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A New Precedent with Paradigmatic Importance: The Geneva Accord

Whatever one thinks of the substance of the recently released Geneva Accord, which unofficially seeks to comprehensively deal with the Israeli Palestinian conflict, is frankly irrelevant. In fact, whether this accord has any concrete impact at all is not what is important. The mere fact that the accord was conceived, negotiated, agreed upon, and put forth for the world to see is what is really important. Why would I make such a claim?

Since statesmen came into being a long time ago they have believed that they (and only they) have the duty, authority, and the right to make peace with their enemies. The people whom these statesmen represented had happily relinquished this task believing that their leaders would act in their best interest. Unfortunately, this has not always proven to be the case. But even when people felt dissatisfied, they sat on their hands and watched events unfold thinking that there was nothing they could do.

Now – with a formal, yet unofficial peace accord – that has changed and the people have codified their desires in a manner that is seeking to either bypass their leaders or force the hands of inaction and fatalism. In this situation, it is the people who lead and the leaders that follow.

The statesmen in this instance, embodied by Ariel Sharon and Yassir Arafat, have done nothing but block productive efforts and encourage more violence. Each side keeps saying “If the other would only do X…”. Meanwhile people are dying on both sides and the respective populaces are paying a very high price.

Instead of waiting around for these leaders to come to their senses, clearly a naïve venture at the very least, two prominent figures in each society Yossi Bellin and Yasser Abed Rabbo took it upon themselves to give their fellow citizens a ray of hope in this cloud of rubble and destruction. They also did something even more important – they challenged an existing paradigm encapsulated by the question “Who says leaders should be the only ones to make peace?” In fact, it is arguable that the problem thus far with Israeli and Palestinian efforts to make peace has been that the people on the ground have never been given any ownership in a peace process or asked to play a key role in the transformation of their situation. And why not? What is the rationale for such a conception? The only reason I can come up with is habituation or “well, we have always done it that way.”

Simply put, the Geneva Accords are a statement. They have said loud and clear “We will not sit by any longer and watch our leaders continue to destroy our lives!” They have also set a welcome precedent, which is that people no longer have to sit around and wait for their leaders to “make peace”. Succeed, fail, or put into the waste bin of history, the Geneva Accords have changed the paradigm we all work under. And I would suggest that it is about time!


Joshua N. Weiss

Dr. Joshua N. Weiss is a negotiation expert and the co-founder of the Global Negotiation Initiative at Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in 2002. Dr. Weiss has spoken and published on Negotiation, Mediation, and systemic approaches to… MORE >

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