Not in accordance

THE CHORUS OF PROTEST against the Geneva Accord is truly baffling (Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi, “Fantasy,” December 15). A group of Israelis and Palestinians, many of whom were involved in the Camp David and Taba negotiations, set out to demonstrate that the basic assumptions underlying those talks might well have produced a permanent-status agreement. To make its point, the Geneva group created an agreement and a ceremony designed to symbolize the possibility that the agreement embodied.

Few could argue that the Geneva Accord is a “fantasy.” For some, the agreement is a dream they hope comes true; for others, it is a nightmare. Each side thinks the other is delusional. That’s too bad, because the point of Geneva ought to be very simple: that diplomacy can work. The agreement is certainly flawed. Some of the criticisms offered by Oren and Halevi are important and might even be considered constructive. But Oren and Halevi seem to be more interested in lambasting Geneva and its authors, as if the very act of simulating an agreement were a transgression.

What is even more unfortunate is the level to which the authors lower themselves in order to make their point. They assert that the Accord would “grant the Palestinians a state while they wage a terrorist war.” Anyone who has read the document knows that it repeatedly condemns terrorism and commits each party to fighting it. Perhaps Oren and Halevi believe that Geneva doesn’t go far enough in this regard. Great! They should critique it and suggest an alternative. Instead, they try to impinge the character of Geneva’s Israeli architects. Indeed, after asserting that the Accord “pretends that the last three years never happened,” they present their bona fides “as terror-sick Israelis and parents of children in national service, ... [who] overlook Cafe Hillel, site of Jerusalem’s last suicide bombing.” How sad that these two fine Israeli thinkers feel it necessary to suggest that the authors of a simulated peace treaty are insensitive to the pain of terrorism and the horror it wreaks on all Israelis.

The Geneva Accord ought to be welcomed for the opportunity it provides to examine how a group of negotiators deal with the difficult issues that have divided Israelis and Palestinians for too many decades. It ought to be appreciated as an indication that significant Palestinians believe it is important to foster dialogue and diplomacy, rather than armed struggle and terrorism.

As the former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak said in his remarks at the Geneva ceremony: “When we reach an actual agreement, I know that nobody will exactly get everything that he wants, neither side will fulfill all of its dreams, each side will feel it gave in. And then we will know that both sides won, that we chose life.”

Jonathan Jacoby
Director, The IPF Institute
Israel Policy Forum
New York, New York

Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi reply:

As the Yiddish expression goes: Don’t spit in my eye and tell me it’s raining. If Geneva, as Jonathan Jacoby suggests, were merely one more theoretical plan for solving the Middle East conflict, we would not have bothered dissecting its fatal flaws. Geneva, though, is neither “imaginary” nor a “simulation,” but an attempt by Israeli opposition figures to negotiate a separate deal with Palestinian Authority representatives and then lobby the international community to impose that agreement on the Israeli government. In fact, several Geneva signatories were hard at work at Davos this week, selling their European funded initiative.

Geneva’s Israeli authors “impinged” their own character by willfully misrepresenting the Accord to the Israeli public. Though they claimed that it recognizes the right of the Jewish people to a state in the land of Israel and denies the Palestinians the right of return to pre-1967 Israel, the Accord does neither. The authors also denied the fact that the Accord violates every Israeli red line and offers concessions well beyond those made at Camp David and even at Taba, thereby rewarding three years of terrorism.

Jacoby appears to have an almost mystical belief in the power of diplomatic documents and in the willingness of the Palestinians to uphold them. Palestinian leaders have signed a series of agreements committing them to stopping terrorism and incitement, and they fulfilled none of them. Why should any rational Israeli expect Geneva to be different?

Finally, Jacoby accuses us of contrasting our sensitivity to Israel’s terror trauma with the supposed insensitivity of Geneva’s authors. In fact, we invoked our sensitivity to explain how hard it was for us to reject the allure of Geneva. Jacoby should read our article more carefully than he apparently has the Geneva Accord.

Who’s the boss?

I WAS RELIEVED THAT DAVID HAJDU’S think-piece on the “inauthenticity” of Bruce Springsteen was not another tired slagging of rich pop stars (“Tramps Like Who?” December 15). My relief proved short-lived. Hajdu’s complaint was something even more dubious: that Springsteen’s working-class-hero image is phony not because he’s rich but because he seldom writes introspectively about himself, only sympathetically about others.

Sorry if I sound like Tom Wolfe banging his social-realism drum, but what’s “inauthentic” about that? Is it not a sign of immaturity in young novelists when they can’t escape the bounds of their autobiography? Isn’t it the job of an artist to create, well, art--the world as he experiences it as well as how he sees others experiencing it? I agree with Hajdu that Springsteen can sometimes be clumsy; The Ghost of Tom Joad, his concept album about Mexican migrant workers, was too literally topical to have any lasting impact.

The same gripe might eventually apply to The Rising. But these are questions of taste and preference. To insist, as Hajdu seems to, that imagining oneself in others’ shoes is somehow less worthy than self-reflection is nonsense. I don’t care, frankly, to hear about Springsteen’s twilight life on an organic farm in Monmouth County, New Jersey-- despite growing up in a town roughly an hour’s drive from that redoubt. I couldn’t rouse myself to care, either, for his Tunnel of Love laments about a failed marriage to a model-actress.

I take Hajdu to be a fan of Springsteen. So am I. I won’t be so presumptuous as to speak for all of us, but I have a hunch: The day Bruce Springsteen stops writing about the lives of his fans is the day his fans stop listening to him.

Scott Galupo
The Washington Times
Washington, D.C.

I DON’T UNDERSTAND why Hajdu takes Springsteen to task for experimenting with other musical traditions such as the narcocorrido. No one would ever think to criticize Miles Davis for tapping into the “rich Latino tradition” in Sketches of Spain simply because it was “not Davis’s own”; indeed, Paul Simon and David Byrne have made careers of drawing from other cultures.

Jerry Stein
New York, New York

This article appeared in the February 9, 2004 issue of the magazine.