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This commentary is one of a series of seven articles of views on "The Geneva Accords" by Israeli and Arab authors commissioned by the Common Ground News Service in partnership with Al-Hayat newspaper and reprinted by other regional news and media outlets.

A Flicker of Light in the Dark, the Geneva Document:
Will It Be the Salvation of Both Nations?


Mohammad Daraghmeh

The Geneva Document, signed by unofficial Israeli and Palestinian political figures, seemed, to many citizens of the two nations, a flicker of light in a very dark reality lived by the two parties for over three years. For the first time since the eruption of the current fight in September 2000, a potential solution, with a large content of realism for emerging out of a state much like a long war of exhaustion, has appeared on the horizon. The realism of this document stems from its ability to be implemented, as it was based on the conclusions achieved by the two parties in their previous negotiations. The negotiators themselves, who participated in previous negotiation rounds, picked up from the points where previous rounds left off.

“Our delegation carried with it maps and documents it acquired during the last official negotiations in Camp David and Taba with the Ehud Barak government, and commenced from that point to arrive at the document we have today”, say Kadura Faris, one of the leaders of the young generation within the Fatah Movement, and one of the prominent members of the Palestinian delegation to the Geneva negotiations. Kadura describes the Geneva document as “the best result reached by the Palestinian party in its negotiations with Israel since the Madrid Conference in 1991”, referring to the Israeli team’s acknowledgement of the Palestinians’ right to an independent state on all the lands occupied in 1967, with minor border modifications.

The Geneva Documents stipulates that settlements shall be combined in groups occupying 2.6% of the West Bank area, and Palestinians in return are compensated with lands in the Gaza and Hebron areas. Palestinian-Israeli negotiations documents show that the most that Labour governments ever gave to Palestinians in previous negotiations did not exceed 91% of the West Bank lands. It must be pointed out here that various national and Islamic Palestinian factions are in consensus over the fact that the independent Palestinian State represents the main objective of the Palestinian people.

The Document also sends a very important message to the Israeli street, from which the Palestinian position has been absent in the confrontation whirlpool, where the voices of the right-wing and extremism rise high above all others. “The Palestinian position in the Geneva Document presents a response to the Israeli and American claims that there is no Palestinian partner for peace”, says Dr. Khalil Shiqaqi, one of the most prominent Palestinian researchers and analysts. “The Palestinians proved to the Israeli street that they are partners, and it is now up to the peace powers in Israel to fight the election battle, take the leadership and grab the opportunity to achieve peace for both nations, based on this Document”, adds Shiqaqi.

The Geneva Document carries an equilibrium that provides it with an opportunity to be accepted by both nations, although some or perhaps many of them accept it rather reluctantly. In this Document, the Palestinian party achieves its objectives of a Palestinian state on lands occupied in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, and a solution to the refugee problem that provides for the right of return, in principle. The Document also comprises a solution to water problems based on sharing rights to common aquifers, and a solution to the prisoners problem whereby 90% of the prisoners are released in the first year and the rest over a thirty-month period. The Document also proposes a safe passageway between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Document provides Israel with a solution to the settlements issue by combining settlements in clusters, a solution in Jerusalem that gives it control of the Wailing Wall and the Jewish Quarter, and freedom from the “ghost” of millions of Palestinian refugees that the Hebrew state views as a source of danger threatening its existence.

Many observers in Israel view this Document as a basis for reaching an acceptable settlement if adequate climates prevail. “The current situation does not provide for the success of the Document, but when they get better, i.e. when the fighting stops, the Israeli public opinion may resort to it as an acceptable framework for a solution, or as a bridge that takes us to one”, says the former Israeli diplomat, Victor Nahmias. He adds: “The Geneva Document represents an initiative of hope, but the climate of war, that is not conducive to open minds and hearts, has obscured it”.

The Document affected the prevailing right-wing government in two directions. The first is that the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his deputy Ehud Olmert resorted to talking about a solution plan based on unilateral measures. The second is that the government resorted to a military escalation that has displaced the Document as the main subject of dialogue on public opinion. But observers in Israel see the Document as a moment of truth that will, by necessity, return to the middle stage, after realizing the limitations of military power. Nahmias adds: “The continued bloody clashes obscured the Document. Under conditions of killing, assassination and violence, hope and optimism recede, and priority is given to talk about violence and putting an end to it. But when the parties realize the limits of their powers, priorities will change and the Document will assume its position in seeking a solution and a settlement to the conflict, next to other peace initiatives, such as the Nusseibeh-Ayalon one”. He adds quickly “…and this will happen sooner or later. Israel will realize the limitations of its power. Its superior army will not vanquish the Palestinians, who will also realize that force will not compel Israel to change its positions”.

As much as it carries “pleasant” accomplishments for the two parties, the Geneva Document also carries “painful concessions” that represent the price for any potential settlement between them. These concessions represent obstacles that still persist and prevent them from reaching the majorities among their nations. On the Palestinian side, many activists within the refugee-rights circles express, in principle, objection to the Document.

Tayseer Nasrallah, head of the Committee for Defending Refugee Rights, with headquarters in the city of Nablus says: “The way we understand its text, the Document clearly abandons the right of return of five million refugees.

This is unacceptable to those refugees and to all the Palestinian people”.

But Dr. Khalil Shiqaqi does not see that the Document abandons the principle of the right of return, although it made concessions where return mechanisms are concerned. “In principle, the Document considers UN resolution 194 and the Arab Initiative launched at the Beirut summit conference as a basis for the solution. This does not imply abandoning the right of return, but rather that return mechanisms give Israel the right to decide the numbers of returning refugees, which represents a concession”.

Shiqaqi quickly adds, referring to the results of a survey conducted by the Palestinian Policy Research centre he runs, which indicated that only a limited number of refugees wish to return to Israel: “But the more important question is, are there many refugees who want to return to Israel or not?”

The Palestinian side to the Geneva Document has pragmatic reasons that justify the concessions included in this controversial item of the Document. “Let us be realistic. There is only one method of returning five million Palestinian refugees to Israel. It is simply ‘Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war”, as the Holy Koran bids, but is this realistic?” wonders Kadura Faris, the Parliamentarian and Minister who enjoys large credibility among the Palestinian public.

The balanced content of the Geneva Document makes it a basis for any potential solution in future. As Dr. Shiqaqi says: “If there is ever an opportunity for a political settlement, it will always be within the Geneva Document framework”.

Mohammad Daraghmeh is a Palestinian journalist and writer.

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From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 18-02-2004



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