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Launching Geneva


Today there is a launching ceremony for the "Geneva Accord" in Geneva, Switzerland, a semi-private exercise in peace making led by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abd Rabbo. The document is still incomplete, but already it has has had an undeniable significant effect on Israeli and Palestinian politics. Israel Labor party bigwigs including Shimon Peres, Benjamin Ben Eliezer and Ehud Barak condemned the agreement, but the Labor party then adopted major provisions of the accord for its platform. Palestinian hardliners fulminated against the "betrayal" of Palestinian rights, but Yasser Arafat gave his approval for Fatah officials to attend the ceremony.

Those who complain that the "negotiators" have made concessions about Palestinian right of return and Jewish rights in the temple mount that they had no right to make, should remember that equal concessions were made on the other side.

These concessions, however painfull, are the very concessions that will be required to get an agreement in the end. The Muslim world will not agree to Jewish sovereignty over the temple (Al Aqsa) and Israeli Jews are not going to allow Palestinian refugees to return in droves and wipe out the Jewish state.

Undeniably, even the greatest detractors must admit that the Geneva Accord has gotten people talking and thinking about peace in realistic terms for the first time in several years. Perhaps it torpedoed some talks that the Israeli government wanted to have on its own pet solution, but let's face it, that solution wasn't going to happen anyway.

Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abd Rabbo made the case for the agreements below.

Ami Isseroff

December 1, 2003
An Accord to Remember


GENEVA - Today, civic leaders from across the Israeli and Palestinian political spectrum are gathering here to publicize what has become known as the Geneva Accord - a negotiated but unofficial framework for reaching a permanent peace between our two peoples after years of bloodshed and lost
and shattered lives.

The accord lays out, for the first time, what a credible and negotiable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement could look like. In the process, it addresses all the major differences between the parties, including security arrangements, the shape of permanent borders, the status of Jerusalem, the future of West Bank settlements, the rights of refugees and access to holy places.

The initiative dates to January 2001, when the last official talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended at Taba. As participants in the negotiations, we both were left with the feeling that we could have reached an agreement had we been given a few more weeks.

Unfortunately, our Israeli and Palestinian colleagues in the negotiations felt that the gaps were too large to be bridged. After the Israeli elections of 2001, when Ehud Barak lost to Ariel Sharon, the two of us agreed to try to complete the work at Taba - as private citizens. We wanted to find common ground and demonstrate to both Israelis and Palestinians that despite all the frustration, disappointment and, most of all, violence, we could keep meaningful discussions going.

Our path was filled with obstacles. During this period, Israelis were forbidden from entering the Palestinian territories; Palestinians, meanwhile, found it difficult to obtain permission to enter Israel and to travel abroad. Thus, sometimes we would meet at checkpoints, where we negotiated in a car. On other occasions, the Swiss government made it possible for us to meet abroad.

To support our effort, we built broad coalitions. On the Israeli side were people who identified with the Likud, Shinui, Labor and Meretz parties as well as retired senior officials, economists and intellectuals. On the Palestinian side were officials from Yasir Arafat's Fatah faction, parliamentarians and leading academics.

Finally, in October, we were able to put on the table a 50-page agreement, including detailed maps. The document is complicated and thus difficult to summarize, but its central idea is that in exchange for peace with Israel, the Palestinians would at last gain a nonmilitarized state. The Palestinians would also get sovereignty over the Temple Mount, though Jewish access to the holy spot would be guaranteed by an international security force. In addition, Israel would have the opportunity to keep some West Bank settlements, including many of the new Jewish communities constructed on the Arab side of Jerusalem.

We know that our accord is not universally popular in the Middle East. Indeed, opposition to the agreement began to mount even before our joint document was made public. Hard-liners in Israel have criticized the details of the agreement as well as the private, diplomatic process we used for
reaching it. In the West Bank and Gaza, meanwhile, rejectionists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad have held angry rallies attacking the initiative and those who shaped it.

Yet, in spite of this opposition, we are pleased that the accord seems to be having a positive impact on the negotiating environment. Copies of our document have been sent to every Israeli household and published in the major Palestinian newspapers. More significant, a recent survey conducted by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and the International Crisis Group in Washington found that more than 50 percent of Palestinians and Israelis support the fundamental principles contained in the document.

It is important that this interest also be felt strongly in the international community. We are pleased that Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, and Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, have voiced their support for the initiative. It is even more important, in our view, that the Bush administration and Congress support our efforts and re-engage in the peace process. Secretary of State Colin Powell's praise for the accord was gratifying, but more
American voices are needed to ensure that progress continues.

In the end, however, the Geneva Accord is only a "virtual" agreement. The decision-makers - in the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, in Washington and elsewhere - can use it, modify it or ignore it. As private citizens, we have done about as much as anybody can do in a situation that has become totally unbearable. Now it is up to our leaders.

Yossi Beilin is a former Israeli justice minister. Yasir Abed Rabbo is a
former minister of information for the Palestinian Authority.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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Replies: 3 comments

Has the Palestinians (and supporting Arab courtiers) agreed to the simple principle of sovereign Jewish state (very much in line with their persistence on living within Muslim governed states)? Once their leaders accept it and stop incite the masses against this principle we may reach a co-existence. Without such acknowledgement, this, past and future agreements are only tactical in nature, bearing much higher risk for Israel, with the much smaller population. Saadat made his brave and bold move once realized he cannot defeat Israel militarily. The Palestinians may not have reached that stage yet. Another aspect missing from the agreement is the charting of the enormous potential for economical growth and increased political influence for the Middle East once hostility level is reduced.

Posted by Zvi Goldman @ 12/02/2003 03:09 PM CST

"Those who complain that the "negotiators" have made concessions about Palestinian right of return and Jewish rights in the temple mount that they had no right to make, should remember that equal concessions were made on the other side."

Bullshit. Yesterday's unveiling of this abomination was a festival of lies. Just like the lie from the introduction to this piece of leftist propaganda.

Okay, the word "Jew" does not appear in the text of this "agreement", so much for recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Then again, does Dr. J. Beilin even call himself a Jew?.

This villain has no mandate to speak for the Israeli people.

Already the PA spokesmen are out saying that they have not given up the right of return; and speaking of which, this text gives over to the Arab states the power to set the number of "refugees" Israel would be forced to accept.

We are supposed to ask permisson of the Muslims if we can blow a shofar at the Wall, or even pray on Yom Kippur.

Beilin says, a majority of Jews in Yesha will remain. NOT. Efrat, Ariel, all the settlements will be abandoned. Beilin has accepted our Arab enemies' definition of Gilo, French Hill, Pisgat Ze'ev and other suburbs of Jerusalem as "settlements" and these are what they are "giving us".

And then there's the 30-month time table. Yes, according to Dr. J. Beilin - PH.D., political and social engineer extraordinare, in 30 months all you Jews in Ariel and Efrat you have to go. Go where? Well, Dr. Beilin does not say. Does this worm of a man really think that he will force hundreds of thousands of Jews out of their homes?

Who are you kidding - this entire "agreement" was Arafat's manipulating of Beilin's out of control ego and messiah complex into dividing Isreali society and creating international pressure upon the elected government of Israel to make concessions on the fence - without the PA having to do one thing about terror.

All these major concessions for what? A promise that they will stop killing us? How many times must be be offered this same rug to buy?

Have you people lost your minds?

Posted by Ezra Hanasi @ 12/03/2003 12:50 AM CST

So far the comments are from people who seem horrified at the thought of peace breaking out! Who do they think wants to live in a state of permanent warfare? Other than a few overage teenage boys wiht their caps on backward, who watch slaughter on TV like it was football and cheer for "our side." As a US taxpayer, I am sick of paying to support this on-going adolescent fantasy that brings misery to so many people who just want to live a decent life in peace. Human rights belong to all people. The US Constitution, which our president and Congresspeople all have sworn to uphold, forbids our Congress to make any law "respecting an establishment of religion." Therefore, the US cannot legally recognize the religious character of any foreign state, whether it is Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Vatican City. So, legally Israel is not recognized as a Jewish state in the official view of the United States government. Why should the Palestinian people be asked to approve the religious character of a neighboring state? That is for the citizens of that state to decide, in accordance with their laws. If the Israeli people decided to be a Buddhist state, should the rest of the world have a veto against it? Then why is "recognition" of the religious character of Israel on the part of non-Israelis such a big deal?

Posted by Bea Dewing @ 12/05/2003 09:16 AM CST

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