An Accord to Remember By YOSSI BEILIN and YASIR ABED RABBO
- December 1, 2003
An Accord to Remember
By YOSSI BEILIN and YASIR ABED RABBO
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
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