Home Page

‘The intricacies of the peace process’

By Hisham Khatib, The Jordan Times, 24.12.07

A possible peace between Israel & Palestine; an insider’s account of the Geneva Initiative
Menachem Klein
Translated by Haim Watzman
Colombia University Press, 2007
A fortnight ago, I was on a short visit, with my son, to Arab Jerusalem (East Jerusalem as it is now called). We had dinner in the American Colony Hotel along Nablus Road. In the hotel lobby a flyer announced discussions and signing by Menachem Klein of his new book “A Possible Peace Between Israel & Palestine”, that same evening.
I never met Klein before, but I read his 2001 book “Jerusalem: The Contested City”. We forgot about the dinner and rushed to the discussion. To my dismay, only Arabs were in the place (beside the American Colony Library owner who organised the event). After 40 years of occupation, Arab Jerusalem, which was the cultural capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan prior to the June 1967 war, is now a drowsy and dirty city, with an exhausted population.
Klein’s new book is about the 2003 Geneva Initiative, an accord by an independent Palestinian team headed by Yasser Abed-Rabbo and an independent Israeli team headed by Yossi Beilin. As the book’s cover flap mentions, in 2003, after two years of negotiations, a group of prominent Israelis and Palestinians signed a model peace treaty. The document, popularly called the Geneva Initiative, contained detailed provisions resolving all outstanding issues between Israelis and the Palestinians, including drawing a border between Israel and Palestine, dividing Jerusalem and determining the status of the Palestinian refugees.
The negotiators presented this citizens’ initiative to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and urged them to accept it. One of the Israeli negotiators was Menachem Klein, a political scientist who has written extensively about the issue of Jerusalem in the context of peace negotiations.
Although the Geneva Initiative was not endorsed by the governments of either side, it has become a fundamental term of reference for solving the Middle East conflict. In this firsthand account, Klein explains how and why these groups were able to achieve an agreement. He directly addresses the formation of the Israeli and Palestinian teams, how they managed their negotiations, and their communications with both governments. He also discusses the role of third-party facilitators and the strategy behind marketing the Geneva Initiative to the public.
Klein writes with the integrity of a scholar rather than with the concerns of an observant Jew, which he is. Therefore, his analysis and views carry weight, both with the Israeli establishment, which apparently occasionally seeks his advice, and with those interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict and the future of Jerusalem, like myself.
The Geneva Accord should be of special interest to Jordanians, not only because of it is an important achievement but also because it was finally concluded on Jordan’s side of the Dead Sea.
In the book’s introduction, Klein mentions that just before boarding a bus in front of the M?venpick Hotel, on Jordan’s Dead Sea coast, a group of people paused to have their picture taken. The date was October 13, 2003, and the group was made up, for the most part, of men and women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, although it also included some children. Nothing about them suggested that they were anything but tourists. Neither did anything in the way the people related to each other suggest that they represented two peoples who at that very moment were fighting a bloody war, the latest phase in a conflict that had begun 120 years before. Two hours previously, they had signed a letter to the foreign minister of Switzerland (who promoted the meeting), to which they attached a 50-page document. It was the Geneva Draft Peace Initiative, a detailed model Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, negotiated over the course of two years.
The accord is termed as the track-two process. It is citizens’ diplomacy, with unofficial talks, and does not represent governments or any formal sanctions, in contrast the official track-one process.
In Klein’s view, its most notable achievement is to have become the reference framework for any discussion about the shape of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The dissemination of the agreement to all Israeli homes at the end of 2003, and its presentation to the public in Israel and the Palestinian territories in an unprecedented campaign, redirected the debate from the process to the agreement itself. The details of the accord, which was published at the end of 2003, are known to all those interested and involved in ending the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
The attempt of the accord to achieve legitimacy was conducted on two axes. One was directed to internal Israeli and Palestinian public opinion. The second was meant to achieve the support of governments and important figures in the international community. This latter effort includes the international launching ceremony held on December 1, 2003, in Geneva, and the Geneva teams’ meetings with the US secretary of state, the secretary general of the United Nations, the heads of European countries, the president of Egypt, and the kings of Jordan and Morocco. The two axes were mutually reinforcing.
Klein’s book is not only about the Geneva Accord. It describes and critically covers every significant peace attempt since the Oslo agreement, including the Camp David summit, the Taba talks, the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement, the Ayalon-Nusseibeh document, the Oklahoma track, etc., and tries to explain their weaknesses and strengths, and why they did not succeed.
Of the book’s three main chapters, I felt that the most interesting was the chapter on “Dividing divided Jerusalem”. Klein is an expert on Jerusalem and this lengthy chapter covers every single detail about the possible division of the city into two capitals and its future management.
I hope that in the near future, this balanced and informative book will be translated into Arabic in order to acquaint our people with the intricacies of the peace process and the prospects of having an Arab capital in our part of Jerusalem.