Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo at a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian peace activists in Jerusalem in August 2002 (AP)
Earlier this week, the New York Times buried a small article, Israelis and Palestinians Join in Peace Draft on its inside news pages about a promising Mideast peace initiative developing between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. Unfortunately, it wasn’t till the end of the short piece that they mentioned any specific individuals involved with the project (Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo). A staff member for the Jewish peace group, Brit Tzedek V’Shalom suggested I look at the Ha’Aretz (Israel’s answer to the New York Times) English language site. There I found a terrific page which links to every article that Ha’Aretz has run on the Geneva Accords Ha’aretz thread.
M.J. Rosenberg, a Mideast policy analyst with the Israel Policy Forum today published That Geneva Agreement, an interesting article about the Accords.
I’ve found that while the New York Times’ Mideast coverage is among the best, if not the best in U.S. journalism, it still misses out on some important stories. This is one of them.
The NYT article completely omitted any background information about how the initiative developed. According to Ha’aretz
The plan, dubbed the Geneva Accord in tribute to the funding and support supplied by the Swiss Foreign Ministry, offers itself as a decisive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the plan drawn up by former U.S. president Bill Clinton after the breakdown in the July 2000 talks between former prime minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat.
Ha’aretz deliniates the main features of the Accords as follows:
The Palestinians will concede the right of return. Some refugees will remain in the countries where they now live, others will be absorbed by the PA, some will be absorbed by other countries and some will receive financial compensation. A limited number will be allowed to settle in Israel, but this will not be defined as realization of the right of return.
* The Palestinians will recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
* Israel will withdraw to the 1967 borders, except for certain territorial exchanges, as described below.
* Jerusalem will be divided, with Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem becoming part of the Palestinian state. Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank suburbs of Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim and the historic part of Gush Etzion – but not Efrat – will be part of Israel.
* The Temple Mount will be Palestinian, but an international force will ensure freedom of access for visitors of all faiths. However, Jewish prayer will not be permitted on the mount, nor will archaeological digs. The
Western Wall will remain under Jewish sovereignty and the “Holy Basin” will be under international supervision.
* The settlements of Ariel, Efrat and Har Homa will be part of the Palestinian state. In addition, Israel will transfer parts of the Negev adjacent to Gaza, but not including Halutza, to the Palestinians in exchange for
the parts of the West Bank it will receive.
* The Palestinians will pledge to prevent terror and incitement and disarm all militias. Their state will be demilitarized, and border crossings will be supervised by an international, but not Israeli, force.
* The agreement will replace all UN resolutions and previous agreements
Ha’aretz specifies the leaders behind the initiative:
The negotiating teams included former minister Yossi Beilin, Labor MKs Avraham Burg and Amram Mitzna and Meretz MK Haim Oron on the Israeli side and Yasser Abed Rabbo and Nabil Qassis on the Palestinian side.
It is a sign that you’ve pricked the public conscience and provoked constructive debate when politicians from both nations and all political factions find something to criticize. Efraim Sneh, a leading Labor politician said the Accords are too specific and therefore give the Palestinians a leg up in any future negotiations. Both Sharon and Arafat say they were not consulted during the negotiations and that they do not represent any official government position. I’d call that ‘plausible deniability.’ If the Accord strikes a note among Israelis and Palestinians, then both can take credit. And if it doesn’t, then both can say they had nothing to do with it. As for whether they knew about it in advance. It seems entirely credible (as Beilin and Rabbo contend) that Sharon and Arafat knew precisely what was happening.
As with all previous such initiatives, the next stage will be critical. There must be support among Israelis, Palestinians and in the international community. If not, this promising initiative will die aborning as so many previous worthy attempts (cf., Road Map) have.