Monday, May 14, 2018

A Possible Peace Between Israel and Palestine: An Insider's Account of the Geneva Initiative by Menachem Klein (Author), Haim Watzman (Translator) (Columbia University Press)

This is a strange yet hopeful little book. It is strange because it has something like three different narrative styles in a book that is little more than two hundred pages for the main body. The book, which has only four sections (including the epilogue), is at times a memoir, an historical analysis of other peace negotiations and an analysis of how to proceed in the future. I recommend any potential readers check out the introduction because the author discusses his narrative style, and the reasons why he decided to create such an eclectic and strange book. It is important to understand the author's intent from the beginning because if not the style can be disconcerting.

With that said this book is centered on the Geneva Initiative which was a track-two negotiations started in 2003 by an assorted cast of characters. This accord was started by Yossi Beilin who was in the opposition at the time. This initiative was started at a very low point in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The Oslo Accords seemed to be dead in the water, and the Camp David Accords and Taba negotiations were seemingly utter failures. There was tremendous violence perpetrated by both sides and trust had completely collapsed. The Israelis and Palestinians felt betrayed by the last decade of peace talks, and recriminations and blame left both sides feeling as though the gulf had become unbridgeable.

The Geneva Initiative was started to put pressure on both sides to come back to the table, and to prove that there was still a chance for peace and partners to achieve that peace. These talks brought a varied group of negotiators to the table. For the Israelis there were a lot from the peace movement, cultural figures like Amos Oz and the opposition parties, but there were plenty of army and security people and some right of center folks to give the talks legitimacy on the Israeli side. The Palestinian side had more legitimacy, though, since they had negotiators who were still in the government along with the tacit approval of Arafat himself.

The reason why this book works well is because of its different narrative styles. As the author writes about his own experience at the negotiating table, he will then back off and provide an historical analysis of previous negotiations. This creates a very nice juxtaposition between previous negotiations and this one, and this juxtaposition provides the reader with valuable insights into the negotiating styles of the two peoples and the reasons for successes and failures. This makes the book so much more than memoir because it shows how and why a successful negotiation was able to succeed even though it confronted the same obstacles and intransigence as previous negotiations that seemed to show the issues of contention as intractable dilemmas.

As I said in my title I this book gives me hope, while I am still pessimistic for the present and future decade this book illustrates that even in the harshest of times there still remains pragmatic individuals searching for solutions. The author's historical analysis is thought provoking, his advice for the future is necessary and his own experiences are enlightening. While the Geneva Initiative is no panacea, it is an example of the two sides successfully coming together. In these dark times that is more than enough for me to recommend this book.

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