BACKGROUNDER: “Geneva Accords”

The so-called Geneva accords, signed with much fanfare on December 1, 2003 by self-appointed negotiators Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, garnered much excitement and praise in the international press. Editorials carrying such glowing headlines as “Israel: A moment to be seized” (Guardian, Dec. 2 ), “A small ray of hope that lights the path to peace in the Middle East” (Independent, Dec. 2), “A Mideast Beacon” (International Herald Tribune, Dec. 4, reprinted from the New York Times), “A Valid Peace Proposal” (Boston Globe, Dec. 4), and “Nudge Toward Mideast Peace” (USA Today, Dec. 3) characterized the proposal as a new and promising chance for peace.

The New York Times editorial pronounced the accords “a courageous feat” praising the unauthorized and largely unpopular negotiators while denigrating leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). “What is truly momentous,” wrote the Times, “is that Israelis and Palestinians of good will have done what their current leaders have shown themselves incapable of doing.”

The Boston Globe similarly elevated the non-official negotiators to a status above the elected leaders. “The launch Monday of a virtual peace treaty between unofficial Israeli and Palestinian negotiators…suggests that peacemaking is too important to be left to Yasser Arafat and Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.”

There were even news articles championing the proposal—this, despite the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists which directs journalists to ensure that news articles are distinguishable from advocacy articles with “analysis and commentary labeled and not misrepresent[ed as] fact or context.”

Reuters, for example, adopted a clearly partisan, anti-Israeli government stance, attempting to legitimize the proposal as “the alternative Geneva Accord.” Its drafters were characterized as “moderates” and contrasted to Israel’s government and leader, labelled “right-leaning” and “hardline.” Polls were quoted misleadingly to draw the groundless conclusion that support for the accord within Israel was growing and both the proposal and its Israeli drafters were attributed unwarranted authority and influence.(“Israel Urges U.S. Not to Meet Geneva Pact Authors,” “Israel Raps U.S. for Planned Talks with Geneva Authors,” Matt Spetalnick, December 2, 2003)

To help readers distinguish between objective reporting and advocacy journalism, CAMERA has prepared the following backgrounder on the Geneva Accords.

BACKGROUNDER: Geneva Plan, aka Geneva Accords, Geneva Initiative, Swiss Accords, Beilin-Abed Rabbo Agreement

Table of Contents

I. Overview

II. Who are the players?

A. Israeli

B. Palestinian

C. Foreign

III. Key Terms of the “Geneva Accords”

A. Israeli

  1. Security
  2. Religious
  3. Territorial
  4. Refugees

B. Palestinian

  1. Recognition of Israel
  2. Territorial
  3. Refugees

IV. Regional Attitudes

A. Israeli

  1. Attitudes Toward Accords and Negotiators
  2. Attitudes Toward Peace Negotiations and Current Leadership

B. Palestinian

  1. Attitudes Toward Accords and Negotiators
  2. Attitudes Toward Peace Negotiations and Current Leadership

I. Overview

This “virtual” agreement, as it is often referred to in the press, was conceived and carried out by former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin. His team of negotiators, operating independently of the Israeli government, conducted secret negotiations with a Palestinian team headed by former PA information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. These back-channel meetings which took place over a period of two years were hosted by both governmental and non-governmental European and Asian groups.

The plan is described by its drafters as a final-status agreement meant to bypass the step-by-step process of the most recent peace plan, or “road map” put forth by the US, UN, EU, and Russia. The starting point of negotiation for these accords was the endpoint of the failed Clinton-sponsored talks between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat that took place in Camp David in July 2000 and in Taba in January 2001. The Barak-Arafat negotiations ended when Palestinians rejected the proposals as unacceptable. The Beilin-Rabbo accords attempt to overcome Palestinian rejection by including greater Israeli concessions.

The plan envisages a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. Israel would evacuate almost all Jewish settlements and cede the Gaza Strip and 98% of the West Bank to a demilitarized Palestinian state. Israel would compensate the Palestinians for the settlements it absorbs with Israeli land adjacent to the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods and the Western Wall would remain under Israeli sovereignty while Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods and the Temple Mount would be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. The Palestinian refugee issue would be resolved through monetary compensation and absorption either within Israel, within the Palestinian state, or elsewhere.

The negotiators of the accord have undertaken a global public relations campaign to promote the accord to foreign governments and groups and to the Israeli and Palestinian publics, with a budget of 8 million dollars.

II. Who are the players?

A. Israeli

Yossi Beilin is the architect of the accords who as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1992-1995 masterminded the Oslo accords and initiated the back-channel negotiations leading to them.Beilin is currently a private citizen with no government position or representation. In the last government he served first as Justice Minister and then as Minister of Religious Affairs, but in the November 2002 Labor Party primary, he was allotted too low a position on the party’s list to realistically maintain his seat in parliament (Knesset). He resigned from the Labor Party to join the far left Meretz Party. In the subsequent general election, Meretz lost 40% of its popular support, winning only 6 of the 120 Knesset seats. Beilin, as a result lost not only his position in the government, but his own seat in parliament.

Daniel Levy serves as an advisor and assistant to Mr. Beilin and is in charge of “foreign relations” for the accords. He is the son of British Middle East envoy Lord Michael Levy, a major fundraiser for the British Labour Party and close friend of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s. Daniel Levy holds no political position.

Amram Mitzna, a longtime critic of Ariel Sharon, served two terms as mayor of Haifa before winning leadership of the Labor party in the primaries leading to the 2003 elections. He lost his bid for premiership in those elections, however, and resigned shortly afterwards as party chairman after being blamed for his party’s poor showing. He is currently a member of Knesset for Labor-Meimad.

Avraham Burg is currently a member of Knesset for Labor-Meimad.

Haim Oron, secretary of the Ha’shomer Ha’tzair Kibbutz movement, one of the founders of Peace Now, and treasurer of the Histadrut Labor Union is currently a member of Knesset for Meretz.

Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who co-founded the Center Party in 1999 with Dan Meridor, Roni Milo and Yitzchak Mordecai, was elected to Israel’s 15th Knesset. He served as tourism minister and minister of transport under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. In 2001, after a 2-year run in politics which included a failed bid for premiership, his party dissolved and Lipkin-Shahak resigned from politics.

Nehama Ronen held a seat in the 15th Knesset for the now-defunct Center Party. Ms. Ronen currently holds no political position.

Additional Israelis involved with Beilin’s plan include Peace Now leader Arie Arnon, Retired IDF Brigadier-Generals Giora Inbar, Gideon Sheffer, and Shlomo Brom, MK’s Yuli Tamir (Labor), Eti Livni (Shinui), novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman, businessman Avraham Shaked, and others.

B. Palestinian

Most of the Palestinians involved in negotiations are more closely aligned with the Palestinian leadership than are Israeli negotiators to their government.

Yasser Abed Rabbo was a founding member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). He later broke away to start the Palestinian Democratic Union. Abed Rabbo is an Arafat loyalist who served as minister of information and later headed Arafat’s negotiating team for Final Status talks. He resigned when he discovered that parallel negotiations were taking place in Sweden without his knowledge. He is a member of the PLO Executive Committee.

Hatem Abdel Kader is a member of Fatah Tanzim of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Kader was quoted in a December 1, 2003 edition of the Jerusalem Post as saying that the goal of the Palestinian negotiators was to create divisions in Israeli society and topple the Sharon government.

Mohammed Hourani is a Fatah Tanzim member and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Hourani did not attend the Geneva signing ceremony.

Kadoura Fares, a senior Fatah leader, is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and recently became a cabinet minister. Fares was quoted in the December 1, 2003 edition of the Jerusalem Post as saying that one of the goal of the accords was to create a rift in the Israeli street and a crack in the Sharon government.

Hisham Abdel Raziq is a Fatah member and Palestinian Minister of Prisoner Affairs. Although Abdel Raziq was quoted in an October 13, 2003 edition of Al Quds newspaper as saying the Geneva accords do not include a Palestinian concession on the right of return, he also stated in other interviews that the resolution proposed by the Geneva accords does not include a blanket right of refugees to return to Israel. (The ambiguity surrounding the issue of refugees is discussed below, under “Key Terms: Palestinian concessions.”)

Nabil Qassis is Palestinian Minister of Planning and former Minister of Tourism

Additional Palestinian participants include Qassis’s assistant, Sami al-Abed; Bashar Juma; Nazmi Shubi; Raith al-Omri; Samir Rantissi; Yezid Sayigh, Salim Tamari, and others.

C. Foreign

European Union (EU) — The EU reportedly provides much of Beilin’s personal funding. According to an investigative report by Yoav Yitzchaki published in the Feb. 8, 2002 edition of the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, Beilin’s salary is largely provided by the European Union (EU), as are his travel expenses. Beilin draws an annual salary of 350,000-400,000 NIS ( $80,000-$90,000) from the EU-funded Economic Cooperation Foundation (ECF) which he established. Beilin and Abed Rabbo have reportedly met with European Parliament President Pat Cox, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel and other government officials of European Union countries to solicit support for and funding to promote the project. The recipients have not divulged how much financial support each country is contributing to the Geneva Accord’s purported $8 million promotional budget.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey — The Swiss government provided funding and organizational help for the back channel negotiations. In addition, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has actively advanced the plan to British foreign minister Jack Straw, United Nations leader Kofi Annan, and to U.S. and European government circles. The Swiss Foreign ministry has also funded the Geneva signing ceremony, and is contibuting financially to PR efforts and promotion of the plan.

Alexis Keller, University of Geneva Law Professor; Pierre Keller, Swiss banker and vice president, Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross  The two-year, secret talks between Beilin and Abed Rabbo were promoted and facilitated by University of Geneva law professor Alexis Keller. Keller also provided financial support and logistic help, hosting some of the negotiations in his villa. His father, Pierre, a prominent banker and vice-president of the Red Cross, provided considerable funding for the secret negotiations. A team of Swiss academics assisted Keller to facilitate negotiations. Keller was provided a diplomatic passport and the assistance of a career diplomat by the Swiss government.

Russian Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov — Back-channel negotiations between Beilin and Abed Rabbo were hosted by the Russian foreign ministry in February 2002. Delegates met with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov to discuss proposals. Ivanov was later quoted by RIA Novosti, the state news agency of the Russian Federation, as saying that despite the country’s joint peace initiatives with the United States, European Union and United Nations, Russia would nevertheless launch an independent initiative if it saw a need for it.

Netherlands Foreign Ministry, Former Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen According to a Dutch weekly, Vrij Nederland, the previous Dutch foreign ministry hosted several rounds of secret talks between Beilin and Palestinian representatives.

South African Government, President Thabo Mbeki Mbeki and members of his government hosted and actively participated in a three-day, back-channel meeting between Beilin and Palestinian representatives outside of Cape Town in January 2002.

London’s Guardian newspaper — The Guardian newspaper organized and hosted a three-day, back-channel meeting between Beilin and Palestinian representatives in June 2002. Other participants included Chris Patten, EU Commissioner in charge of external relations; British Labor MP Peter Mandelson; BBC documentary-maker Peter Taylor; Lord Michael Levy, Blair’s Middle East envoy; former IRA commander Martin McGuinness and other Irish politicians.

Lord Michael Levy — As a prominent fundraiser for the British Labor party and a close friend of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s, Levy (also the father of Beilin’s advisor, Daniel Levy) was said to have played a key role in persuading Blair to endorse the Geneva Accords. Levy represented Prime Minister Blair at the Geneva signing ceremony.

Robert Malley — U.S. diplomat formerly on Clinton’s Middle East negotiating teams who has spent the past two years blaming Israel for the failure of diplomatic talks with the Palestinians, helped draft the proposal in Switzerland.

Secret negotiations were also hosted in Oslo and other European capitals. An unofficial signing ceremony took place on October 12, 2003 in Jordan.

III. Key Terms of the “Geneva Accords”

Below is a summary of the main Israeli and Palestinian concessions according to the plan. (In addition there are vague or unresolved issues regarding water rights.)

A. Israeli Concessions

1. Security

  • Israel will not impose an a priori demand for Palestinians to cease violence.

Israel has always insisted that any agreement or concession on its part be contingent upon Palestinian cessation of violence and dismantling of terrorist infrastructure.

While critics of the Oslo Accords faulted it for insufficient security measures and poor implementation, the agreements gave Israel responsibility for overall security of Israelis (Declaration of Principles, Article 8) with redeployment from territories (after an inital withdrawal from Jericho and Gaza) to be contingent on Palestinian assumption of public order and security. (DOP, Article 13, #3) In the immediate areas of redeployment, Israeli authorities maintained the right “to carry out engagement steps in cases where an act or an incident requires such action,” i.e. the right of hot pursuit. (Gaza-Jericho Agreement, Annex I, #9b)

The Geneva Accords, by contrast, merely call on the parties to “to engage in a comprehensive and uninterrupted effort to end terrorism and violence” but makes clear that this is independent of “any possible crises and other aspects of the parties’ relations.” (Article 2, #9)

  • Israel will abandon military security arrangements for guarantees based on an understanding of cooperation, mutual trust, good neighborly relations, and the protection of joint interests. (Article 5: #1)

Israel has always maintained responsibility for overall security of its citizens, with a strong military. Previous proposals have included security measures with checks and balances and military deterrence to protect Israel’s citizens from internal or external attacks.

The Geneva Accords grants responsibility for border control, intelligence gathering, prevention of terrorist attacks, and rescue and emergency missions to the Palestinian Security Force, to be overseen by a multinational force. Designated border crossings between Israel and the Palestinian state would be monitored by this force, with Israel permitted to operate only within its own territory to prevent people, goods or vehicles from entering illegally.

  • Compliance will be monitored by an international committee stationed in Jerusalem and consisting of representatives from the U.N., U.S., Russia, E.U., and other “regional” parties (presumably Arab States). A multinational force administered by this committee will be responsible for Israel’s security. (Article 3)

Israel views most of the international committee as pro-Palestinian partisans and incapable of objectively monitoring compliance. Historically, the foremost international organization, the UN, has failed to protect Israel from attack and has, at the initiative of Arab States, condemned Israel for protecting itself. Israel has consistently opposed such an international force and monitoring committee.

  • Israel will cede control of international entry points and border crossings to the Palestinian Security Forces. The accord also envisages eventual demilitarization and abandoning of military deterrents. (Article 5: #2, 3, 12)

Israel has always considered it a security necessity to control entry points from other Arab states. Although Jordan and Egypt have signed peace treaties with Israel, smuggling of weapons and infiltration of terrorists into Israel across these borders present the greatest potential threat to Israel’s security . The accord also envisages eventual demilitarization so that both sides are “free from weapons of mass destruction, both conventional and non-conventional, in the context of a comprehensive, lasting and stable peace characterized by reconciliation goodwill and the renunciation of the use of force.” Israel’s military might has always served as a deterrence against invasion and attack by other Arab states (Article 5 # 2)

  • Israel will give up all but two early warning stations in the northern and central West Bank, to be staffed by the minimal required number of Israeli personnel and to occupy the minimal amount of land necessary for their operation.

2. Religious

  • Israel will cede sovereignty over Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, to the Palestinians.

This represents not only a security concession but an extreme ideological concession of Israel’s Jewish religious and historical identity.

The raison d’etre of a Jewish State on the land of Israel is the historic and biblical connection between the Jewish people and the holy sites of Israel. Jewish reverence for the Temple Mount not only predates Muslim building of the Dome of the Rock but also the Solomonic Temple, which was built, according to Jewish tradition, on the “Even Hashtiya” (Foundation Stone upon which the world was created, where the Biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, and the foundation of Jewish existence). It is considered the epicenter of Judaism, where the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood and where the Second Temple was rebuilt before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

During the Jordanian occupation from 1948-67, Jews were forbidden access not only to the Temple Mount, but to all their holy sites—including the Western Wall (the outer retaining wall) of the Temple Mount. When the city was recaptured by the Israelis in 1967, Israel annulled the discriminatory laws, allowing access for all religions to their holy sites, and granted the Islamic Wakf (religious trust) civil authority on the Temple Mount. Palestinian and other Arab authorities have consistently denied any Jewish connection to the site. According to eyewitnesses at the Camp David summit in July, 2000 (and repeated in Palestinian publications), Palestinian leader Arafat insisted that whatever Jewish temple “might have existed” was not located in Jerusalem, but in Nablus. And Ikrima Sabri, the PA- appointed Mufti of Jerusalem stated that “the Al-Buraq Wall [Western Wall] and its plaza are a Muslim religious property, and the Israeli government’s decisions do not affect it. . . . The Al-Buraq Wall is part of the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Jews have no relation to it.” (Al Ayam, Nov. 22, 1997)

More recently, the mufti asserted:

There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish History… There is not a single stone in the Wailing-Wall relating to Jewish History. The Jews cannot legitimately claim this wall, neither religiously nor historically. (Die Welt, January 17, 2001)

Palestinian Authority Minister for International Planning and Cooperation Nabil Sha’ath has insisted that, “Israel demands control of the Temple Mount based on its claim that its fictitious temple stood there” (Al-Ayyam, July 27, 2000). And according to a diary of the Camp David summit negotiations in July 2000 by Israeli negotiator Shlomo Ben Ami, even Yasser Abed Rabbo refused to acknowledge the sacredness of the Temple Mount to Jews. In the Geneva accords, there is no specific Palestinian acknowledgement of the Jewish people’s singular historical connection to the site. There is only general mention that “in light of the religious and cultural significance of the site to the Jewish people, there will be no digging, excavations…” It is noteworthy that similar agreements in the past have not stopped the Wakf from carrying out construction work decried by archeologists as destructive to the remains of the First and Second Jewish Temples.

Muslims praying on the Temple Mount have frequently stoned Jewish worshippers praying below at the Western Wall. According to the Geneva accords, it would be the Palestinian state that is responsible for preventing the use of weapons and hostile acts against Israelis and Israeli areas from the Temple Mount.

  • Israel will rescind its Basic Law on a United Jewish capital nullifying its unification of Jerusalem. Israel will cede Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and the majority of Jerusalem’s Old City to the Palestinians, with the Jewish Quarter remaining under Israeli sovereignty. All but two gates (Zion Gate and Dung Gate) will be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty (with a special arrangement allowing Israelis safe passage through the Jaffa Gate, the heaviest accessed entry point from Western Jerusalem). Entry and exit into the Old City will be monitored and Israeli citizens and tourists will be prohibited from entering Palestinian areas without valid authorization.

As Judaism’s holiest city, Jerusalem holds religious and historical significance for Jews. Israel’s leaders have always maintained that while freedom of access to holy sites and cultural rights must be guaranteed for all religions, Jerusalem will remain the capital of the State of Israel, undivided, under exclusive Israeli sovereignty.

In 1980, the Knesset passed a law restating its position that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” and the seat of its government. The law reemphasized the commitment to preserve freedom of access to people of all religions to their holy sites. Until Jordan occupied east Jerusalem from 1948-67, the city had been undivided with Jews constituting the majority of Jerusalem’s population since at least the first modern census in the mid-nineteenth century. During the Jordanian occupation, Jewish holy sites were destroyed and Jews were forbidden from entering east Jerusalem. Israel reunified the city after gaining control of the area during the 1967 war and extended its jurisdiction over east Jerusalem, which had earlier been an area of Jewish significance. At the same time, the Israeli Knesset passed a law to preserve the holy places, ensuring freedom of access to holy sites. After the Oslo Accords were signed, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reaffirmed that “all governments of Israel, including the present government, have been fully confident that what was determined in 1967, what was legislated in 1980 — the capital of Israel, the heart of the Jewish people —  these are facts that will endure for eternity.”

  • Israel will relinquish sovereignty over its other Jewish holy sites, such as Tomb of the Patriarchs, Rachel’s Tomb, Nebi Samuel. There will be joint religious administration of these sites and special arrangements to allow Jews to visit them with designated shuttle facilities under international monitoring.

Palestinian devastation of Jewish holy sites in Nablus and Jericho, despite agreements and assurances that they would be guarded by the Palestinian Authority, and destruction of archeological remains of the Jewish Temples through Wakf excavations on the Temple Mount have reinforced Israel’s hesitation about ceding its holy sites to the same Authority.

3. Territorial

  • Israel will cede the entire Gaza Strip plus land adjacent to it (within pre-1967 border) to the Palestinians. Israel will evacuate all Jewish inhabitants in the Gaza Strip from their homes and will take sole responsibility for recompensing and resettling them. Israel will transfer exclusive title to all homes, immovable property, infrastructure and facilities to the Palestinians.*
  • Israel will cede the vast majority (98%) of the West Bank plus land adjacent to it (in the Negev, within pre-1967 border) to the Palestinians. Israel will evacuate Jewish inhabitants from their homes in the area ceded and will take sole responsibility for recompensing and resettling them. Israel will transfer exclusive title to all homes, immovable property, infrastructure and facilities to the Palestinians.*
  • Israel will provide Palestinians with a permanently open corridor between the West Bank and Gaza to be administered by Palestinians and subject to Palestinian law. Israelis, by contrast will require permits to travel on designated corridors that have been transferred to Palestinian sovereignty (Highway 443, Jerusalem – Ein Gedi and Jerusalem – Tiberias via Jordan Valley). These corridors will be under Palestinian sovereignty and subject to Palestinian and international force patrols.

* Although Israel would hand over the homes, infrastructure and immovable settlement property, this would not be wholly deducted from its assessed payment to Palestinian refugees. (See Refugees)

4. Refugees

  • Israel will recognize in principle a Palestinian “right of return” and will recompense Palestinians for loss of property resulting from their displacement. Israel will be require d to pay a total lump sum determined by a panel of experts appointed by an international commission. In addition, Israel will contribute to a refugeehood fund in recognition of each individual’s refugeehood. This fund will be disbursed to refugee communities within areas of UNRWA operations.

The value of settlement property handed over to the Palestinians will be partially, but not completely credited to Israel’s payment. The international fund will discount the credit according to an amount it considers to be equivalent to “damage” done by the settlements..

  • Israel will recognize the right of states that have hosted Palestinian refugees to remuneration.

No similar claim of recompensation will be made for Jewish refugees resettled in Israel for loss of property resulting from their displacement from Arab states. Nor will Israel be remunerated for serving as a host country to those Jewish refugees.

  • Israel will submit to an international commission the total number of Palestinian refugees it is willing to accept into the State of Israel.

The Geneva plan recommends as a basis for this number the average number of refugees admitted by third countries.

B. Palestinian Concessions

1. Recognition of Israel

  • Palestinians will recognize Israel as a “homeland of its people.”

This represents an ideological concession in granting Israel a legitimate right to what Palestinians see as their own homeland. In fact, although it has been billed as Palestinian recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish nation, nowhere does the Geneva document explicitly assert that the Palestinian state recognizes the legitimacy and permanence of Israel as a Jewish state.

2. Refugees

  • Palestinians will accept financial compensation and repatriation within Israel, the Palestinian State or a third country as a permanent and complete resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. (Article 7)

The relinquishing by refugees and their descendents of the ultimate right to return to what is now Israel is deemed unacceptable by Palestinian leaders, political factions and the vast majority of Palestinians. While the Palestinians would be conceding any future claims to refugee status on a national level, individual refugees would have the choice, under the Geneva proposal, of where to be repatriated and could insist on being repatriated within Israel. The accords would also further allow the continuation of individual claims until compete satisfaction with the implementation of accords regarding repatriation and compensation.

MEMRI reports that according to Hussein Hejazi, media advisor to the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, Article 7 was written in deliberately ambiguous language, in order to enable each side to win support for it. While the Palestinians claimed the document recognizes the right of return by referring to U.N. Resolution 194 as “the basis for resolving the refugee issue,” the Israeli side claimed the Palestinians had relinquished the right of return, with determination of the number of returning refugees by “the sovereign discretion of Israel.” 

3. Territorial

  • Palestinians will accept Israeli absorption of Jewish neighborhoods built after 1967 in areas of Jerusalem previously occupied by Jordan.
  • Palestinians will accept land within Israel (adjacent to the Gaza Strip and West Bank) in exchange for Jewish settlements (along the pre-1967 border) absorbed by Israel.

IV. Regional Attitudes

Promoters of the Geneva Accords repeatedly put forth the claim that a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians back the Geneva Accords, referring to the results a November 24th poll commissioned by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, co-sponsored with the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Washington. The poll showed 53% of Israelis ( interviewed by telephone) and 56% of Palestinians (interviewed in person) as supporting the principles of the Geneva accord. Drafters of the accord, and newspaper editorials alike present the accords as the will of the majority. As Edward Djerejian, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria and director of the Baker Insititute that conducted the poll stated, “This poll is a timely reminder of the fact that majorities on both sides are prepared to embrace an agreement that meets their respective core aspirations and interests.”

The results of this poll, however, remain in sharp contrast to regional polls taken over the same time period which show a minority of both Israelis and Palestinians supporting the Geneva agreement (see below). The discrepancy may be explained by the fact that the Baker Institute pollsters read only a summary of the agreement to those polled, and failed to include the fact that the Temple Mount would be under Palestinian sovereignty, instead stating ambiguously that “each side would govern its holy sites.”

Below is a summary of Israeli and Palestinian attitudes toward the Geneva accords and negotiators, as described by regional polls and newspaper articles.

A. Israeli

1. Attitudes Toward Accords and Drafters

* According to the most recent (October 2003) Peace Index survey released by Tel Aviv University’s Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, a considerable majority (64.7%) of Israelis consider the Geneva plan illegitimate and regard the drafters of the initiative as incapable of representing the Israeli national interest

* Only 18% of Israeli respondents believe that Beilin serves Israel’s national interests.

* The other Israeli participants in the Geneva plan — Avraham Burg, Amram Mitzna, Nechama Ronen, and Amnon Shahak — receive similarly low confidence ratings. (Burg-26%, Mitzna-22%, Ronen-7%, Shahak-33%).

* Fewer than 7% of respondents in the survey feel the initiative stands a chance of being implemented compared to 86.3% who say there is little to no chance of its being implemented.

* Israeli polls taken over the past month show minority Israeli support for Beilin’s Geneva plan, with percentages of those who support the proposal ranging from 25%-34%

Oct. 15-Shvakim Panorama poll, Israel Radio:
32.5% support (details of plan not fully disclosed) with 67% opposing extra-gove rnmental negotiations.

Oct. 17-New Wave poll, Ma’ariv:
27% support (details of plan not fully disclosed) with 57% opposing extra-governmental negotiations.

Oct. 28-29-Peace Index poll, Steinmetz Center for Peace Research:
25% support, with 65% opposing extra-governmental negotiations.

Nov. 19-Maagar Mochot poll, Israel Radio:
Of the minority of respondents who received the report in the mail and read it, 12% support and 25% oppose

Nov. 30-Dialogue poll, Ha’aretz:
31% support, 38% oppose

Dec. 2-New Wave poll, Ma’ariv:
29% support, 45% oppose

Dec. 3-Maagar Mochot poll, Israel Radio:
29% support, 43% oppose

Dec. 4-9-Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, Hebrew University:
34% support, 43% oppose

Beilin’s previous peace undertaking, namely the Oslo Accords, is regarded by the majority of Israelis as a failure. According to the October Peace Index survey, only 21% of respondents favor the Oslo peace plan, and 68% believe the Oslo Accords will not bring peace to the region.

* The Israeli government has denounced Beilin’s negotiations as subversive. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called them “the greatest historical mistake since Oslo” and government spokesman, Ra’anan Gissin, has described the Geneva Accord as “tantamount to Israel committing suicide.” Other government members have similarly denounced the proposal.

* Former Prime Minister and Labor Party Chief Ehud Barak, who had negotiated with the Palestinians under former U.S. President Clinton’s sponsorship, called the accords “irresponsible and damaging to the State of Israel” and called on the opposition Labor Party to avoid being a party to such initiatives that “confuse both the public and our friends alike.”

* Opposition members of Knesset have similarly opposed the agreement. MK Shimon Peres defended Beilin’s right to negotiate with the Palestinians but opposes the terms of the agreement, namely, giving the Palestinians sovereignty of the Temple Mount, employing international observers in Jerusalem’s Old City, and the call for Israel to accept Palestinian refugees.

* Other Labor Party doves, like MK’s Ben-Eliezer and Sneh similarly defend the right of Beilin and his team to negotiate but criticize the terms of the accord.

* Minister Yosef Lapid (Shinui) has described the negotiators of the accords as children playing charades. While he encourages dialogue with the Palestinians, he feels ” this must be done by the elected government and not a gathering of failed politicians like Beilin, Amram Mitzna, and Avraham Burg.” Similarly Yosef Paritzky (Shinui) states that this is an initiative of political has-beens making a desperate attempt to get attention.

2. Attitudes Toward Peace Negotiations and Current Leadership

* Support for current Prime Minister Sharon and his policies varies, according to the polls.

Nov. 30-Dialogue poll, Ha’aretz:
52% (including a relatively large percentage of Labor and Meretz voters) feel Sharon is doing a good job.

Nov. 21-Dahaf poll, Yediot Ahronot:
61% of respondents feel Sharon’s policy toward the Palestinian population is correct or too lenient compared to 35% who see it overly harsh.

Dec. 2-New Wave poll, Ma’ariv:
33% of respondents are satisfied with Prime Minister Sharon’s performance in general, and 59% are dissatisfied.

Dec. 12-Dahaf poll, Yediot Ahronot:
47% of respondents felt Ariel Sharon is a trustworthy prime minister, vs. 50% who feel he is not.

* An overwhelming majority of Israelis are willing to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, although they are disillusioned about the overall prospect of peace with the Palestinians.

* According to the October Peace Index Survey, 71% of respondents still want to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, but only 36% believe that it will yield results.

B. Palestinian

1. Attitudes Toward Accords and Drafters

* Although chief negotiator Abed Rabbo is an Arafat loyalist, he does not apparently enjoy much public support among the Palestinians. On November 28, Abed Rabbo’s house came under gunfire and he was denounced as a collaborator and traitor serving the Americans and Zionists. Following the December 1 signing, Abed Rabbo has been further denounced as a “coward,” “traitor” and “collaborator” in leaflets and at rallies of thousands of Palestinian demonstrators. Such demonstrations have taken place on a regular basis in the West Bank and Gaza, attended by thousands of Palestinians protesting the Geneva accords.

* Palestinian delegates were attacked by demonstrators in the Gaza Strip both on the way to the Geneva “signing” ceremony and on the way back.

* There is widespread opposition in the Palestinian public to the Geneva initiative.

October 15-20, 2003-Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO):
32% respondents support and 51% oppose the Geneva initiative.

December 4-9, 2003-Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR):
73% of the Palestinian public had heard of the Geneva Initiative. Of those, 24% supported and 61% opposed it. 

December 4-8, 2003-Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO):
28% support and 58% oppose the Geneva initiative. Only 29% are confident it will lead to a peace agreement, compared to 71%  who do not believe it will succeed in achieving peace.

* The Palestinian Religious Scholars Association, one of the main Islamic factions in the Palestinian Authority, issued a fatwa (religious decree) forbidding any Muslim from signing an agreement that abandons the right of return for all Palestinian refugees to their original homes inside Israel and labelling as “traitor” anyone who accepts compensation for that “right.” The fatwa emphasized that “resistance is the only way to solve the Palestinian cause.”

* Representatives of political f actions and Palestinian terrorist groups such as Fatah, Palestinian Legislative Council, Palestinian Democratic Union, Al Aksa Brigades, DFLP, and Hamas loudly and vehemently voice opposition to the initiative. The National and Islamic Forces, an alliance of Palestinian factions, have organized large and sometimes violent demonstrations protesting the accords.

* There is widespread opposition to the Geneva accords’ treatment of the refugee issue. MEMRI discusses this at length.

* There are mixed messages coming from Palestinian officials. Yasir Arafat and other PA officials have voiced support for the negotiations. Arafat sent his National Security Adviser Jibril Rajoub as head of the Palestinian delegation to the ceremony in Geneva. At the same time, Arafat and PA officials have emphasized that negotiators do not represent the official line of the Palestinian Authority and that the PA does not endorse the Geneva initiative. Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath declared in an interview with SAWA (American-sponsored Arabic radio) on December 7, 2003, that the Palestinian government “can never abide by such an accord” regarding its positions on the right of return, Jerusalem and the Israeli withdrawal.

2. Attitudes Toward Peace Negotiations and Current Leadership

* While Palestinian polls show varying levels of support for leader Yasir Arafat and his policies, both indicate a sharp rise in his popularity with the Palestinian public to make him the most popular Palestinian public figure.

Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, October 7-14, 2003 (PSR):
The survey shows support for Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat at its highest level in five years, increasing to 50% from an average of 35%. The survey also indicates strong support for Arafat’s policies (declaration of a state of emergency-66%, appointment of Ahmed Qurei as prime minister-61%, and taking control of the security forces– 60%).

Jerusalem Media & Communications Center, October 18-21, 2003 (JMCC):
According to this survey, opinion is more split. Still, a majority of 59% respondents believe Arafat is in control of the Palestinian situation and 60% believe he would be re-elected in free, democratic elections. In this survey, as well, Arafat’s popularity has risen. He leads all other Palestinian public figures, with 26% rating him as most trustworthy, followed by Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin at 11%. Similarly, Arafat’s Fatah faction is rated most trustworthy at 29%, followed by Hamas at 23%.

Palestinian Authority poll by its State Information Service (SIS) , October 14-17, 2003:
According to this survey, 64.9% of respondents believe that President Arafat should continue leading the Palestinian people.

Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), December 4-9, 2003:
Arafat leads all other Palestinian leaders in popularity with 38% of respondents willing to vote for him if elections were held now, and his Fatah faction leads all others with a popularity rating of 25%, followed by Hamas with 20%. 

Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), December 4-8, 2003:
According to this survey, 65% support President Yasir Arafat, vs. 25% who do not support him.  Similarly, Arafat’s Fatah faction is most popular with 27% support, followed by Hamas with 19%.

* Both the JMCC and PSR surveys show overwhelming Palestinian support for violence, the intifada, and a belief among Palestinians that the intifada is essential to achieving national goals.

Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, October 7-14, 2003 (PSR):
Some of the results in this survey are contradictory and confusing. For example, 85% of respondents support a call for a ceasefire but 58% support Hamas opposition to an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire. Support for violence against Israelis, however, is unambiguous in this survey:

-75% of Palestinian respondents support the recent (October 4)  suicide attack within Israel-the bombing of a Haifa restaurant which wounded 60 and killed 21 people, including both Arabs and Israelis and families with children.

-54% support armed attacks against Israeli civilians living within Israel, and 90% support armed attacks against Israeli soldiers in the territories.

-59% believe that armed confrontations against Israelis have been more successful in achieving Palestinian rights than have negotiations.

Jerusalem Media & Communications Center, October 18-21, 2003 (JMCC):
-68% of respondents support attacks against Israelis as a suitable response to the current political situation.

-77% support continuation of the intifada in the territories.

-74% of respondents support continuing attacks against Israelis within Israel and/or the territories.

-62% support suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.

-84% believe that the intifada is necessary to achieve national goals, 33% believe that the intifada is the only way and 51% believe that it should accompany negotiations.

Palestinian Authority poll by its State Information Service (SIS) , October 14-17, 2003:
This poll shows a majority (59 %) expect the intifada to continue. However, 61% of those polled believe Palestinians lost more than they gained by the intifada, with 27% of believing the reason is due to the PA’s lack of successful exploitation of the intifada. Only 11% believe that suicide bombings harmed the intifada’s goals. A minority (27%) of respondents believe that the intifada achieved nothing, 43% believe it proved that a solution cannot be imposed on the Palestinians, 19% believe that it boosted Palestinian national unity, and 12% believe that it put the Palestinians back into the national arena.

Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), December 4-9, 2003:
-87% support armed attacks against Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza

-86% support armed attacks against Israeli settlers

-48% support armed attacks against Israeli civilians within Israel, vs. 50% who oppose such attacks

-64% believe that the intifada has helped achieve national goals in a way negotiations could not.

Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), December 4-8, 2003:
-50% support armed attacks against Israeli civilians within Israel, compared to 36% who believe they should stop.

-50% support continuation of the intifada, compared to 37% who believe it should be ended.

* Like Israelis, Palestinians are disillusioned about the overall prospect for peace.

Jerusalem Media & Communications Center, October 18-21, 2003 (JMCC):
According to this survey, 72% are pessimistic about reaching a peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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