Edition 17 Volume 1 - November 13, 2003
The Geneva accord
Recycled delusions in Geneva -
Just like Oslo, this accord can only spell disaster for Palestinians.
Laudable in rekindling hope -
byM. Cherif Bassiouni
The document may help develop a new context.
One American’s view -
byAaron David Miller
Whatever the benefits, there is no political leader empowered or interested in pulling the train.
It's for the parties to adopt -
an interview withMarc Otte
Many features concerning an international role need to be discussed and modified.
Recycled delusions in Geneva
by Rime Allaf
It is only natural to feel a tingle of hope when rumors of a plan to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict emerge, especially after three years of unprecedented violence. And when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reacts with his usual hysteria, nearly forgetting his original 14 objections to the roadmap, one can be forgiven for deducing that the plan is relatively beneficial to Palestinians--at the expense of Israelis--or at the very least a fair settlement for a two-state solution.
This is certainly not the case with the Geneva accord, despite the praise sung globally by various personalities. Even a superficial overview of its details should have had Israel rushing to espouse it and overlook its aversion to non-American "honest broker" interference. This accord is so obviously good for Israel that it doesn't even need to whine about it first in order to frame minor steps as painful concessions later.
That Sharon's ruling Likud should attack the plan is expected, given the party's fundamental principle that no Palestinian state (a semblance of which is the bone thrown to Palestinians in the accord) ever be allowed to the west of the River Jordan. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's condemnation would have been less predictable, had he not been vying for a political comeback on a "terrorism" platform. The success of the accord would challenge both parties' pretext that there is no Palestinian party with which to negotiate. But most Israelis should realize that the Geneva accord makes them clear winners, since it would even supercede (to their advantage) existing international laws.
Just like Oslo, and like all subsequent so-called groundbreaking plans, this accord can only spell disaster for Palestinians. Indeed, apart from a Palestinian Authority seemingly determined to maintain power even if it means squandering its people's rights, most understand that the accord robs them of basic human rights (such as the right of return, for which the Nusseibeh-Ayalon plan paved the way), keeps most of East Jerusalem for Israel, and validates illegal Israeli settlements presently in the West Bank and Gaza.
From the first "land for peace" equation of Madrid's peace conference, to the "peace for land" deal that Sharon pretends to offer (supposedly after resistance stops), a "land for land" barter now surfaces: in exchange for its settlements in the remaining fifth of Palestine's original surface, Israel would offer "equal" bits of desert around the Gaza ghetto, creating a semi-state in patches around Israeli cordons and corridors. A far cry from the tiny country Palestinians had been willing to accept, and which international agreements (including Oslo) already ensured.
But the accord would render previous agreements null and void, including United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (demanding Israel's withdrawal to June 4, 1967 borders) and 194 (guaranteeing Palestinians' right of return). It stops just short of declaring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also warranting the right of return, obsolete; blatantly, it merely gives refugees the "choice" of staying in their present countries or eventually settling in Palestine, but never in their original land in Israel.
The Palestinian and the international community's will is ignored, but the latter's purses are sought to finance the compensation of refugees and that of their host countries (which have not been consulted). While the victims of World War II atrocities continue to be compensated by their perpetrators' descendants, Israel will make other countries pay for its crimes--and only if Palestinian refugees manage to apply for compensation within two years.
The authors of the proposal suggest its distribution to two million Israeli households, and its dissemination through Palestinian media, supposedly to get the direct response of the people it concerns. But how will Palestinian refugees the world over, whose rights are being so liberally sacrificed, and who have not even voted for the Palestinian Authority, be able to voice their response?
All the Geneva accord presents is a new threshold of concessions, with the Palestinian Authority yielding even more rights than ever before and allowing Israelis to demand new minimums. It legalizes the status quo, and prohibits Palestinians from ever contesting it again.
The solution to the conflict requires neither new proposals nor recycled Oslo, Camp David or Taba terms. United Nations resolutions, distinct peace plans (including the Arab peace initiative of 2002) and basic international laws already spell out the recipe for a just and comprehensive peace, guaranteeing security, territorial integrity and basic human rights for all.
The accord's implementation would give Israel much more than international legality or morality could ever envisage, but it wouldn't give it security in the long term; throughout history, humiliated people have never allowed their quest for justice (and often revenge) to be dampened. Although he says it for different reasons, Sharon is right about one thing: the Geneva accord would be the greatest historical mistake since Oslo.-Published 13/11/03©bitterlemons-international.org
Rime Allaf is an associate fellow at Chatham House in London.
Laudable in rekindling hope
by M. Cherif Bassiouni
The informal Geneva accord shows that an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is possible. The document was negotiated by Yossi Beilin on the Israeli side and Yasser Abed Rabbo on the Palestinian side, with the involvement of a number of knowledgeable and concerned individuals representing both Israeli and Palestinian interests. It shows us that a peaceful political settlement is possible and that intellectually this process is relatively simple. The document is especially important because it is a reminder that conflict is not inevitable despite the attitudes expressed by the Sharon government and others on both sides. As such, it restores the flickering light of hope’s candle.
Nevertheless, the real problem does not lie in the possibility of a negotiated settlement, but is instead a function of marked differences of understanding and interpretation between Israelis and Palestinians. In this sense, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not so much what is seen above the surface, but what lies beneath. The profound nature of the conflict is symbolized by the idea of the “right of return” which would allow large numbers of Palestinians to enter Israeli territory to live. For Israelis this idea is untenable as it would undermine the country’s status as a Jewish state. For Palestinians, the issue is bound to basic questions of identity and principle.
While it might be possible to address this issue in a serene fashion, it would probably require a great deal of time and would depend on the establishment of relations of trust between both sides. In the meantime, the best the Palestinians can hope for is a recognition in principle of the “right of return,” and the hope that a plan can be established for family reunification between those who stayed in Israel after 1948 and their relatives, along with a system of compensation for the loss of property for all others. But even if stated in those terms, as matters now stand, Israelis and Palestinians would find themselves in substantial disagreement, even though on the Israeli side of the negotiations, sovereignty over Arab Jerusalem was conceded. This is what arose at Camp David II in July 2000, and that is why the present Geneva accord fudges the issue.
No one knows for certain how the issue of the “right of return” is experienced by both sides. Maybe a negotiation is possible if properly framed within the context of an overall agreement, where both sides would feel that they gained enough with respect to some issues to justify being more flexible on others.
However, assessing these and other reciprocal concessions can only be made with reference to the context in which a negotiation takes place. Yet, what is the context of the Geneva accord? Two groups of decent, well-meaning persons who seek to show that peace is possible reach an agreement while working in Geneva with the financial support of a Swiss professor from a prominent and wealthy family. As realistic as the exercise was, and as close to any negotiated text as this one is, the context is nonetheless largely academic. The negotiators do not face the political pressures of their constituencies. They do not need to negotiate with an eye to convincing their governments to approve the agreement and their parliaments to ratify it. They did not have to take into account political opposition, jealous friends, difficult opponents, and a critical media. Thus, what I refer to as an academic context is really a politically and emotionally antiseptic environment.
The last three years have been devastating: some 3,000 Palestinians and 800 Israelis have been killed; some 25,000 Palestinians and 5,000 Israelis have been injured; the Palestinian economic and social system is shattered; and, Israel’s sense of security is totally shaken. There has been an increase in de-humanization on both sides leading to increased animosity, if not hatred, and a significant loss of confidence and hope. For some Israelis, the only answer is a concrete wall dividing them from the Palestinians. For some Palestinians, the situation demands an all-out war. Within this context, it is extremely difficult to reach an agreement.
The Geneva accord is highly laudable, but it is politically unrealistic as to what it purports to be. However, its greatest merit lies in the dissemination of the document, and the intellectual ferment it is creating all over the world. In other words, regardless of its merits, the initiative can rekindle an optimistic spirit for peace. The document may help develop a new context within which real political negotiations can take place and, if they move well enough, future talks may rely on the text of the Geneva accord to advance the peace process and provide a much-needed resolution to a long and painful conflict. This is why all concerned in this effort merit our encouragement, and deserve our appreciation.-Published 13/11/03©bitterlemons-international.org
M. Cherif Bassiouni is professor of law and president of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University College of Law. He was a member of the Egyptian negotiating team at the 1978 Camp David peace talks.
One American’s view
by Aaron David Miller
The conclusion of the Geneva accord once again hammers home the agonizing truth about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: the main challenge is not the absence of clever diplomatic solutions by well-intentioned Israelis and Palestinians to the core problems of permanent status, but the absence of political leadership and public support required to make them work. Whatever the accomplishments of the Geneva negotiators (and there are many), the prospects and possibilities for implementation under current circumstances are bleak. Indeed, there is simply no way to negotiate the agreement, impose it from the outside, or appeal to publics to embrace it over the heads of politicians.
During the period between the Camp David summit of July 2000 and the Taba talks in early 2001, Israelis, Palestinians and American negotiators ably demonstrated their ability to take a serious crack at breaking the genetic code on most--if not all--of the core issues that defined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No agreements were achieved, yet creative and imaginative fixes emerged on borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and security. At least on substance, these negotiations demonstrated that the keys to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on these issues were not locked up in metaphysical mysteries of the East but might be attained through logical, rational and creative diplomacy. Indeed, an array of broad parameters emerged based on the efforts of three major sets of negotiations: the July 2000 Camp David summit; the December 2000 Clinton parameters; and the January 2001 talks at Taba. Subsequently, two other initiatives joined the club: the one page set of principles of Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, and the Geneva accord.
All of these efforts tend to reaffirm the so-called “everyone knows what it takes to conclude an agreement” observation. And the Geneva accord is the latest, if not the most detailed, of these efforts. That well intended, knowledgeable and committed Israelis and Palestinians could come up with such an accord, particularly in this environment, is a stunning accomplishment. Indeed the Geneva accord represents an important psychological counterpoint--at a critical time in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship--to the now conventional wisdom that there are no serious partners for negotiations and nothing to negotiate about. If in fact Israelis and Palestinians are to end their conflict, two main presumptions must be maintained: first, that there exists an equitable and durable solution for the core issues that divide them; and second, that only serious negotiations can bring it about. On the face of it, the Geneva accord does both.
At the same time, the Geneva accomplishment is deceptively alluring--which is why veterans of the Arab-Israel peace process have managed to keep their enthusiasm under control. Simply put, to make Geneva a reality, you would need political leaders as well as publics willing and able to overcome their current anger, cynicism and despair. Unfortunately, right now, and probably for the foreseeable future, both are lacking.
Even under the best of circumstances, Arab-Israel peacemaking is an excruciatingly painful and difficult task. Consider this: even with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s stunning visit to Jerusalem and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s strong leadership and political skills, it took two years to negotiate an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and another three to fully implement it. Along the way, the effort required constant management by a third party and a high risk presidential summit; and this effort involved issues not nearly as complex as Jerusalem and refugees.
The fact is that without leaders willing to look at peacemaking as a strategic national interest rather than as a series of tactical maneuvers to avoid internal and external pressure, only “process” is possible, and sometimes not even that. Whether it was Begin and Sadat; Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein; or even Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasir Arafat (in his first incarnation), a sustained search for common ground and considerable trust and confidence--if only sometimes as temporary coincidence of national interests--is required. Instead, at the moment, a zero-sum game mentality applies.
In short, whatever the benefits of the Geneva accord, there is no political leader empowered or interested in pulling the train, nor is there much prospect--right now--of an emerging political grassroots movement to energize the elites and public on either the Israeli or Palestinian side.
This brings us to the second major obstacle confronting the Geneva accord: the slim possibilities of bypassing the political establishment and appealing to publics to create momentum or pressure for change.
The historical track record for such efforts is not terribly encouraging. And while it would be irresponsible to become a prisoner of the past, frankly the odds against success are formidable. The fact is that over the past three decades when breakthroughs in the Arab-Israel arena have occurred, they evolved not through dramatic demonstrations of public pressure, but by leaders negotiating secretly and then, through dramatic gestures, selling these agreements to their constituencies. All successful (and in the case of Oslo unsuccessful) agreements between Israelis and Egyptians, Palestinians, and Jordanians developed this way. Why the Israeli and Palestinian publics have been so passive in pursuit of peace is itself worthy of serious study. Suffice it to say, on the Palestinian side, given the existing realities of the occupation, when publics mobilize they usually do so in defiance or in resistance to Israel rather than to pressure their own leaders. With regard to Israeli society, perhaps part of the answer to passivity lies in the public’s willingness to defer to the government and the state’s judgment on issues relating to national security. In any event, despite increasing disaffection on both sides with the current circumstances, it’s hard to imagine a surge of public pressure to change them.
And so, the Geneva accord--like its official antecedents during the dramatic period July 2000 to early 2001--will likely become an important part of the parameters of creative and imaginative diplomacy that will define the possibilities for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations once they begin. But they will probably not be a catalyst to trigger those negotiations. Nonetheless, when that moment comes (and it will come) those who worked boldly and courageously to produce the Geneva effort will have reason to be proud of what they have done.-Published 13/11/03©bitterlemons-international.org
In January of 2003, Aaron David Miller became president of Seeds of Peace. For 25 years he served as an advisor on Arab-Israel negotiations to the last six US secretaries of state.
It's for the parties to adopt
an interview with Marc Otte
BI: How relevant is the Geneva accord?
Otte: I think it is relevant in the following sense. At the moment we're at a sort of impasse. The roadmap with all its qualities and merits as a process lacks a bit of concept, a sort of perspective for what the end game is, so that people on both sides are hesitant to pay the price it takes to get on the road. So this exercise, like others in that respect, has the merit of clarifying for both Palestinians and Israelis where they are going and whether it's worth paying the price in risks—for Israelis, in security, since terrorism has not been suppressed, and for Palestinians, in the security of existence, and whether they'll have a state or not.
One of the reasons for the impasse is that the political debate is frozen for both sides, since what has happened for the last three years has had a terrible impact on both populations. What Geneva and other formulas do is to feed oxygen into the political debate.
BI: You were Belgian ambassador to Israel, and you have worked with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana on various conflicts. How useful do you judge the accord to be for the EU in its contacts with both sides?
Otte: It is not useful for us in particular, since it is pretty much what we have been supporting together with the US and the rest of the international community until now: the Clinton parameters, the Taba agreements, etc. If the Geneva initiative is successful in opening a real debate it's useful for us in that it shows there are indeed partners on both sides. But it is not for us to adopt it; it's for the parties to adopt it. The ownership is Palestinian and Israeli. And the perspective offered by Geneva is not shared by the elected representatives in the Knesset. But it is getting more and more attention internationally, e.g., US Secretary of State Colin Powell's letter to Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the EU leaders showing interest, Arab leaders, the new Palestinian prime minister saying he supports it on a personal basis. So there is a momentum.
BI: Can you comment on the specific content of the Geneva accord?
Otte: Clearly this is an informal blueprint, a basis for negotiations. I don't think we need to focus for the moment on details. The Geneva accord is for me part of a group of efforts. The Ayalon-Nusseibeh formula as a single page declaration of principles has a lot of punch. As part of a grassroots movement, it has a pedagogic effect from a democratic point of view. These movements show that both societies want to move, to get out of their mental prison.
BI: Geneva calls upon the international community to play a major monitoring role. As a representative of a major international actor, how does this strike you?
Otte: I agree with those who have commented that we need the opinion of the potential international partners concerning the role assigned to them. The lessons of past crisis management missions require first a political agreement, i.e., the parties must first agree on the model. We cannot impose a structure on the partners from the outside—this is not a scenario here. So many features of the Geneva agreement need to be discussed and refined. You can't describe the international presence before you know how feasible the agreement is.
BI: What near term role do you envision for the EU, and indeed, for the Quartet, bearing in mind the Israel government's boycott of contacts with you, the UN representative and the Russian envoy due to your contacts with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat?
Otte: The Quartet is not dead, but it is not very active. The real effect of the boycott is not the dispute over who shake's Arafat's hand and when, but the paralysis of the Quartet. Then too for the moment, the US, an important member of the Quartet, is not engaging. The monitoring team under Ambassador John Wolfe has left, and following the attack on the Americans in Gaza, US personnel refrain from being present in the Palestinian territories. Nor has there been any meeting of the Quartet envoys. The US argues that there is no Palestinian partner. We'll see now if the Abu Ala government is serious about continuing the reform process and acting decisively in the security area, and whether Israel seeks to engage. Then perhaps Washington will return and try to restart something.
Then we'll really have to deal with the Israeli ban on meetings with all people who meet with Arafat. This is self-defeating for Israel, since the EU, the UN and the Russians now hear only the Palestinian side of the story. I am embarrassed because I know and like Israel well, I like the people, and I could be a useful and friendly interpreter of Israeli positions.
BI: How do you address the interaction between the Geneva accord and the rest of the Arab world?
Otte: Geneva brings a message to the Arab countries to be more forthcoming, to help the Palestinians by sending the right message to the Israeli public. The Arabs should better explain the Arab summit Beirut initiative, which is in the roadmap, to the Israeli public. This is a very powerful text. I tell Arab friends in a friendly way, you haven't sold it well enough, you should agree, for example, to be interviewed by Israel television. I have suggested to the Saudis, the Arab League secretary general, the Jordanians and Egyptians to look for better ways to promote the Arab summit initiative.-Published 13/11/03©bitterlemons-international.org
Ambassador Marc Otte is European Union special representative for the Middle East peace process.