The Path to Geneva

Yos­si Bellin
  • Review
By – July 20, 2015

Read­ing about the Israeli-Arab peace process is like watch­ing a col­li­sion in the rain. Slip­pery roads, poor vis­i­bil­i­ty, a series of wrong turns, and the two cars crash head-on. The dri­vers trade recrim­i­na­tions, but remain dazed by the sense that they them­selves could have done some­thing dif­fer­ent­ly. Chair­man of Israel’s dovish Yahad par­ty, archi­tect of the 1993 Oslo Accords Yos­si Beilin emerges from the wreck in The Path to Gene­va” won­der­ing what went wrong and how to sal­vage the peace, but is dazed him­self in a book that can’t seem to find its bear­ings. His nar­ra­tive begins with his own demise as Israel’s top peace nego­tia­tor. Likud leader Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s defeat of Beilin’s men­tor, incum­bent Shi­mon Peres, in the 1996 elec­tions stalled momen­tum on the Oslo Accords. From the oppo­si­tion Beilin watched as his plan for rap­proche­ment with the Pales­tini­ans dis­in­te­grat­ed. Even after return­ing to gov­ern­ment as Jus­tice Min­is­ter under cen­trist Ehud Barak, Beilin was side­lined from the peace nego­ti­a­tions he ini­ti­at­ed. With Oslo’s com­plete col­lapse, many Israelis have come to see Beilin as noth­ing more than a dream­er, or worse, a naive med­dler. But whether rec­og­nized or not, his role is crit­i­cal. Hav­ing reached an unof­fi­cial peace agree­ment in the midst of dai­ly vio­lence, Beilin pro­vides the Israeli elec­torate with an alter­nate vision for the future, one brighter than the besieged view of Israel’s cur­rent gov­ern­ment. In order to have suc­ceed­ed here, Beilin should have done more to con­vince us of that vision. Still, his role as both Israeli insid­er (inti­mate with the nego­ti­a­tions and the nego­tia­tors) and out­sider (dar­ling of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, per­sona non gra­ta with the cur­rent Israeli gov­ern­ment) puts him in an excel­lent posi­tion to recount a decade of peace talks and their fail­ures. How­ev­er, Beilin attempts too much. Beilin the politi­cian uncon­vinc­ing­ly attempts to insert him­self at every crit­i­cal moment in the peace process. Beilin the for­mer jour­nal­ist and his­to­ri­an attempts to recount a decade of hyper­ac­tive pol­i­tics and tan­gled nego­ti­a­tions at the cost of analy­sis. Beilin the vision­ary attempts to advo­cate his break­through Gene­va Accord, an unof­fi­cial peace agree­ment he con­struct­ed with for­mer Pales­tin­ian min­is­ter Yass­er Abed Rab­bo, but nev­er explores its impor­tance or log­ic. Focus­ing on any of these roles would have made a fas­ci­nat­ing book. Focus­ing on all of them makes it mud­dled and its prose feel rushed. Beilin’s refrain through­out is if only. If only Barak had tak­en Beilin’s 1995 unof­fi­cial peace agree­ment to Camp David, he believes the peace sum­mit might not have failed. Indeed, the 2003 Gene­va Accord (from which the book receives its name) stems from anoth­er if only: If only the Taba talks at the end of Barak’s tenure con­tin­ued. One sens­es that Beilin views him­self as one who bears wit­ness to nego­ti­a­tions, has the solu­tions, but stands behind a oneway mir­ror shout­ing, unseen, unheard. A for­mer jour­nal­ist in the Mid­dle East, Daniel Grushkin free­lances in New York City.

Relat­ed Content:

Daniel Grushkin is a jour­nal­ist for­mer­ly based in the Mid­dle East who now free­lances in New York City.

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