The Geneva Accord
A Seriously Flawed Plan
by Phyllis Bennis

December 13, 2003
First Published in ZNET

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The "Geneva Accord" drafted and signed by Palestinian and Israeli negotiators acting in their private capacity has received extensive international attention. The Accord is apparently based on earlier discussions begun during the Taba talks of January 2000 that followed the failed Camp David summit; Taba broke down without an agreement when Bill Clinton was replaced by George Bush and when Labor's Ehud Barak by Likud's Ariel Sharon. Official Palestinian-Israeli talks have been largely non-existent during the years since.

There are some positive features in the Geneva Accord missing from earlier "peace processes" including the Madrid, Oslo and Camp David approaches. They include the recognition that the fundamental issues – establishment of a Palestinian state, borders, refugee rights, settlements, Jerusalem, etc. – could not be delayed until a mythical "final status" long after negotiations are underway, but must be spelled out at the beginning so both parties are clear what the results will be. (Although it should be noted that Geneva refers to still-undefined arrangements regarding control of water, etc., which may turn out to be the equivalent of the earlier "final status" failures.)

Geneva also refers, albeit obliquely, to a commitment to work towards an end to all weapons of mass destruction, conventional and unconventional, throughout the Middle East, the first time the need to eliminate Israel's nuclear arsenal was ever even hinted at in peace negotiations. There are some additional advances from earlier processes including the presence of international monitors to verify compliance (although this ostensibly "Multinational" force would almost certainly be dominated by Americans, and would be present only inside Palestine, not in Israel), and the agreement that Israeli settlements would be evacuated and turned over intact to Palestinian sovereignty.

However, the overall plan is seriously undermined by its failure to recognize military occupation as the fundamental cause of the conflict. And further, when evaluated from the vantage point of a commitment to human rights and international law as the necessary foundations for a just and comprehensive peace, the Accord is seriously flawed, and holds within it dangerous inadequacies.

This is particularly visible in the final section, Article 17, of the Agreement. It calls for a United Nations Security Council and General Assembly "resolution endorsing the agreement and superceding the previous UN resolutions." Such a move denies the legitimacy and importance of international law in the conflict. It would eliminate all existing resolutions – which include those identifying East Jerusalem as Occupied Territory, calls to dismantle all the settlements, iteration of the right to return for Palestinian refugees, and more – and threatens to remove the question of Palestine from its 50-plus year venue in the United Nations.

Next, there is a clear disparity between how the two "official" sides are viewing the Geneva process, and thus a distinction between how they will respond. The Palestinian side, led by Yasir Arafat, has essentially [albeit unofficially] endorsed Geneva. As a result, the Palestinian concessions in this draft (regarding refugees, Jerusalem, borders, sovereignty, etc.) will likely become the permanent starting point for any future official negotiations. The Israeli government, on the other hand, has harshly condemned the process, and therefore in any future negotiations the Israeli government will not be accountable to, and instead will likely view concessions made in Geneva as irrelevant to their new starting point, thus giving them significant negotiating advantage.

There is no mention anywhere in the text of the word "occupation," and, despite references to UN resolutions 242 and 338, there is no articulated commitment to ending the occupation. Instead, there is the statement that "this Agreement …by its fulfillment will constitute … the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in all its aspects." Thus any further struggle for a broader level of sovereignty, etc., would be deemed illegitimate.

The Accord's position on return is by far the most problematic. It does not explicitly "give up" the right of return, but it deliberately does not directly acknowledge it, and thus denies the full rights due to the almost four million Palestinian refugees. Instead, the Accord states that an "agreed resolution of the refugee problem is necessary for achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace." In a later section, entitled " UNGAR 194, UNSC Resolution 242, and the Arab Peace Initiative," there is direct reference to refugee rights, but they are blurred. It states that "UNGAR 194, UNSC Resolution 242, and the Arab Peace Initiative (Article 2.ii.) concerning the rights of the Palestinian refugees represent the basis for resolving the refugee issue," but then goes on to claim that "these rights are fulfilled according to Article 7 of this Agreement." The effect would be to simply assert that Geneva's Article 7 – which gives Israel the right to determine which and how many refugees in fact may return to their homes – is the equivalent of implementation of 194.

Equally negative is its failure to acknowledge Israeli responsibility for the Palestinian catastrophe of 1947-48, widely recognized as a necessary precondition to any negotiations over implementation of the right of return. The final section, in saying that the agreement would supercede all existing UN resolutions, means giving up the actual rights guaranteed in resolution 194.

The description of what a likely result regarding return would look like may well be close to accurate regarding what the refugees themselves would actually choose (except for the much higher numbers of Lebanon refugees who are much more likely to want to return to their original homes). But even those refugees who might ultimately choose not to exercise their right – choosing instead to return to the Palestinian state or some other option – are not prepared to give up their RIGHT to return, or to negotiate their individual implementation of the right without an official Israeli acknowledgement of complicity. And the right of return is an individually held right -- no negotiator can give away that right for someone else.

There are reports that the Taba talks reached an initial plan for Israel to indeed acknowledge complicity in al Nakba and/or to acknowledge the right of return, with implementation to be negotiated AFTER that acknowledgement -- so the Geneva language becomes a step backwards from Taba, not a step forward

Other problem areas include what are defined as security arrangements, many of which severely undermine the claimed "sovereignty" of the new Palestinian state. Palestine is to be a demilitarized state; there is no parallel restriction imposed on Israel's global-level military capacity, including its nuclear arsenal. Israel will be allowed to establish Early Warning Systems in Palestinian territory in the northern and central West Bank, and to keep its military forces in the Jordan Valley. The Multinational Force which is to "provide security guarantees to the Parties, act as a deterrent, and oversee the implementation of the relevant provisions of this Agreement" will only be stationed in Palestine, not in Israel where it might deter acts of aggression. And in anything connected to "terrorism" as well as any security issues in the Old City of Jerusalem, a "Trilateral Security Committee" composed of the two parties plus the U.S. will have authority, not the multinational force. That will give the U.S. dangerously high levels of control.

On the borders, Palestinian authorities and the Multinational Force will share official control – but Israel will be allowed to maintain an "unseen" presence at airports, border crossings, etc., for at least two and one-half years, with possible extensions of time. No such Palestinian (or international) involvement will be allowed at crossings into Israel. And the "Israeli Air Force shall be entitled to use the Palestinian sovereign airspace for training purposes" thus further undermining the Agreement's claim to "recognize and respect each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence, as well as the inviolability of each others territory, including territorial waters, and airspace."

The Geneva Accord recognizes both "Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples." But Israel is recognized in accordance with "the right of the Jewish people to statehood," rather than referring to the right of "Israelis" to a state. This, despite the language "without prejudice to the equal rights of the Parties' respective citizens," seems to effectively accept as legitimate the existing discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The draft accepts the annexation of the Jerusalem settlements, as well as some outside of Jerusalem, leading to half the total settlers and many of the settlements remaining in Israeli hands. While Geneva goes farther than Oslo or Madrid in calling for a 1 – 1 exchange of territory for that Palestinian land lost to those settlements, it still is flawed by requiring Palestinian acceptance of largely infertile land abutting Gaza in exchange for the built-up urban areas surrounding Arab Jerusalem which would be annexed to Israel.

It is possible that given the current disparity of power between the two sides, that something like the Geneva Accord may be the best that could be negotiated in the present climate. But even if that turns out to be the case, the fundamental principles of human rights and international law as the framework by which to judge its potential to achieve a just and comprehensive peace and an end to occupation must still remain. And when judged by those principles, the Geneva Accord of October 2003 still comes up short.

Phyllis Bennis is the author of Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN (Olive Branch Press, 1996) and Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis (Olive Branch Press, 2002). She is a Middle East analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org). Email: pbennis@compuserve.com.


Related Articles from Dissident Voice

* The Israeli Text and Context of the Geneva Accord by Shiko Behar and Michael Warschawski
* Who's Afraid Of International Law? by James Brooks
* The Geneva Accord: Beyond Time and Space by Yacov Ben Efrat and Challenge
* The Jerusalem Declaration by Sam Bahour and Michael Dahan
* Can It Ever Really End? by Sam Bahour 

Other Recent Articles by Phyllis Bennis


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