No injustice can be acceptable. Even if it is the norm, it remains immoral and illegal. So why should the Palestinians succumb to this logic and forfeit their rights, especially when justice is on their side?

The widow in Luke (18:1-8) was powerless, but she kept taking her case to the judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” Yet she was persistent in pleading for “justice against her opponent” until he came to the conclusion that he needed to grant her justice so that she would stop bothering him, or else she would eventually wear him out. I do not think as Palestinians we have bothered the world’s conscience enough. We are the ones who have been worn out and victimized. And to add insult to injury we have been labeled “terrorists.” It is high time we are granted justice against our adversary.

The partition scheme in 1948 never worked out because it lacked justice and was based on creating a Jewish state on land that was meant to be for all its citizens. With the present inequity, how do we envisage that a much smaller percentage of Palestine, surrounded by an Apartheid Wall, could be acceptable and will guarantee a viable and comprehensive peace? At the same time, if Israel is to be an exclusively Jewish state, how can it survive as a democratic and Jewish state when over 20% of its citizens are not Jewish? In the long run, Israel will have to face this dilemma. Will an apartheid Jewish state guarantee its peace and security?

I was hoping that those experienced diplomats involved in the Geneva Initiative would have come up with an innovative solution to respond to the needs of both peoples. Maybe they should have thought of the one-state solution, which could help Israel in solving its dilemma, and it would help the Palestinians in realizing their right of return.

The effort that was put in the details of the Geneva Initiative seems to have been a very serious effort, but likewise a similar effort could have been put into finding an inclusive and just structure for a binational democratic state that could be the solution for a comprehensive and viable peace amongst all the people who are destined to share this Holy Land, without barriers or walls.

P.S. In this Advent season, I want to send my readers my warmest greetings and best wishes for a blessed Christmas and a peaceful New Year. I think of all the mothers, wives and children of those young men fighting in Iraq, and wonder, “Whose war are they fighting and why are they being seperated from their families in this special ftime of family gatherings?”

Thank you to all of the readers who have supported our Rawdat school in Jerusalem during this 50th anniversary year. Our latest newsletter has just been posted on our website, which I commend to you during this holiday season. In love and peace, Samia.

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