Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada there have been quite a number of peace plans, recommendations, proposals, statements and the like – on the whole designed to bring about an end to the violence and a return to negotiations or to provide guidelines for the peace agreement ultimately to be negotiated. Some of these have in fact been based on earlier proposals, all the way back to the Fez plan of 1982 and up to the Clinton bridging proposals of December 2000 (speech of January 7, 2001), the latter having been designed to “complete” the proposals discussed at Camp David. From the Jordanian-Egyptian initiative and the Sharm el-Sheikh-Mitchell Committee Report, through the Tenet and Zinni recommendations and the Saudi Initiative Arab Peace Initiative (of the Beirut Arab League Summit), we arrived at the Quartet’s Roadmap, the Ami Ayalon-Sari Nusseibeh Statement of Principles and most recently the Geneva accord. Added to this mix, we have the June 24, 2002, speech of President Bush and the December 4, 2002, Herzlia speech of Prime Minister Sharon outlining their “peace plans,” plus Security Council Resolution 1397 of March 2002. There have been other local initiatives (between officials, such as the Shimon Peres-Abu Ala proposal, or joint Israeli-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli statements, e.g. of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition or the Copenhagen-Louisiana Group, as well as Israeli and Palestinian NGO proposals) similar in many ways to the Ayalon-Nusseibeh statement, but none of them has attained quite the status and potential of the Geneva accord.
Without going into an analysis of every proposal, I should like to examine what the international community has offered as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace, what the Arab world has suggested, what the local participants themselves are proposing, and the potential for actually realizing any of these plans.
Security Council Resolution 1397, basically a demand to end the violence, called for implementation of Tenet and Mitchell, referring to the Saudi initiative and the Quartet’s then-ongoing work. Reiterating the importance of UNSC resolutions 242 and 338, it affirmed “the vision of . . . two states, Israel and Palestine, living [sic] side by side within secure and recognized borders.” This international legitimization of a two-state solution received indirect support in President Bush’s speech three months later, as he officially committed the United States to recognizing a Palestinian state. The Bush speech in many aspects provided (or perhaps reflected) the blueprint for the Roadmap, speaking of Palestinian democratization, a new Palestinian leadership, local elections, a written Constitution, uniform and centralized security organs, and a crackdown on terrorism.
Israel, according to the U.S. president, should withdraw to the pre-intifada lines, freeze settlement activity, and relieve humanitarian and living conditions of the Palestinian people. Bush promised that once the Palestinians fulfilled their requirements, the United States would recognize a “provisional state of Palestine . . . whose borders and certain aspects of sovereignty” would be resolved in a final peace accord. With regard to this final accord, there would be an end to the Israeli occupation begun in 1967, with a peace agreement to be negotiated on the basis of resolutions 242 and 338, including Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognized borders, resolution of the Jerusalem and Palestinian-refugee issues, and final peace agreements between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria. All of this was to be achieved with American, Arab and other international assistance in various (general, including economic) forms.
The Roadmap (drafts of which appeared in December 2002) elaborated on all the measures outlined by President Bush, adding not only detail but a performance-based timetable (subsequently said to be non-binding), with “phases” to build the provisional state, followed by negotiations for a final accord to be achieved by 2005. The major additions were of an international nature: an international conference to facilitate the final-status talks and an international monitoring mechanism theoretically to supervise and determine performance for the progress from one phase to the next. The Roadmap did not go beyond basic elements for the final accord: agreement based on 242, 338 and the new, explicit two-state UNSC Resolution 1397, specifying the end of the 1967 occupation.
The Roadmap did, however, add some substance, beyond Bush’s general formulation, on the refugee and Jerusalem issues. With respect to the refugee issue, the Roadmap called for “an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution,” as well as a negotiated agreement on Jerusalem that would “take into account the political and religious concerns of both sides” protecting the religious interests of Jews, Christians and Muslims “worldwide.” Initially and ostensibly the product of the Quartet (Russia, the United Nations, the EU as well as the United States), the Roadmap was subsequently more or less taken over by Washington, already indicated by Bush’s speech. It was the Americans who presided over the official launching of the Roadmap in Aqaba, Jordan, in June 2003, following acceptance of the plan by the Palestine Authority and by Israel – the latter with fourteen reservations.
In principle, Washington is still committed to the Roadmap. However, the two sides virtually ignored most of the first phase of the plan (disarming of the terrorist groups, unification of the Palestinian security organs; freezing of Israeli settlement activity, relief of restrictions on daily life in the territories, for example); instead, Israel continued its policy of targeted assassinations and arrests, and Palestinian suicide bombings resumed. As a consequence, the U.S. president appears to have put the map aside in favor of his ongoing efforts in Iraq and the 2004 U.S. elections, while Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in internal disputes over how to proceed further, irrespective of (and almost oblivious to) the Roadmap. The document nonetheless remains on the table.
THE ARAB INITIATIVE
While the ideas offered by the Jordanian-Egyptian Initiative, designed to get negotiations started again, were partially incorporated into the Mitchell Committee recommendations, the Arabs’ own peace ideas were in fact referred to in the Roadmap. The Roadmap contained a clause that the final accord would lead to “Arab state acceptance of full, normal relations with Israel and security for all the states of the region.” Its preamble directly referred to the Saudi Initiative and the Beirut Arab League Summit as part of the basis for a final peace. The Arab Peace Initiative, as it was called by the Beirut Summit of March 28, 2002, reiterated the Saudi proposal’s offer of “normal relations” with Israel in the framework of a peace agreement. It promised an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and security for all states in the region, provided a comprehensive peace agreement was reached. Such an agreement would be in the framework of “implementation of Security Council resolutions 242, 338, reaffirmed by the Madrid Conference of 1991,” and the principle of land for peace. The conditions outlined by the Arab Peace Proposal called for Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied since 1967, specifying this clearly as including also withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967, lines and from remaining areas in south Lebanon. The major condition was Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied since June 4, 1967, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. These specific references to the border with Syria and, in particular, to East Jerusalem went beyond anything spelled out by President Bush or the Roadmap (which preferred to leave such matters to the negotiations).
Where the Arab Peace Initiative did appear to provide a model for the Roadmap was in its reference to the refugee issue. In an innovative formulation, the Arab League plan called for “a just solution of the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.” Israel might (and did) take issue with the reference to Resolution 194, but the injection of the phrase “to be agreed upon” was not only the most open formulation ever offered by the Arab League but also one that could and indeed has been interpreted by many as providing Israel with a veto in the matter of the return of refugees. The Arab Peace Initiative did not call for negotiations as such, nor condemn the use of violence, but, calling for Israel and the international community to support the initiative, it presented the proposal as “emanating from the conviction . . . that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties.”
The Arab Peace Initiative did not receive much international attention, and Israel virtually ignored it. But the Roadmap did make direct reference to it and did adopt its principle of “agreement” with regard to the refugees. Indeed, aside from the new and most important promise to Israel – normal relations with the Arab states – the most significant part of the initiative may well have been this contribution to the refugee formula.
THE SHARON SPEECH
The present government of Israel has not officially offered any peace plan, although references are often made to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s speech at the Herzlia Conference of December 2002 as an authoritative vision (for example, in the coalition agreement creating the Sharon government in 2003). In this speech, Sharon presented Israel’s preconditions for the commencement of negotiations (an end to terrorism; political, economic, judiciary, educational and security reforms of the Palestine Authority; an end to Palestinian incitement and corruption, plus new Palestinian general elections) and then based his “plan” on Bush’s speech, with which he expressed full agreement. With all of the above reforms, and particularly the end of terrorism accomplished, Sharon would then agree to the beginning of phase two of the Bush (and the Roadmap) formulation, namely the creation of a Palestinian state. The borders of this state would not be finalized but they would “overlap” with areas A and B (created by the Oslo accords1 ), “except for essential security zones,” according to Sharon. While the “essential security zones” were not delineated, the reference to areas A and B was in keeping with much earlier statements by Sharon regarding a willingness to relinquish 42 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, roughly the proportion represented by areas A and B. And in the speech itself, Sharon said that Israel would not “recontrol” any area from which it had previously withdrawn as part of political agreements. The meaning of this could be two-fold: acceptance, explicitly, of the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, and, implicitly, the probable dismantling of some settlements.2 Prime Minister Sharon subsequently denied that he had any intention of dismantling any settlements, but critics within his party argued that he did intend such a step and that he was even considering withdrawing from much more territory.
This Palestinian state with temporary borders (or Bush’s provisional state) would, according to Sharon, be demilitarized (with “lightly armed police and interior forces to ensure civil order), and Israel would maintain control of all entrances and exits to the Palestinian state. Israel would also maintain control of the airspace over the Palestinian state and forbid the creation of any alliances with “Israel’s enemies.” Sharon promised (the speech was made before the Israeli elections scheduled for the following month) government approval of Bush’s sequence, which, Sharon explained, called for a third, final phase in which negotiations would be undertaken for the final status and permanent borders of the Palestinian state. Sharon made it clear, however, that there would be no fixed timetable for this process. Previous statements by the prime minister had clearly expressed a preference for a longterm interim agreement, perhaps 15 to 20 years, which, it may be extrapolated, would be the duration envisioned for the provisional Palestinian state. Thus, issues such as the status of East Jerusalem or the refugees could be put off almost indefinitely, along with the permanent borders, permanent control of movement in and out of the Palestinian state, and other matters connected with state sovereignty and independence.
Regarding the move to final-status negotiations, namely going from phase two to the final phase, set as preconditions are not only the restoration of quiet and fundamental change in Palestinian rule, but also that “coexistence is ensured.” And earlier in the speech Sharon spoke of “true and genuine coexistence” to be based “first and foremost on the recognition of our natural and historic right to exist as a Jewish state in the land of Israel.” This formulation was prompted by many considerations, but among them was Israeli opposition to the return of the refugees. Such opposition was based on the grounds that the demographic result of a return would change the nature of the state as a Jewish state, considered an existential matter for Israel. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state provided both legitimacy (accorded by the U.N. General Assembly in 1947 – Resolution 181 – but never by the Arab states or peoples) and the guarantee that demography (through a return of refugees) would not be permitted to change this essential character of the state.
This formulation regarding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state subsequently found its way into the fourteen reservations of the government to the Roadmap. These reservations called for the elimination of the references in the Roadmap to Resolution 1397 or the Saudi-Arab League initiatives, and reservation number six demanded that “declared references” be made in the Roadmap to “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel.” On the question of Jerusalem, the prime minister outlined his position in a letter to the National Religious party (in the February 2003 coalition negotiations): he asserted his commitment to a “whole and united city of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.”
PERES-ABU ALA DRAFT
The Palestine Authority accepted the Roadmap, and, while it said it had some reservations, these were not made public. Palestinian criticism of the Roadmap revolved mainly around the mechanism for movement, particularly from phase two to the final phase. With regard to the final agreement, Palestinian public statements continued to speak of Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state, the right of the refugees to return, Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, borders, and the dismantling of all the settlements. In terms of information available to the public, any refinements or changes that might exist with regard to these issues could only be inferred on the basis of the unofficial initiatives produced with Israelis.
One such initiative, the draft plan of Shimon Peres (then in the Sharon government) and Abu Ala (then speaker of the Palestine Legislative Council), predated and presaged the Roadmap. This draft plan, reported in the Israeli press in December 2001 and never officially acknowledged by Abu Ala, reportedly called for an interim Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza within areas A and B. It did, however, contain a clearly specified relatively short timetable for final-status negotiations and implementation of the final-status agreement that would encompass the issues of borders, refugees, settlements, security and water. Rejected, in any case, by Sharon, this initiative disappeared as the Roadmap came into focus, but following the breakdown of the Roadmap, there were rumors that Abu Ala and Peres (now leader of the Israeli opposition) were once again working on an interim agreement. With the publication of the Geneva accord, however, Abu Ala said on November 11, 2003, the day before his installation as prime minister, that he no longer supported the idea of an interim agreement, preferring rather to move directly from phase one of the Roadmap, skipping the provisional state, to the final status negotiations.
Until the publication of the Geneva accord, the Ayalon-Nusseibeh Statement of Principles was the only widely publicized clue to possible Palestinian concessions on the critical final-status issues. The borders of the two states, according to these principles, would be based on the June 4, 1967, lines (with reference to “U.N. resolutions” and the Saudi Initiative, which, in any case, would not necessarily contradict the June 4, 1967, lines). The Statement of Principles calls for agreed-upon territorial modifications on a one-to-one exchange basis, ensuring territorial contiguity, and a link between the West Bank and Gaza. No settlers would remain in the Palestinian state. In a relatively new but vague formulation, the Principles stipulate that the demilitarized Palestinian state would have its security and independence guaranteed by the international community.
On the issue of Jerusalem, these Principles call for an open city as the capital of both states, with the Arab neighborhoods to be under Palestinian sovereignty and the Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty. The holy places would be open to all, with neither side exercising sovereignty. The controversial Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount would be under the guardianship of the Palestinian state; the Western Wall would be under the guardianship of Israel; and the status quo would be maintained regarding the Christian sites. Excavations in or under the holy sites could be conducted only by mutual consent.
Having stated that both sides would declare that Palestine is the only state of the Palestinian people and Israel the only state of the Jewish people, the Ayalon-Nusseibeh Statement of Principles stipulated clearly that Palestinian refugees would return only to the Palestinian state (and Jews would “return” only to the state of Israel). The international community, with Israeli and Palestinian participation, would provide compensation for refugees remaining where they resided or choosing to immigrate to third countries.
While the Jerusalem and border issues followed lines discussed – though not necessarily agreed upon – at Camp David and Taba, the decision on the refugees was the most radical formulated by Palestinians and Israelis together. It was previously expressed publicly by Sari Nusseibeh, based apparently on an understanding of Israeli sensitivity to the demographic existential issue involved for the future of the Jewish state. Presumably for this reason as well, the Principles did not refer to resolution 194 or recognition of the right of return, as distinct from their possible implementation (as the Saudi-Arab Peace Initiatives did by implication if not explicitly). The removal of all the settlers and the settlement of Jews only in Israel may have been perceived as the quid pro quo for this concession. Yet this blanket waiver of the right of return was to be the most controversial point of the Principles for the Palestinian community.
Additional problems for the Principles among the Palestinians may have been the public figures associated with them, namely Gen.(ret.) Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Israeli security services (a clear asset in the Israeli community), and Professor Nusseibeh, himself, a respected but controversial intellectual and political figure with only a relatively limited following. Still very far short of their objective of 1 million signatures in their Peoples’ Voice campaign, Ayalon and Nusseibeh reported having 108,000 Israeli signatures and 60,000 Palestinian signatures on the principles as of November 2003. It may be expected, at least on the Israeli side, that these numbers will increase significantly as a result of the publication of the Geneva accord. For that part of the Israeli public willing to reach a compromise solution with the Palestinians, the Geneva accord has created the sense that there is a partner on the Palestinian side. In addition, a short and concise set of principles, blunt and unambiguous on the refugee issue, may now have greater appeal than a detailed plan.
THE GENEVA ACCORD
The Geneva accord (so called because of the assistance offered by the Swiss government and private citizens and the venue of some of the negotiations) is indeed a long and detailed draft of a possible peace agreement between Israel and the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people. The Geneva accord differs from all the other proposals: it is not a plan for arriving at negotiations or a final settlement (Bush’s Roadmap), nor is it a set of principles upon which a settlement might be based (Saudi-Arab Initiatives, Ayalon-Nusseibeh). It is possible to view Geneva, on the whole, as only a little more than the Clinton bridging proposals, incorporating ideas raised in the Taba talks of January 2001, plus much greater detail, in addition to lengthy formulations regarding implementation and guarantees. The accord devotes a very large amount of attention to the two major issues, Jerusalem and the refugees, and an equal amount to the question of security and security arrangements. Each of these topics has many pages of detail, including timetables, modalities and mechanisms for implementation and verification, as well as accompanying maps and annexes – all this prior to completion of the sections on the economy, water and law.
Referring to the process begun with Madrid, up to and including Taba, resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, and declaring that the accord is to be the realization of the permanent-status component of the Bush speech and the Roadmap, the Geneva accord “affirms” that it “marks the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to statehood and the recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to statehood.” It adds that the “parties recognize Palestine and Israel as the homeland of their respective peoples” (pledging non-interference in each other’s internal affairs). With the two states recognizing each other, the border is to be based on the June 4, 1967, lines with reciprocal modifications on a one-to-one basis. A map accompanies the agreement according to which Israel will annex roughly 2 percent of West Bank territory (primarily to incorporate certain settlements), and the Palestinian state will receive an equal amount of territory mainly to the southeast of Gaza. A permanently open corridor, to be under Israeli sovereignty but administered by the Palestinians, will connect the two parts of the Palestinian state, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel will withdraw its settlers from the areas designated for Palestinian sovereignty, leaving intact those structures, properties and facilities left behind.3 Israel will be permitted to use the airspace over Palestine for air-force training purposes and to maintain a small security force along the Jordan Valley (under the authority of the Multinational Force, see below) for a period of 36 months after implementation of the accord. Israel will also maintain unseen monitors at border crossings for at least 30 months, plus two early-warning systems in the West Bank, to be reviewed after ten years, and after that every five years. Border control, however, will be under the authority of the Palestinian Security Force jointly with the Multinational Force.
The Multinational Force is to be part of an international Implementation and Verification Group (IVG), consisting of the Quartet members and other parties, if so agreed by the Israelis and the Palestinians. The task of the IVG will be to “facilitate, assist in, guarantee, monitor and resolve disputes” with regard to implementation of the accord. This group will have a senior political level known as the Contact Group, which will appoint a special representative on the ground, who in turn shall appoint a commander for the Multinational Force. The Palestinian state will be demilitarized and, therefore, the Multinational Force will be deployed within the Palestinian state. Its purpose will be to guarantee the security of both parties, deter external attacks, monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces and protect the territorial integrity of the Palestinian state. The Palestinians will have a strong security force for civil order and border control; this force will be limited in the type and number of weapons and arms it will be permitted to maintain (another annex to the accord has the appropriate stipulations), subject to monitoring and verification by the Multinational Force. Neither state will be permitted to enter into agreements or alliances with a state hostile to the other side.
In Jerusalem, the Jewish neighborhoods will be under Israeli sovereignty, the Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty, with each state holding its capital in its sovereign part. There will be two municipalities with numerous coordinating and functional committees, along with complex regulations regarding entry and exit to the two states as well into and out of the Old City, providing, nonetheless, free access to the holy sites. A good deal of detail is provided in this section of the accord, but the issue of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount area (“Compound”) is of the greatest importance. The Palestinian state is to have sovereignty over the Compound and responsibility for its security; the Compound shall be open to all visitors (unarmed). Construction, digging or excavations will be prohibited unless agreed upon by both sides. The Western Wall will be under Israeli sovereignty. An International Group, composed of the IVG and others to be agreed upon (including representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference) will be created to monitor and verify implementation of the measures outlined for the Compound and ensure security. Its work is to be carried out through a Multinational Presence on the Compound. Many details are provided in the accord and its annexes for the functioning of these bodies and the regulations to be established regarding the Compound.
The section of the Geneva accord on the refugees is even more complex and detailed than the clauses relating to Jerusalem, but its starting point is its acknowledgment of U.N. resolutions 194, 242 and the Arab Peace Initiative “regarding the rights of the Palestinians” as “representing the basis” for an agreed resolution of the problem. Presumably in response to Israeli concerns that recognizing a “right to return” for the refugees would leave the door open for future demands, regardless of agreements that might be made on implementation, the Geneva accord clearly states that the provisions in the agreement and their implementation would constitute the final settlement of the issue and all claims connected with it. An International Commission will be created with “full and exclusive responsibility” for implementing the accord’s stipulations on the refugee issue, specifically overseeing and managing the process by which permanent residence is determined and realized. This commission will consist of the two parties, who will call upon the United Nations, UNRWA, and other states (some of which are named) and institutions to join the commission. The commission will appoint a panel of experts to deal with compensation issues and determine amounts to be contributed to an international fund, with Israel’s contribution to be fixed and final (minus the value of the fixed assets of the settlements transferred to the state of Palestine).
Regarding the critical question of permanent residence, refugees will have the right freely to choose among four options: the state of Palestine, third countries, the state of Israel or the present host country.4 All the options must accord with the sovereign discretion of the countries involved. Each third country will submit to the International Commission the number of refugees it is willing to accept. Israel too will submit the number it will accept. As a basis for this number, Israel will consider the average of the total numbers submitted by the other countries. The process of refugee relocation is to be completed within five years, with priority given to the refugees in Lebanon.
There are several more clauses to the accord, dealing with road usage, border regulations, dispute resolution and joint cooperation, specific religious sites, and the aforementioned pending sections on legal cooperation, economic relations and water. However, the essence of the accord, apart from its fixed timetable and international guarantees, lies in its treatment of territory, Jerusalem and the refugees. Initial responses to the accord understandably concentrate on these aspects.
Prior to the promised delivery of a copy of the Geneva accord to every household in Israel and the occupied territories, the public could read the full text in the Israeli and Palestinian press and on the Internet. A well-planned publicity campaign was organized from the outset, but in fact the accord received far more publicity (and impact) in Israel than anticipated by the originators. This was in large part due to the fact that Prime Minister Sharon, apparently intending to negate the value of the document before it was even completed, publicly condemned the meeting that was about to occur in Jordan (for the final drafting). Thus Sharon informed the nation that such an initiative was in the offing, and inadvertently accorded it far greater importance than it might have elicited if it had been officially ignored. The result was extraordinary media curiosity and attention, relatively easily sustained in the following days and weeks not only by the work of the Geneva group, but also due to attacks voiced by government ministers and rightwing Israeli political figures, which included accusations of treason and calls for judicial or legislative action against the group. Much of this attention focused on the legitimacy of the venture, namely, the right of private citizens to “negotiate” with the other side, allegedly interfering with the work of the government.
More appropriate criticism has, however, also appeared in the Israeli public. In public discussions that have been held, in various forums, opposition has been expressed on the territorial clauses with regard to specific settlements, such as Israel’s abandonment of the city of Ariel in the West Bank or, conversely, its retention of the settlement of Alfei Menashe, which requires some kind of corridor into the West Bank (state of Palestine) or the larger number of settlers who would be moved, as distinct from the numbers in previous proposals.5 Of course there is the more general issue of withdrawing from the settlements altogether, regardless of the specific map provided by Geneva or other initiatives. Public-opinion studies in Israel have generally shown majority support for withdrawal from most or all of the settlements. When specifics are added to such questions, greater opposition is expressed,6 although a very large majority of the settlers themselves, according to studies commissioned by the Israeli peace movement, are actually willing to return to Israel proper, with compensation, in the event of a government decision.7
The Geneva accord stipulations regarding Jerusalem are more problematic. In general, according to past polls, the Israeli population is more or less evenly divided over the matter of splitting Jerusalem into two capitals, a slight majority opposing such a move. The major criticism in Israel with regard to Jerusalem in the Geneva accord, however, is connected with the Temple Mount. Pending actual polls or surveys, responses in public meetings indicate opposition, even on the left of the political spectrum, to granting the Palestinians sovereignty over a religious site so important to the Jewish people as well as to Christians and Muslims. This importance is connected with the fact that over the years the Temple Mount has assumed the symbolic role of the Jewish link (and legitimacy?) to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. This role has been particularly emphasized in right-wing religious circles, especially after the Camp David talks touched on the issue, but it arises even in other circles, to counter perceived Palestinian rejection of the existence of Jewish historical roots in the Holy Land.
While the Geneva accord does not specifically speak of the refugees’ “right of return,” the reference to Resolution 194 and the existence of an option for the refugees to choose a permanent place of residence in Israel is anathema to most Israelis. The Geneva initiators have been at pains to explain that the accord clearly limits this option, explicitly providing Israel, like any sovereign state, the right to determine which and, most important, how many refugees could actually enter Israel.
For some Israelis, of course, there is simply opposition to any refugee being allowed to return (whether out of fear of setting precedents or implicitly allowing a right of return that could open floodgates in the future). The problem arises even in leftwing circles, however, over the complicated clause regarding numbers. This clause refers to “the average of the total” numbers accepted by other, third states. It takes a careful reading to understand that Israel is not bound by the average numbers accepted by other states, but rather, according to the wording of the clause, Israel will “consider” this average “as a basis” for its own calculations. Informally one could estimate that third states will take in an average total of perhaps 30,000 to 40,000. The Geneva initiators reportedly had such figures in mind on the basis of past negotiations (such as the multilateral talks on refugees in the 1990s or the Taba discussions). But the accord is quite clear that Israel is sovereign in its decisions regarding the numbers of refugees it will accept. The fact, however, that it takes a careful reading to determine this has led to criticism based on misunderstanding (in addition to criticism by those who would oppose the return of any refugees).
The vast majority of the population has not read the accord, and its response to the substantive side of the accord is based on the publicity received, both positive and negative. Indeed on the basis of the first sketchy reports, one poll had some 43 percent of Israelis supporting the Geneva accord. Subsequently, and presumably as more information became available, this percentage declined. A poll conducted October 28-29 by the respected Peace Index of Tel Aviv University found that 54 percent of Israeli Jews opposed the accord, with only one-quarter supporting it (21 percent having no opinion).8 Although there was criticism by Israeli Arab leaders of the fact that there were no Israeli Arabs invited to join the Geneva group, some 77 percent said they supported the accord; only 14 percent opposed it. According to the authors of the poll, Jewish Israeli opposition may be explained not only by the content of the accord but also by the identity of the initiators. Beginning with the person most identified with it, former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, and continuing with others such as Gen. (ret.) Amram Mitzna, a majority of respondents said these individuals cannot represent Israel’s national interests. The accord was clearly identified with the left, and even with those, like Yossi Beilin, who were behind the Oslo accords (which are considered a failure and worse by the majority of Jewish Israelis today). In addition to the matter of personalities, there is the finding that a majority (65 percent) believe that only the elected government should conduct such negotiations since a private citizens’ initiative such as Geneva could “undermine the government’s status.” Given these considerations, one could conclude that the major opposition is not to the content as such, and, therefore, that the accord could possibly serve as a model for a future peace agreement, depending upon who presents it.
Certainly the majority of Labor and Meretz voters, or the peace camp generally, do see Geneva as a basis for a future agreement, at the very least. This has been clear not only from the polling results but also from the larger-than-expected numbers that have attended the various public events for peace, some specifically on the Geneva accord, some, like the massive Rabin memorial on November 2, of a more general but clearly peace oriented nature. Almost all the components and initiatives of the peace camp appear to have received new impetus from the accord. And while the right wing has been incensed by the accord, even the government of Israel has been affected in what could be termed a positive way. Prime Minister Sharon, in his speech to the opening of the new session of the Knesset on October 20, felt compelled to reiterate his support for the Roadmap – virtually unmentioned for weeks before that – to indicate that his government does have a plan. And it is conceivable, though not certain, that the criticism expressed by the Israeli chief of staff regarding the absence of a government-proposed political initiative was made public due to the atmosphere created by the Geneva accord.
More directly, central members of the government (such as deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Education Minister Limor Livnat) suddenly proposed “plans” of their own, as did the Shinui party (member of the government coalition), the settler movement, and the Labor party. And in a second Herzlia speech, December 18, 2003, Sharon added to his original proposals the threat of a unilateral “disengagement” in which the Palestinians would, he said, receive less than they would have received in a negotiated settlement. (This time he allowed that there would be “relocation” of some settlements not expected to be included in Israel in a final agreement. Subsequently, he said 17 settlements would be removed from Gaza and three from the West Bank.) All of these plans and ideas referred to possible territories for the future state of Palestine, indicating an apparent need to respond to the challenge of Geneva, particularly evident in the confusion within the ruling Likud party at its meeting in January 2004.
The major point – whether explicit or implicit – has been that the accord provides an alternative, or the possibility of an alternative, to the use of force, violence and terror over the past three years. Demonstrating that there is a possible political solution, the still more important point of the accord in the present situation is its “proof” that there is a partner. Since the failure of the Camp David talks and the subsequent intifada and terrorism, the majority view of the Israeli public, supported if not incited by the government, has been one of despair over the lack of a Palestinian partner willing to make peace with Israel. Therefore, one of the main objectives of the Geneva initiators, almost regardless of the actual content of the accord, was in fact to disprove and eliminate this perception.
Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian initiator and the highest-ranking official (an outgoing minister) on the Palestinian side of the Geneva group, confirmed that the major point of the agreement was indeed to demonstrate, to both publics, that there is a partner. On the Palestinian side no less than on the Israeli side, public opinion has long evinced deep disillusionment and the conviction that Israel, particularly under the leadership of the Sharon government, is not interested in peace. The Palestinian public, probably even more than the Israeli public, is skeptical of plans, initiatives and the like. Moreover, it is particularly wary of any whittling away of its rights within even a small part of historic Palestine and, especially, the rights of the refugees – considered to have been ignored in the Oslo accords.9 Additionally, there is the tactical concern over relinquishing “bargaining chips,” such as concessions regarding the refugee issue or other issues prior to actual negotiations.
Presumably for these reasons, the Palestinian response has been most cautious. In a positive vein, the response one hears most often, from mainstream politically active individuals, is that the Geneva accord represents a welcome step toward ending the violence and returning to negotiations and might even serve to bring down the Sharon government.10 The Palestinian newspapers have tended to publish opinions both for and against the accord, with one independent paper coming out clearly in favor. Prime Minister Abu Ala, the day before the swearing in of his government, said that he personally supported the accord, although subsequently he has not mentioned it. The Palestinian officials who actually negotiated the accord – Abed Rabbo, former Minister for Prisoner Affairs Hisham abdel Razeq, former Planning Minister Nabil Kassis, Legislative Council Member Kaddura Fares – have all publicly supported the agreement.
Indeed, it is the participation of these and other Palestinians, including respected members of Fatah, that gives particular weight to the accord itself – and the claim that there is a partner. It has been rumored that the popular Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti supported the initiative from his cell in an Israeli jail. It is also clear that Abed Rabbo, no longer representing a political party and with no party to support him politically, is closely dependent upon Arafat, suggesting that Arafat had been privy to the accord. The Palestinian president himself responded only vaguely to the accord, saying that he had “backed the effort, particularly those pro-peace in Israel,” and in accord with “our policy to continue the peace of the brave [sic] that was signed by the deceased Yitzhak Rabin, land for peace.”11 The Palestine Foreign Ministry reported that the same day, October 16, the executive committee of the PLO expressed its “appreciation for the joint efforts by the Palestinian and Israeli peace camps, and for the results they have reached, particularly the efforts aimed at unifying positions and outlooks regarding the various permanent-status issues on the basis of what was achieved in Taba and prior initiatives and negotiations.”12 Yet it was reported that Arafat actually spoke against the accord at the PLO executive meeting, saying that it was the work of “intellectuals not politicians.”13 If indeed he said this, it is not clear if Arafat’s meaning referred to the importance of the people involved or the impracticality or unacceptability of the content. Nonetheless, Arafat sent a letter in support of peace to be read at the official launching of the Geneva accord in Switzerland, December 1, 2003.
Without actually attacking the agreement, the semi-official paper al Hayyat al Jedida, identified with the Palestine Authority, commented that the people involved had no authority or status, virtually dismissing them, but the paper also criticized the content, namely, the abandoning of the right of return and the concessions made on Jerusalem. Similarly, the leader of Fatah in the West Bank, Hussein al-Sheikh, strongly condemned the agreement, saying that it “contradicted the Palestinian legitimate rights of return, self-determination and establishment of the Palestinian state with al-Quds as it capital.”14 (Razeq responded that the accord did not eliminate the right of return, a comment which technically was correct, since the agreement did not expressly support or deny it – the right of return was simply not mentioned as such, while the document provided the means for resolving the issue, finally.) As expected, the groups that in the past have rejected any peace with Israel, namely, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for Palestine, all came out strongly against the accord.
It remains to be seen what the longterm effects of the Geneva accord will be. There is certainly no expectation that the government of Israel under Sharon will adopt it, or that the Palestine Authority or the PLO will officially adopt it in the absence of official negotiations with Israel. Similarly, it would be surprising if there were sizable public agreement on all of the clauses of the agreement, among Israelis or Palestinians. It may be assumed, however, that the Geneva accord will become part of the internal political debates in both societies and a likely issue in the Israeli elections when they take place at some time in the future (no later than 2007). Certainly the initiators will seek to hold the Geneva accord as something of a model when and if permanent-status negotiations are opened, within the framework of the Roadmap or any other plan. Most important, and immediate, however, is that the Geneva accord has already influenced the public discourse. It has demonstrated that serious mainstream political and security figures, who have previously held or currently hold (and possibly in the future will once again hold) high official positions, together with leading individuals from both societies, have devised a model for a peace agreement through painstaking, laborious and detailed negotiations. In this they have provided the advocates of a negotiated two-state solution on both sides with ample material and backing for their efforts.
1 Area A were areas under full Palestinian civil and security control, area B under Palestinian civil control but Israeli security control. Area B were areas ultimately to be transferred to Area A. Area C were areas to remain under full Israeli control until their future was determined in the final-status agreement.
2 This formulation may have been included in the speech to indicate that Israel would not reinstall costly civil control (and responsibility) for the areas that it was reoccupying.
3 Thus there would be no repetition of the physical destruction of Israeli settlements that accompanied the withdrawal from Sinai in the peace with Egypt.
4 The accord lists 5 options, two of which are the state of Palestine, and territories to be transferred to the state of Palestine in the land swap once Palestinian sovereignty has been established.
5 See, for example, Yossi Alpher, “Right Idea, Difficult Premises,” Bitterlemons, No. 39, October 27, 2003.
6 See, for example, Asher Arian, Israeli Public Opinion on National Security 2003, Memorandum 67, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, 2003.
7 Peace Now commissioned studies of Settler Attitudes in July 2002 and 2003 (Peacenow.org.il).
8 Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann, Peace Index Project, Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, Tel Aviv University in Haaretz, November 5, 2003.
9 See Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, especially polls 8 and 9 from June 2003.
10 For example, Ghassan Khatib in Bitterlemons, Edition 39, October 27, 2003.
11 Website of the Palestine National Authority.
12 Website of the Palestine National Authority Foreign Ministry.
13 Haaretz, November 11, 2003.
14 Website of the Palestine Authority Foreign Ministry, and Haaretz, October 20, 2003.