#29: The Geneva Initiative
(December 12, 2003)
Whenever Israelis and Palestinians discuss coexistence, it is a positive development. The Geneva Initiative has helped focus attention on the prospects for peace and created a mood of optimism.
No agreement can be made with the Palestinians without the full support of Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian Authority President could proclaim the Geneva Initiative to be his own policy, but he has not done so; therefore its possibility of implementation is close to zero.
No agreement with the Palestinians will have any authority without the backing of the democratically elected government of Israel. The current government does not support the Geneva plan and was elected by an overwhelming margin largely on the basis of the electorate’s rejection of much of the substance of the plan.
Since Israel is a democracy, it is possible that Israeli public opinion could shift if Israelis were convinced that the Palestinians would finally end their conflict with Israel on the basis of the Geneva Initiative. In that case, the existing government, or a new government (which is one of the goals of the plan’s sponsors) could adopt the plan. As a dictator, however, Yasser Arafat has no such pressure to respond to Palestinian public opinion even if most Palestinians favored the Geneva Initiative.
Shortly after the plan was announced, a James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy poll showed a narrow majority of Palestinians and Israelis supported it; however, two other polls of Israelis conducted by Maariv and Israel Radio found pluralities opposed the agreement. Other polls show conflicting attitudes. For example, an October 2003 poll by the Palestinian Center for Public Policy found that 59% of Palestinians support continued attacks inside Israel even if Israel were to withdraw to the 1967 border and grant the Palestinians a state in the whole of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The Substance of the Initiative
The plan calls for mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine and the right to secure and defensible borders. It further proclaims the agreement the end of the conflict.
Israel and Palestine will cooperate in a wide variety of endeavors for mutual benefit.
The plan provides detailed guidelines for implementing many of its provisions.
The corridor connecting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will remain under Israeli sovereignty and this will provide Israel an easy means of cutting the Palestinian state in two in the event of a breach of the security arrangements in the plan.
Palestine will be a “non-militarized” state, which should minimize the threat to Israel.
Laws are to be promulgated to prevent incitement.
A menu of options is offered to solve the problem of Palestinian refugees, and Israel is given discretion as to how many it will allow to enter its borders.
A method of resolving disputes is specified.
A peace agreement is meaningless if there is no peace. The Geneva Initiative does not require an end to terror in advance of the implementation of its terms, so Israel is being asked to make territorial compromises and accept the creation of a Palestinian state without the Palestinians first having to satisfy the road map requirement that it dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.
The Palestinian terrorist factions rejected the Geneva Initiative and recent cease-fire talks, making clear their determination to continue their war against Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are committed by their covenants and philosophies to the destruction of the Jewish state and cannot accept any compromise. The Palestinian Authority itself does not recognize Israel, and continues to publish maps that replace Israel with Palestine.
The initiative does away with the key elements of the road map calling for reform of the Palestinian Authority.
The plan relies on the quartet to monitor the agreement. This means that Israel would have to trust that its concerns would be fairly considered by three parties, the UN, EU, and Russia, that have been consistently hostile to its interests. Only the United States could be expected to be sympathetic to Israeli claims.
Jews are to be evacuated from settlements, but their property is to be transferred to the Palestinians without any compensation.
Only Arabs would be allowed as residents of Palestine, but Arabs are permitted to be citizens of Israel.
Though the agreement says that Palestine will be “non-militarized,” it is difficult to believe that the Palestinians would accept such a limitation on their sovereignty over the long run, or that Israel would be able to enforce it without the use of force.
A Palestinian Security Force is responsible for enforcing the rule of law, and its members are the only individuals allowed to carry weapons; however, this is precisely the arrangement agreed to at Oslo that failed miserably. The Palestinians created a force larger than allowed under the agreement and the force never fully enforced the law. Furthermore, illegal weapons are now in the hands of hundreds, if not thousands of Palestinians. Both the Oslo accords and the road map called for the confiscation of these weapons. This has not been done and the Geneva Initiative makes no mention of confiscating illegal arms.
Only one sentence is devoted to the critical issue of incitement. The agreement calls for laws to prevent incitement, but these already exist on the Israeli side; it is the Palestinians who have made no effort to stem irredentism, racism, terrorism, and violence despite committing to do so in past agreements. The plan also makes no mention of Palestinian textbooks, which are teaching future generations a distorted version of history (e.g., by teaching geography with maps that don’t show Israel) that discourages coexistence.
A multinational force is to provide security guarantees to the parties, but the history of such forces in the region has proven that they offer little security for Israel. The UN force in Lebanon, for example, has primarily shielded terrorists operating there while providing no safety for Israeli residents living along the northern border. Such a force would make it difficult for Israel to protect itself from potential threats from Palestine. Moreover, if the Palestinians are committed to peace, they have no need for protection, except perhaps from Arab neighbors who may covet their land.
While the Palestinians pledge to protect the Jewish shrines in Jerusalem, history has shown that they cannot be trusted. The Palestinians have shown no regard for protecting the archaeological remains on the Temple Mount and have destroyed shrines such as Joseph’s Tomb. The agreement relies again on an international group to guarantee arrangements.
Israel will lose sovereignty over a large chunk of its historic capital. In the Old City, only the Jewish Quarter remains under its complete control. Two quarters, the Armenian and Christian, are handed over to the Palestinians without their consent. Beyond the Old City, Israel is given access to the Mount of Olives, but, in return, the Palestinians are provided access to a cemetery in the German Colony, which is at the heart of the city's nightlife. Ironically, the Templar Cemetery doesn't have any Arabs buried in it and initiators of the plan have been unable to explain why the agreement contained this provision.
Numerous Palestinian officials have repeated that they will never give up the “right of return,” that is, the belief that refugees should be allowed to go to live in Israel, a position that is universally rejected in Israel as a formula for the destruction of Israel.
While the agreement calls for Israel and an international fund to compensate Palestinian refugees, it provides no relief for the Jewish refugees who were forced to leave Arab countries.
The most detailed aspect of the plan calls for compensation for both the refugees and the states that hosted them. It is particularly outrageous that the Arab states should be compensated given the years they have mistreated the refugees, denying them citizenship and restricting their movement and employment.
The initiative leaves for the future several key matters for negotiation, especially water.
Israel is required to release all Palestinian prisoners without regard to whether they are terrorists, murderers, or common criminals.
Many of the key points, including those related to security, are supposed to be detailed in an annex that was mentioned dozens of times in the agreement, but never written.