Geneva Initiative, Between Comprehensive Solution and Fair Divorce
By Dr. Essam Abdullah
Eyes are set to Washington for a reaction regarding the details of the Geneva Initiative from 2003 after it had been forgotten, as well as to the annexes recently added to it (in 2009). All this, further to the words of officials in the US Government since Obama took office earlier this year. Those officials see an opportunity to gain fruit from the Geneva document as the basis of an anticipated peaceful solution. According to Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff, a peaceful solution in the Middle East will be based on the Geneva Initiative. The document comprises of 47 pages and was signed early in December 2003 by Palestinian and Israeli unofficial negotiators with Swiss supervision. It is currently witnessing increased interest when the work on its 470 page annexes – which detail a variety of solutions to the major points of dispute - is being completed.
It should be mentioned that the Al-Aharam Newspaper had presented the background to the Geneva Initiative immediately after the Accord’s signing, including opinions in favor and against and the full text of the accord accompanied by an article written by the writer of these lines.
It is true that nothing has changed during the past six years, since the signing of the Geneva Initiative at the Movenpick Hotel at the Dead Sea in Jordan, and that the situation may have even worsened. it is also clear, however, that things haven’t returned to what they were before the signing of the Geneva Accord.
Usually the description of new models paves the way for practical changes. According to the model or paradigm of Thomas Khunn, vision can become reality.
There always were secret channels that competed on improving the political situation between the two sides. The Oslo Accords, from 1993 for example was the first expression of academic work that transformed into Track II which further transformed to an official initiative.
During a period of two and half years, from 2001 till 2003, the Geneva document was drafted and completed. Its drafting was sponsored by the Swiss government which provided logistical assistance together with the international community. In order to complete the drafting more than 50 Israelis and Palestinians conducted meetings in several states such as the U.K.; Switzerland, Japan; Ramallah; Israel and Jordan.
The Geneva Initiative is to date the document which most closely resembles a future agreement according to a clear timetable. It proves that the conflict is neither eternal nor metaphysical, despite what many try to profess. It proves that there are central figures on both sides that are not willing to perpetuate the conflict under any circumstances. In addition, the Geneva Initiative has emphasized that the ability to reach peace is not and never will be lost because of the war on terror.
According to respected Israeli author, Amos Oz, the Geneva Initiative was the first Accord to discuss in detail the core issues of the conflict such as the refugees, Jerusalem and final borders. In all recent agreements including Oslo, the negotiators on both sides avoided the discussions on these issues and made do with marking a white line around these minefields. They delayed a solution to them for a sometime in the future. As for the Camp David Summit, it crashed in the face of these very minefields.
More importantly, the Geneva Initiative has defined in detail the price that has to be paid for peace and the painful and sensitive concessions needed to reach a final status agreement. It courageously confronted the ideological myths which previous initiatives tried to detour or deny – among them the myth that united Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and therefore cannot be divided. As opposed to the lack of initiative taken by the Arab world, the Geneva Initiative was the only offered solution that shocked one’s consciousness and changed one’s perception of the future.
The Geneva initiative considered the regional and international changes that required innovative ideas to impact the power-centers surrounding the conflict. In addition, it provided the terms and the political mechanisms to implement the agreement. In the future, the goal is to revive the Israeli peace camp; strengthen it and find a common political denominator that will unite it in order to confront the right-wing block and destroy it. I will add to that that the Geneva Initiative is grounded in international law and in previous official and unofficial agreements. The Geneva Initiative was also created on the basis of understandings that were previously reached and carries on from the point in which the Taba negotiations were halted in February 2001. In fact, Yossi Beilin sees the launching of the Geneva Initiative in December 2003 as the final day of the Taba talks. Beilin claims that the period between 2001 to 2003 was not a dry period because the negotiating process did not stop and witnessed several unprecedented initiatives such as the Peres-Abu Ala initiative (2002); the Ayalon-Nusseibeh declaration (2002) and the most important unilateral Palestinian initiative regarding the details of the agreement with Israel that was presented by Palestinian Minister Nabil Sha’ath to the Bush Administration represented by State Secretary Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (May 2002).
Beilin and his team members aspired to develop and renew the Clinton parameters. By those parameters, Clinton tried to convince the belated Yasser Arafat to support a vague political plan. Ehud Barak had supported that plan in the last quarter of an hour of his term as Prime Minister and Clinton tried to fill the plan’s gaps by proposing a settlement that provides both sides with their basic demands and dissipates their worries. A rudimentary Palestinian demand is full sovereignty on El Haram El Sharif because of its symbolic meaning. A rudimentary Israeli demand is that the Palestinian leadership will forfeit the return of Palestinian refugees into Israel and by so doing prevent a scenario in which Palestinians outnumber Israelis thus annulling the Jewish character of the state. At the end of the day the Geneva Initiative presents broad lines to the points proposed by the belated Yasser Arafat in his article to the NYT (February 2002) entitled: “This is My Vision of Peace”. Unfortunately the article was published at a time when the American war on terror was at its peak and when the Palestinian leadership was blamed for supporting terror after the Karina A ship was revealed as leading weapons from Iran to the Red Sea. Also, the period marks the beginning of Israel’s efforts to isolate Yasser Arafat and to sabotage the PA’s institutes. Most importantly, that period was marked by the American Administration’s attempts to draw specific proposals for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which resulted in UN Security Resolution 1397 and in Bush’s speech of June 2002 which emphasized the Palestinian right for establishing a Palestinian state on 1967 borders.
This is the core of the Geneva Initiative: a comprehensive agreement as opposed to an interim agreement, including a clear timetable. According to Amos Oz, the Geneva Initiative is best viewed not as a honeymoon declaration between the sides but rather as a fair divorce.
Finally, the document is a model for a solution and not an official document between governments. It is a plan for an accepted settlement between the sides embodying two things lacking in other initiatives: first, it points to the end of the conflict; second, it doesn’t leave any question marks with respect to outstanding issues thus enabling an end to all claims.