An Accord No One is Hearing

In September 2000, amidst tensions heightened by the collapse of peace negotiations at Camp David the preceding summer, the second intifada began. The reasons for the failure at Camp David have been debated and examined at considerable length. The myth that the impasse was entirely the fault of Yasir Arafat — a notion promoted by Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton, and their successors — has done a great deal of diplomatic damage.

Despite this, negotiations resumed at the Egyptian resort of Taba on the Red Sea. Reportedly, a breakthrough was near when Barak suddenly terminated discussions. As the two sides have traded accusations, blame, and occasional proposals to end the conflict, some 2,700 Palestinians and 900 Israelis have been killed in ongoing violence.

The recent unveiling of the so-called “Geneva accords,” an unofficial peace proposal negotiated between former Israeli and Palestinian officials, represent the culmination of the Taba talks. They are very similar to what was close to being agreed upon at Taba, and even represent a significant improvement. The Sharon government immediately and angrily condemned the accords and the Israelis involved, but some 40 percent of the Israeli public support the accords.

Official Palestinian reactions have been mixed, and so far it is unclear how Palestinians in the Occupied Territories view the accords. But perhaps the most glaring reaction has been the one that hasn’t come. Washington and the U.S. media have largely ignored the Geneva Accords, despite the fact that the agreement would seem to be very much in line with the sort of settlement the U.S. claims to have been pressing for over the past 15 years.

What do the accords actually say? They call for full recognition between Israel and a new Palestinian state, including full diplomatic relations. Despite some reports, they do not call for Palestine to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, but rather for both states to recognize the other as the “homelands of their respective peoples.”

Israel is required to withdraw to the international borders that existed on June 4, 1967, but the two sides would exchange land to allow Israel to incorporate some of the nearest and largest settlement blocs within its borders. The land swap seems much more equitable than past proposals, apparently a true 1:1 trade, although the land Israel would get (denoted in purple on this map) is clearly superior in quality to that which the Palestinians would receive (denoted in brown on the same map).

Security arrangements are similar to past agreements, with joint patrols, some coordination, pledges not to aid any violence against the other in any way, etc. Palestine has much more control over its borders, however, than in previous agreements. It has sovereignty over most of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, with Israel retaining sovereignty over the Wailing Wall, under the supervision of an “International Group” that would include Israel, Palestine, the current “quartet” behind the U.S.-sponsored “road map” (the U.S., Russia, UN, and European Union) and other countries.

Palestine would get sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City (the brown sections denoted on this map), and Israel would get sovereignty over the Jewish and Armenian Quarters (the blue and pink sections, respectively, on the same map). The rest of Greater Jerusalem remains with Israel. Residents of Jerusalem who do not already have citizenship would become Palestinian citizens in the areas under Palestinian sovereignty. Both parties agree to allow access to holy sites under their sovereignty, and this is also ensured by the International Group.

The accords directly address the refugee question — which, along with Jerusulem, have long remained a sticking point — but are deliberately vague. Israel takes no responsibility for the refugee problem. Most will be resettled in the new Palestinian state, in their current host countries, or in third countries. In by far the biggest Palestinian concession in this document, the Palestinians agree to only a very small number of refugees being allowed back in to Israel for purposes of family reunification and agree to forego any future claims against Israel. (This concession will undoubtedly bring the harshest criticism, especially from Palestinians living outside the region.) There is an elaborate compensation process for those not allowed to return to their former homes.

The absence of women from the dialog is equally glaring, and the participants would do well to take lessons from the activists of the Jerusalem Link, a coalition of the Israeli feminist peace group Bat Shalom and the Palestinian Jerusalem Center for Women. The sorts of agreements they have been able to come to, through difficult but continuing dialog, are exactly the sort that will be needed for any real and lasting peace to take root.

Despite the questionable prospects for Palestinian acceptance of the agreement regarding the refugees, and the lack of a reconciliation process, the Geneva Accords are promising, in that (for all their flaws) they move closer to a just solution than any previous agreements. The harsh response from the Sharon government to the accords — and the fact that they were negotiated by people on both sides who are either out of power, or out of favor, or both — are the most likely reasons behind the U.S. decision to ignore them.

And the U.S. is hardly alone in spurning the accords. The UN, EU, and other world bodies such as have also been remarkably silent. The point is not necessarily to endorse the accords, but rather to acknowledge that there are partners for peace on both sides, and that they are prepared to discuss substantial concessions on many of the thorniest issues — such as borders, Jerusalem, and settlements — that provide a basis for real progress.

Public recognition of the accords would put pressure on the Sharon government to offer something more than a military solution to the conflict, and begin moving toward an end to the occupation. It would also likely boost support in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories for moving forward within the contours of the accords.

The world’s silence in the face of these accords, while people continue to die and have their lives destroyed, is unacceptable. But we can take hope in the accords’ reminder that Sharon and Hamas are not the sum total of Israel and Palestine. There remain those who continue to work for peace, and — if the rest of the world is willing to embrace their efforts — a sea change in the Middle East remains possible.

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