An accord without clout is hollow

For weeks now, we’ve known that Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo were about to celebrate a Mideast peace agreement they’ve been working on for months.

Despite Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disdain for the agreement, the fact that it was negotiated by Jews and Palestinians propelled it into headlines throughout the world. As a result, major European leaders as well as former President Jimmy Carter were present Monday in Geneva for the hoopla surrounding the agreement. It became an international “launch,” even though, diplomatically speaking, there is nothing to launch.

Beilin, a former Israeli justice minister and one of the country’s most liberal politicians, claims his main purpose was to get everyone focused on finding a peaceful solution — furthering a legacy he sees as having been abandoned.

But Beilin failed to consider that an event with Palestinian participants staged in front of an international audience could easily become a Sharon-bashing party.

According to accounts in The Jerusalem Post: One Palestinian speaker called Sharon a fascist. Another called the security fence “a Berlin wall that separates Palestinian land into Bantustans.”

Even Beilin’s negotiating partner in the Geneva accords, former Palestinian Cabinet minister Rabbo, commented: “A wall is being built through the heart of Palestinian land to ensure that the occupation will continue. They hope that the separation wall and the annexation of Palestinian land will be the solution, in place of a peace agreement.”

The biggest critic of them all was Carter, who blasted both the United States and Israel.

“The present administration in Washington has been invariably supportive of Israel, and the well-being of the Palestinian people has been ignored or relegated to secondary importance,” he said.

Speaking of Israel, Carter said, “The people support a peace settlement, but political leaders are the obstacle to peace.”

But the Sharon government will push for peace talks only when it senses the Israeli public is ready. The 3-year-old intifada and the many deaths incurred have turned several liberals into conservatives and some conservatives into West Bank settlers.

Beilin, like others who are also negotiating privately, wanted to persuade all of them to think about a formula for peace.

Without a doubt, Sharon isn’t ignoring what’s happening around him. On Nov. 20, he announced, ” I don’t rule out unilateral steps.”

What’s still unclear is whether Sharon is serious and if Yasser Arafat can be a real peace partner. There is reason for much doubt on either side, and it would make no sense for Sharon to enter talks if the Palestinians are not ready to implement their side of the deal.