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December 05, 2003 - Image 21

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-05

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Tracking Geneva/Analysis

Diplomatic Shake

"Geneva Accord" sets off flurry of new peace efforts.

LESLIE SUSSER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Jerusalem

A

fter its gala launch in
Switzerland this week, the
unofficial Israeli-Palestinian
peace proposal known as the
"Geneva Accord" is rapidly picking up
international support.
Indeed, the Dec. 1 festive launch was
designed to generate international and
grass-roots pressure on leaders on both
sides to take bold peace steps.
But can the Geneva Accord, reached
by people who hold no office, become
the basis for a real peace deal and break
the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock? Or,
alternatively, will leaders not ready to go
the Geneva route, but unwilling to be
seen as obstructionist, be pressured into
making different peace moves of their
own?
Popular support for the Geneva pro-
posal seems to be growing in Israel, but
the government remains adamantly
opposed. On the Palestinian side, the
agreement's main advocates have run
into strong and sometimes violent oppo-
sition.
And while major peace brokers like
the United States and European coun-
tries are showing growing interest, none
has yet adopted the Geneva draft as an
official program or as a basis for negotia-
tion. The long, detailed document,
which can be found at
www.heskem.org.il/heskem_en.asp
deals with such controversial issues as
borders, Jerusalem and refugees.
It has sparked fiery debates in Israel
and among the Palestinians on the
nature of a final peace deal. It also has
led to a flurry of parallel diplomatic
action.
On Nov. 27, Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon dispatched his son Omri, along
with other Knesset members and gov-
ernment officials, for talks with
Palestinians near London. Other Likud
Party legislators took part in a weekend
seminar with Palestinians in Madrid,
and U.S. Middle East envoy William
Burns returned to the region in an effort
to restart the official peace process based
on the road map peace plan.
Most significantly, Sharon himself
made new overtures to the Palestinians.
The longer that other plans like the road

map remain stalled, the more the
Geneva alternative will beckon. That
could generate a new dynamic leading to
increased international pressure on both
sides to cut a deal along the lines of the
Geneva Accord.
In Israel, sentiment on the Geneva
proposal is mixed. A poll published Dec.
1 in Ha'aretz showed 31 percent of
Israelis support it and 37 percent oppose
it. Despite the opposition of the Likud-
led government, 13 percent of Likud
voters surveyed supported the agree-
ment.
The architects of the deal were
delighted. Haim Oron of the Meretz
Party declared that the negotiators never
dreamed the deal would win so much
support so quickly. Yossi Beilin, the
main Israeli architect of the plan, high-
lighted the multi-partisan nature of the
support.
They acknowledge that it is not a
done deal, and they say their main pur-
pose in making the Accord public is to
create a mind-set for peace. They say the
understandings show there potentially is
a Palestinian partner, and they set forth
in the proposal the kinds of concessions
that will be needed for peace.

Sharon Opposition

Sharon's ministers counter that the
Israeli concessions in the document are
excessive, and that the Geneva exercise
— and the international support given
to it — put the elected government in
an invidious position.
They maintain that the Palestinians
are using the Israeli left to lay down new
starting points for future negotiations
and to embarrass Sharon by portraying
him as too hard-line to cut a deal that
others could.
For his part, Sharon has responded by
hinting at a readiness to dismantle some
Israeli settlements, coupled with the
threat of unilateral action if the
Palestinians spurn his overtures.
The subtext is clear: Sharon is no
uncompromising hard-liner, but he's not
going to wait around for someone to try
get negotiations going for a Geneva-type
deal.
So far, none of the parallel initiatives
has borne fruit, at least in public. No
agreement was reached in the London
and Madrid exchanges even on basic

Former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, right, embraces principal Palestinian nego-
tiator Yasser Abed Rabbo as the Israeli delegation arrives in Geneva.

issues like ending terrorism, and both
forums degenerated into arguments.
The key to immediate progress lies
now with Burns, the U.S. envoy, who is
trying to set up a first meeting between
Sharon and the new Palestinian
Authority prime minister, Ahmed Qurei.
On the Palestinian side, neither Qurei
nor P.A. President Yasser Arafat has fully
endorsed the Geneva deal, although
Arafat did send a letter of qualified sup-
port to the Geneva ceremony.
Israeli analysts believe Arafat is playing
a game: He doesn't offer outright sup-
port for Geneva, so as not to be bound
by its provisions and to be able to push
for more. Yet he also doesn't reject it out-
right, casting Sharon — who opposes
the deal outright — as the rejectionist.
The Geneva ceremony highlighted
growing international support for the
accord. Nobel Peace Prize-winners and
Arab dignitaries attended, while former
U.S. President Bill Clinton and British
Prime Minister Tony Blair sent greet-
ings.
It is not inconceivable that at some
point down the road international play-
ers will seek to call a peace conference
with the Geneva Accord as the basis for
discussion. Already, the launch in
Geneva is having reverberations in
Washington.
Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.,"flew to
Geneva for the signing and is expected
to introduce legislation next week sup-
porting Israeli-Palestinian peace initia-
tives, including the Geneva Accord. A
similar resolution was introduced in the
Senate by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, on
Nov. 25.

The Washington chapter of the left-
wing group Brit Tzedek v'Shalom hand-
delivered copies of the resolution to each
lawmaker's office on Capitol Hill on
Dec. 1. Beilin and Abed Rabbo were in
Washington late this week to meet with
lawmakers and to talk up their resolu-
tion to the American media.
The Bush administration said that it
"welcomed" the Geneva plan, but offi-
cials expressed continued support for the
road map. Official American policy is
not to allow other plans to deflect atten-
tion from the road map.
The road map "is the only plan on the
table," U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel
Kurtzer said.
Part of the Geneva proposal's charm is
that, unlike the slow, step-by-step road
map, it envisions a one-step end to the
conflict. But that could prove illusory,
because the Israeli and Palestinian pow-
ers-that-be reject some of the Accord's
main provisions and because closing the
remaining gaps could prove problematic
or even impossible.
For their part, the Israeli sponsors of
the Geneva document intend to step up
efforts to build domestic and interna-
tional support. The agreement is sure to
become the main political message of a
new left-wing party called Ya'ad, to be
formed soon by a merger between
Meretz and Beilin's Shachar group.
United around such a clear peace mes-
sage, the group soon could be challeng-
ing Israel's ailing Labor Party for prima-
cy on the left.



Matthew E. Berger; JTA sta_ writer in
Witshington, contributed to this report

12/5
2003

21

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