A pro-Palestinian listserv to which I subscribe invited subscribers to submit comments on the recently publicized "Geneva Accord," an attempt by private citizens of Israel and the Occupied Territories to produce a model peace plan their leaders might be induced to accept. As a non-Palestinian, I don't feel that my opinion is of much account. But I wrote out my comments, which were mostly negative. So now, after some editing, I'll post them here.
1. Mentioned first because it's actually in the Preamble: the Palestinians would be acknowledging not merely the right of the state of Israel to exist, but the "right of the Jewish people to statehood"--a significant and damaging policy change. It implies that Israel's rulers have a right to keep it permanently Jewish, or Jewish-controlled even if non-Jews become a majority. (An alternate proposal by Israeli settlers reportedly urges that the Occupied Territories be merged with Israel to form one country, with a constitutional provision that the Prime Minister always be Jewish--even though everyone realizes non-Jews would be a majority in such a country within a very few years.) The wording of the Geneva Accord Preamble is a gratuitous slap at the Arabs who live in Israel now, who can be viewed as having heroically resisted pressure to leave their homeland.
2. The Palestinians would be giving up the absolute right of return to Israel. It would be treated simply as one of the many countries in which refugees might want to settle permanently; like the others, it would be free to say how many it would accept. The Accord says Israel might be guided by the average of the numbers submitted by other countries, but even that would not be a binding promise. Refugees who denounced the agreement and refused to go wherever they were ultimately told would lose their refugee status and benefits.
The Israelis have never committed themselves even to allowing an unlimited number of refugees to return to a new Palestinian state. This proposal would allow that. And it's possible that if the refugees were given a free choice, concern for their physical safety would induce many of them to opt for the new state. Nevertheless, the proposal should be rejected. In addition to the injustice done the Palestinians, it would set a horrific precedent.
3. I thought on first reading that the Accord included an acceptable resolution of the issue of settlements. Ehud Barak's offer to the Palestinians several years ago, which they rightly rejected, would have given them only 80 percent of the West Bank. This proposal would give them 98 percent, plus an equal amount of other land (mostly in the Negev) to compensate for the 2 percent Israel would be keeping. I knew that meant there would still be some settlers east of the Green Line, under Israeli sovereignty, after the completion of phased relocations. But I assumed that if the negotiators were saying Israel would need only 10 percent of the land it was demanding several years ago, their idea involved evacuating all but about 10 percent of the settlers.
Now I realize I was wrong: the plan is for fully 75 percent of the settlers to remain. One can only imagine the disputes that would occur as natural growth set them to clamoring for more land. This offer is no more acceptable than Mr. Barak's.
4. Palestine would be barred from having a military establishment. This has long been considered a likely part of any agreement. But it constitutes a denial of true sovereignty. A military force should be allowed, and until it's functional, there should be no pressure to disband irregular militias.
5. Numerous other provisions, such as the policing of the Palestinians' borders with Arab countries and the Israelis' right to train their air force in Palestinian air space, are insulting and inconsistent with sovereignty. The agreement seems to be predicated on the notion that the Palestinians deserve to be punished for something, when in fact it's the Israelis who deserve to be punished.
6. If the Implementation and Verification Group described in the Accord were to work hand in glove with the Israelis, the Multinational Force could turn into another army of occupation.
In encouraging free-lance negotiators to meet and exchange ideas, President Arafat has shown a genuine desire for peace. He should take this proposal seriously and give it careful consideration. I believe that if he does, he will, regretfully, reject it.
But Prime Minister Sharon, who condemned it out of hand, has refused even to give peace a chance.