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ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

Fatally Flawed Peace Proposal

The Geneva proposal fails to commit Palestinians to accepting Israel as a state, or to giving up the right of return.

January 04, 2004|Shlomo Avineri | Shlomo Avineri is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM — Now that the worldwide fanfare accompanying the so-called Geneva Accord has died down a bit, perhaps it's time to look at why most Israelis have failed to rally behind the unofficial plan's outline for how to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The biggest problem for Israelis is that what the document's authors claim it says and what it actually says are very different. Moreover, there are serious matters of credibility with the way the initiative was presented.

Take the identities of the initiative's authors. They presented themselves as independent Israeli and Palestinian public figures, intellectuals and writers. Not so. On the Israeli side this was true -- the initiating group included some prominent opposition politicians, intellectuals and writers. On the Palestinian side, however, the picture is very different: The chief Palestinian initiator, Yasser Abed-Rabbo, is a former Palestinian Authority minister of information and culture. Moreover, at the Geneva unveiling of the proposal last month, a letter from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, generally supporting the initiative, was read, and a number of Palestinian ministers also attended the ceremony. In truth, the Geneva Accord is a document endorsed by part of the Israeli opposition and most of the Palestinian governing establishment. This is not a document originating in both "civil societies."

The initiators present the document as signaling an explicit Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. There is nothing of the sort in the document. There is a vague reference in the preamble to the Jewish right to a state, but nowhere does it say that this state will be in Israel; it could be in Uganda. Since the root cause of the conflict lies in the unwillingness of Arabs to accept Israel as a Jewish state, many Israelis feel that the initiators were far from candid.

This applies also to the issue of the right of return of 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants, -- a cornerstone of Palestinian nationalist dogma. The initiators claim that in their document Palestinians explicitly give up the right to return to the property in Israel from which they fled or were expelled during the 1948 war. But this is not the case. It is true that in the document the right of return does not appear explicitly, but it does state that the refugee problem will be addressed according to United Nations Resolution 194. This 1948 resolution, while not mentioning a right of return specifically, does say simply and explicitly that the refugees "shall return." Every Palestinian child is taught that 194 is the international legitimization of the Palestinian right of return. Again, many Israelis felt the initiators were far from truthful.

On the issue of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, the initiators presented their plan as "insuring" that most settlers would remain where they were. Again, not so. A perusal of the maps appended to the documents shows that of the 220,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, 140,000 would have to be relocated. This is a considerable number, involving difficult political, economic and human decisions. Even those who support uprooting many settlers resent that the initiative's authors chose not to level with them.

There are further issues that come up when reading the document: The accord envisages setting up an International Implementation and Verification Group, which would be responsible for refugee resettlement, border issues and the complex structure that would oversee a redivided Jerusalem. Not only the U.N., the United States and European Union would be part of this group, but also the Arab League. Given the wide authority granted to this international body, many Israelis feel that their country's sovereignty and independence would be seriously curtailed if not forfeited, and the country would be turned into a quasi-protectorate.

To this unease is added the fact that the Geneva document stipulates that not only would Palestinian refugees of 1948 be entitled to compensation, which seems reasonable to most Israelis, but Arab countries in the region would also receive compensation from Israel for the years they have "hosted" the refugees. Given the cynical use many Arab countries made of the Palestinian refugees in the decades of the conflict, this seems to many a bit too much -- especially as it was never mentioned in the PR campaign preceding the final publication of the initiative.

One can understand why the Palestinian leadership, in which Abed-Rabbo has played a central role, feels that it has to dig itself out of the hole in which it found itself after years of involvement in terrorism and suicide bombing. It should not come as a surprise, however, that many Israelis -- including those ready to make considerable concessions -- feel that with the Geneva initiative, they have been taken for a ride by the Palestinian propaganda machine and some willful -- or naive -- Israeli accomplices.

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