THE GENEVA INITIATIVE AND ACCORD, 2003
In October of 2003, just months after the Road Map for Peace had been declared a lost cause by Israeli and Palestinian officials alike, its spirit was revived in the form of an independently developed back-channel effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that became known as the Geneva Initiative, or alternatively, the Geneva Accord. Incorporating ideas from the Road Map as well as the 2000 Clinton Parameters, the 2001 Taba talks and the Bush speech of June 2002, the Geneva Initiative of 2003 was a model permanent status agreement negotiated between between key participants in previous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, such as former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and then PA Minister of Culture and Information Yasser Abded Rabbo, as well as intellectuals whose objective was to provide “realistic and achievable solutions on all issues [and] a detailed blueprint of Israeli-Palestinian peace.” In fact, the Geneva Initiative involved a reversal of the gradualist approaches to resolving the conflict which had previously failed, for example at Oslo. Hence, instead of discussing transitional arrangements in the absence of a mutually accepted end goal, the negotiators involved in the Geneva Initiative "agreed on the basic details of the final product (mutual sovereignty, and delineated boundaries) and then began to look for the mechanisms to implement it." The Geneva Accord that has resulted from this process echoes the Clinton Parameters in stipulating mutual recognition of the Israeli and Palestinian right to two separate states, the removal of Jewish settlements, a comprehensive solution to the refugee problem and the demilitarization of the Palestinian state. The Geneva Initiative envisages a Palestinian state in 97% of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with land swaps on a one-to-one basis to compensate for the annexation of some Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank. The Accord further states that the projected border must be recognized by the parties as "the permanent, secure and recognized international boundary between them". In order to ensure territorial contiguity of the Palestinian territories, a ‘safe passage corridor’, connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, will be under Israeli sovereignty but permanently open and administered by Palestinians. According to the drafters of the Geneva Initiative, the total number of Palestinian refugees allowed into Israel will be at the sovereign discretion of Israel. Thus, in exchange for Israel's return to the 1967 borders, the Palestinians will have to de facto relinquish their right of return. While the Clinton Parameters contained a clause saying that “Israel is prepared to acknowledge the moral and material suffering caused to the Palestinian people as a result of the 1948 War,” the Geneva document does not dwell on the responsibility for the refugee crisis. Serving as both Israel’s and Palestine’s capital, Jerusalem is to be partitioned according to the principle of Israeli control over Jewish neighborhoods and Palestinian control over Arab neighborhoods. Consequently, Palestinians would have sovereignty over but Jews full access to the Al-Haram Ash-Sharif ("Temple Mount" for Jews) site, on which the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located. Although the Geneva Initiative was the product of unofficial, back-channel efforts, it received ample international attention and was soon endorsed by various prominent individuals such as then UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan, former US Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as the late Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South African President Nelson Mandela. Furthermore, 58 former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other global leaders issued a joint statement expressing their strong support for the Geneva Initiative. Among the signatories were former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former President of the European Commission Jacques Delors, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez and Nobel Peace Prize Winner and former South African President F.W. de Klerk. The Middle East Quartet also welcomed the plan although it did not endorse its specific contents. With regard to the immediate official parties to the conflict, the initiative was met with furious disapproval by Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, who represented it as a plot against his government. And while Palestinian President Arafat initially called the Geneva Accord "a brave initiative that opens the door to hope" he ultimately did not endorse it officially. When it came to the Israeli and Palestinian public, there seemed to be "a great deal of variation of opinion within both communities and also a great deal of ignorance about the details of the Accord." For Palestinians, the most contentious provision in the Accord is the Israeli sovereignty over the resolution of the refugee problem, while Israeli criticism has been loudest with regard to the proposed Palestinian control over the Al-Haram Ash-Sharif. However, the biggest flaw of the Geneva Accord might not be its inclusion of these seemingly unacceptable provisions, but the fact that some of its clauses are potentially unworkable. This is especially the case with regard to the rigid border regime proposed for Jerusalem, which ignores the fact that Jerusalem "is a living, organic, integrated city whose population […] continues to mix." Despite the flaws in the text and despite the fact that the Geneva Initiative never received official backing from Israeli and Palestinian officials, at least parts of the model permanent status agreement have become "widely, grudgingly accepted" among both camps and are still on the table in the current Kerry Peace Process.