A few days ago I had a collision with Miguel Angel Moratinos, the astute Spanish diplomat who for several years acted as the emissary of the European Union in our region.
Together with experts from a dozen countries -” from Brazil to Pakistan – we took part in a conference of the Portugese Institute for Strategic Studies. In the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ahmad Khalidi, the editor of a prestigious Palestinian publication and the scion of one of the most distinguished families in Jerusalem, also took part.
In my lecture I criticized the reluctance of Europe to exert pressure for peace. I said that this attitude was “scandalous”. Khalidi, on his part, also harshly criticized the Europeans.
When it was Moratino’s turn to speak, he reacted angrily. How do you have the impertinence to complain about Europe? he asked, raising his voice. Where is the Israeli peace movement that should have changed the political situation in Israel? Why is its voice not heard? Do you want Europe to do your job for you? And, addressing Khalidi: You want Europe to do something for you? Than first of all please put an end to terrorism! If you are not able to do this, don’t blame Europe! Blame yourself! If both of you do your part, Europe will do its share, too!
(By the way, during the official dinner, Moratinos recounted that after the failure of the Camp David summit, the Europeans talked the Americans into setting up a Clinton-Arafat meeting. Arafat was due to fly to Washington on January 1, 2001. But Ehud Barak opposed it so violently, that the meeting was cancelled and the Taba talks took place instead.)
Moratinos was quite right in his criticism. We tend indeed to blame others for our own failures. We cannot demand that foreigners -” whether Europeans or Americans -” do our job for us. If the peace camp does not constitute a political power in Israel, we should not blame others. The same goes for the Palestinians.
After the debate we shook hands. I honestly admitted that he was right. Khalidi did the same.
But in recent weeks, things have happened on all four fronts -” Israeli, Palestinian, American and European -” which may indicate that matters are beginning to move.
On the Israeli front, the most high profile event is the launching ceremony for the “Geneva Understandings” that is scheduled for this coming Monday. After the young men who refuse army service in the occupied areas, the revolt of the airforce pilots, the Ayalon-Nusseibeh initiative, the declaration of the four former Security Service chiefs and the warning of the Chief-of-Staff, the Geneva initiative is a further step in the same direction.
For three years, the extra-establishment peace forces stood alone on the battlefield. We protested, demonstrated, maintained contact with the Palestinians, aroused world opinion. All this time, the bigger, establishment-connected peace movement remained in a state of collapse and uttered hardly a squeak. The brutality of the occupation intensified from day to day, Sharon did whatever he wanted, the opposition was comatose. The slogan was “There is no one to talk to”.
Now there is an awakening. It seems that the public has had enough of the bloody confrontation. It understands by now that there is no military solution and that the confrontation is destroying our economy and increasing poverty. The Geneva Initiative has come at exactly the right time to express this new mood.
Its strongest point is educational. It shows that there is indeed “someone to talk to” and that there is a model for peace, with which both sides can live. It will make a big contribution to the forming of a new national consensus.
Its disadvantage is that it has no solid political basis. It is boycotting the radical peace forces on the left, while being attacked on the right by the Labor Party hacks, led by Shimon Peres. The political establishment suspects that it will serve as an instrument for Yossi Beilin in his efforts to create a new political party, after losing his place in Labor.
What worries me is that it is not written to capture anyone’s imagination. It is a lawyers’ document, dry and matter-of-fact. That is good and that is bad. Its movers declare that it is “not a marriage agreement, but rather a writ of divorce.” Meaning divorce between Israelis and Palestinians.
That is the very opposite of our own message: “Two States -” One Future”.
But all in all, this is a positive initiative, coming at the right time and opening the way for more initiatives to come. It seems that our ice-age is drawing to an end. Even Sharon senses this. Suddenly he is eager to meet Abu-Ala, he is talking about “unilateral steps”. One should not believe a word he says, but the fact that he utters such words shows that something is indeed changing.
On the Palestinian front, too, there is a change. Abu-Ala, in close cooperation with Yasser Arafat, is working on a new Hudna (truce) with the Palestinian factions, this time one that will be linked with a Hudna with Israel. All sides will undertake to stop all acts of violence, and Sharon will be asked to make meaningful concessions.
If that succeeds -” a very big “if” -” then conditions may be ripe for a deep change in public opinion on both sides, which is without doubt a pre-condition for any real movement towards peace.
On the American front, interesting things are happening, too.
All the experts predicted that with the approach of the elections, Bush would abstain from anything liable to arouse the anger of the Jewish and the Fundamentalist-Christian lobbies. But lo and behold, Washington is giving public, and almost official, support to the Nusseibeh-Ayalon and the Geneva Initiatives. President Bush expressed relatively strong disapproval of Sharon’s acts, side by side with his routine condemnation of the Palestinians. He also deducted a symbolic sum from the American loan guaranties given to Israel.
That is not much. In fact, it is very little. But we are not pampered -” even small American gestures can mean a lot. For Sharon, his American connection is the jewel in his crown, more important than anything else. The smallest change will set off an alarm in his head.
Perhaps the most interesting change has taken place in Europe, of all places. At the time of the incident with Moratinos I did not know -” nor did he, I believe -” that something was going to happen concerning us.
Six years ago, Gush Shalom declared a boycott of the products of the settlements. We said: “Every Shekel for the settlements is a Shekel against peace.” We composed a list of their products and distributed it widely. Tens of thousands of families joined the boycott.
Our aim was to prevent the transfer of Israeli factories to the occupied territories, where the government (under both Labor and Likud) gave them huge subsidies. We told them: in the end you are going to lose, because the Israeli and foreign markets will be closed to you.
Our initiative has caused, so it seems, the Europeans to wake up. Goods “made in Israel” are exempt from custom duties in Europe, but the trade agreement with the European Union expressly excludes goods produced beyond the pre-1967 border, the so-called Green Line. The Israeli government ignored this stipulation and broke it flagrantly. The European officials saw this, gnashed their teeth and closed their eyes, because some European governments (including Germany and Holland) obstructed any action against Israel.
Now this has changed. Lately, the Europeans have demanded that every suspect Israeli firm deposit the equivalent of the potential customs duties until it proves that it is not located beyond the Green Line.
The exporters complained loudly. This week the Israeli government gave in and announced that from now on, the actual place of origin will be clearly marked on all goods exported to Europe.
At long last, a resolute European action. Enterprises dependent on exports to Europe will be compelled to leave the settlements and return to Israel proper. Hallelujah!
As Galileo said: And yet it does move.