The Geneva Accord

VOL. 33


No. 2
P. 81
Special Document
The Geneva Accord

One reflection of the rising discontent among Israelis and Palestinians concerning the prospect of continuing violence is the intense debate surrounding a private Israeli-Palestinian “civil society” peace initiative announced in Jordan on 10 October. The so-called Geneva Accord, described by its signatories as a “model draft framework final status agreement,” has no official standing: it was negotiated in secret by Israeli opposition figures and prominent Palestinians, some of them PA officials but acting in their private capacities. More important, the framework agreement was vigorously denounced by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon as soon as it was made public, its Israeli drafters branded in some quarters as “traitors.” Despite this official rejection, it has met with considerable international backing: its formal unveiling in Geneva on 1 December was attended by Nobel Peace Prize laureates including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and it has been praised by, among others, British prime minister Tony Blair, French president Jacques Chirac, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, former South African president Nelson Mandela, and former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. It was warmly endorsed by the European Parliament. The United States remained cool toward the plan itself, though Secretary of State Colin Powell received the accord’s main drafters while they were in Washington promoting the initiative. The interest generated by the Geneva Accord also drew attention to an earlier effort, the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement (see Doc. A1).

The project was initiated by former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin and PA cabinet minister Yasir ‘Abid Rabbuh soon after Israel called off the Taba talks of January 2001; both had been senior negotiators at Taba as well as at earlier Palestinian-Israeli talks. (Beilin had been one of the prime movers behind the Oslo Accord.) In the course of more than two years of meetings, which were underwritten by the Swiss Foreign Ministry, the two negotiating teams called on over 100 Israeli and Palestinian experts in hammering out joint positions on the various issues. In addition to Beilin, the Israeli team comprises Professor Arie Arnon, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Shlomo Brom, MK Avraham Burg, Giora Inbar, Brig. Gen. (Res.) David Kimche, Dr. Menachem Klein, MK Amram Mitzna, MK Haim Oron, and Amos Oz. The Palestinian team, in addition to ‘Abid Rabbuh, includes Khadura Faris, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Hourani, Basil Jabir, Radi Jamil Jarai, Nazmi Ju’beh, Samih H.A. Karakra, Saman Khouri, Ibrahim Muhammad Khrishi, Zuhayr al-Manasra, Nabil Qassis, Hisham Ali Hassan ‘Abd al-Raziq, and Jamal Awad Zaqut.

The drafters themselves recognize the blueprint as a “nonstarter” as long as the present Israeli government remains in power. Their main goal, beyond formulating a document that can serve as a guide for future negotiations, was to revitalize the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps by demonstrating that there is “a partner” on the other side and that a comprehensive agreement “taking into account the vital interests of both parties” could be reached even after three years of intifada. An ambitious two-year public information campaign, aimed inter alia at getting a copy of the plan into every Israeli and Palestinian household, has been launched to promote it. By mid-November, this effort was well underway.

The draft accord reflects significant “advances” by both sides relative to the Taba understandings (see Special Documents in JPS123). It represents the first time that agreement on final status issues has been reached and committed to paper; in this sense, the drafters have argued that the accord, to which Yasir Arafat reportedly gave his blessing, complements the U.S. road map by supplying detailed solutions missing from what is essentially a timetable emphasizing preliminary steps. The document has aroused heated debate in both the Israeli and Palestinian camps. A November 2003 poll in Israel and the occupied territories jointly commissioned by the James Baker Institute at Rice University and the Brussels-based International Crisis Group found 53 percent of Israelis and 56 percent of Palestinians supporting the accord; the survey questions, however, neglected to mention the agreement’s more controversial aspects, including renunciation of the refugee right to return, Israeli retention of the largest settlement blocs (but ceding Ariel), and Palestinian control of the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif). A poll carried out in October by the Nablus-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (where survey questions gave a more complete picture of the accord) found only 31 percent of Palestinians in favor and 51 percent opposed (33 percent strongly). Palestinian opposition among refugees, both in the territories and in surrounding countries, as well as by Palestinian human rights groups has been particularly strong. The accord also includes the “end of claims” clause that has bedeviled earlier efforts: Article I (“The Purpose of the Agreement”) specifies that implementation of the agreement “will settle all the claims of the parties arising from events occurring prior to its signature” and with the agreement “no further claims . . . may be raised by either party.”

The “authoritative English version” of the accord was made available to Ha’Aretz in mid-October. It comprises seventeen articles dealing with relations between the parties, the formation of joint and verification committees, territory, security, Jerusalem, refugees, road use, religious sites, Palestinian prisoners, and dispute settlement mechanism. Three articles, notably on water, economic relations, and legal cooperation, have yet to be completed, and the annexes referred to in the text have not been made available. JPS is reproducing four articles in their entirety, those dealing with territory, security, Jerusalem, and refugees. The numbering of the paragraphs is as in the original, including inconsistent section numbers and crossreferences.