The Geneva Initiative for the States of Israel and Palestine
It has been said that "Not the new is proclaimed but what is needed for the hour." This aphorism fits well with the current peace initiative for the Middle East presented in Geneva, December 1, 2003 and thus called both the Geneva Initiative and the Geneva Accords.1
I believe that what is especially important is the timing and the "Track Two" origins of the Initiative more than the actual content of the proposals which follow closely the positions set out at Taba , Egypt in January 2001. The January 2001 Taba negotiations had little time for more than the presentation of proposals. On 6 February 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister and wanted to review all the peace proposals.2 There are only a limited number of ways in which one can divide or combine geography. If one rules out a "one state for two peoples" arrangement, two states based on small modifications of the current division seems to be the only other possibility at this time.
Since 1947, there have been a host of peace-through-partition proposals for the Israeli-Palestinian lands - none of which has yet produced a real two-state structure in which Israelis and Palestinians could live in peace. The new plan, the Geneva Initiative, drafted by an Israeli and Palestinian team headed by Yossi Beilin, Minister of Justice in the last Labour-led government and Yasser Abed Rabbo, formerly the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Information and Culture is an outstanding example of "Track Two" diplomacy - unofficial but done by people who know the possibilities and limits of holding office.
The Geneva Initiative can be the start of a creative process toward two-state structures - a partition followed by close economic, social and cultural cooperation. The Geneva Initiative merits wide public support, for a two-state compromise can only be built "from below." There is a need to rebuild constituencies for peace within both the Israeli and Palestinian communities for there are currently numerous obsticles to compromise and cooperation: violence, a rise in the influence of extremist and mutually-rejectionist groups, a depressed economic situation, the difficulty of daily living leading to dispair, anger, and anguish. These difficulties are symbolized by the wall of separation being built. As the Geneva Initiative states "Recognizing that after years of living in mutual fear and insecurity, both peoples need to enter an era of peace, security and stability, entailing all necessary actions by the parties to guarantee the realization of this era."
The "Track Two" aspect of the Initiative is outstanding because there was no "Track One" going on. Even contacts between Israelis and Palestinians were difficult due to curfews and roadblocks. The contacts for negotiations were facilitated by Alexis Keller, a professor of European political philosophy at the University of Geneva. His father, Pierre Keller, had been vice-president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, thus well aware of the techniques and difficulties of international negotiations. Pierre Keller is also a prominent banker who was able to back financially his son's efforts and to raise other private funds once the negotiations were well along. The Kellers' Alpine chalet was the scene of two-weeks of drafting. The Swiss government was helpful with advice but played no leadership role. Alexis Keller's efforts are an encouragement to all of us involved in non-governmental efforts at peace-making.
Because of the current violence and tensions in the Middle East, the Geneva Initiative had to be drafted in closed sessions so that there could be no public debate during the drafting period. Now that the plan has been officially presented, analysis of the Initiative can be made both by Israelis and Palestinians and also by all who have worked for peace and justice in the Middle East. We can hope that the Geneva Initiative will provoke an enlightened debate. It is unfortunate that a few have made condescending remarks without weighing the whole plan. Whenever a compromise agreement is proposed, some writers bring out from old boxes the images of Munich and Chamberlain's umbrella, not to mention a knife in the back.
Since most of the Israelis who participated in the drafting of the Geneva Initiative come from the Israeli Left-either the Labour Party or the more left secular Meretz - some have tried to paint the Initiative as only a political move of the Israeli Left. Such criticisms overlook the dangers of the current situation with its increasing violence and fast destruction of economic and social conditions. The Geneva Initiative is a sign of hope at a time when "the realists" see only continuing violence, destruction and death, thinking (unrealistically) that one side or the other will just give up or be driven away.
In the same spirit as the Geneva Initiative, a less detailed set of principles for two-state structures were set out by Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh and signed by some 170,000 Israelis and Palestinians.3
Unlike the "Road Map" launched in June 2003 by "the Quartet" - USA, Russia, European Union and the UN -which hoped to reach agreements on some issues before going on to more difficult-to-resolve questions such as refugees and the status of Jerusalem, the Geneva Initiative has set out in detail what would be the final two-state structures. Thus, the Geneva Initiative is an historic turning point because it sets out clearly what each side is ready to give up in order to bring an end to the conflict. The Geneva Initiative is a real possibility of moving beyond the current deadlock symbolized by the tired leadership of Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. The Initiative holds out the possibility for new and younger leadership in the Israeli-Palestinian society to come to the fore. Such new leadership needs to be given international support, especially from those also working on "Track Two" efforts so as to end the cycles of violence and counter-violence and begin an era of creative cooperation.
1. For the text of the Geneva Initiative as well as a useful analysis of the provisions see the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information website: www.ipcri.org
2.For a good analysis of the Camp David and Taba negotiations see the study by the French public television permanent representative in Israel: Charles Enderlin Le reve brise (Paris: Fayard, 2002, 366pp).
3. For the Ayalon-Nusseibeh text see: www.mifkad.org.il/eng.