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A vision exists for Middle East peace – it's 423 pages long

By: Patrick Martin, The Globe and Mail


U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the United Nations this week, refusing to give up on Middle East peace in spite of the failure of his emissary, George Mitchell, to find enough common ground between the two sides to justify a summit with Mr. Obama.

If there ever is to be a two-state solution to the 61-year conflict, the final treaty will look a lot like a 423-page blueprint released last week.

The detailed plan is the work of a private joint project that began in 2001 with meetings between an Israeli group, led by former deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin, and a Palestinian group, led by Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the executive committee of the PLO.

Known as the Geneva Initiative, for the city where the initial meetings quietly took place, the two sides produced in 2003 a model for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It remains the only such detailed proposal ever prepared jointly by people on both sides of the conflict. The principles embodied in that 34-page document served as a skeleton for the detailed annexes released last week.

“This is a recipe book for peacemakers,” Mr. Beilin said at a press conference to introduce the document in Tel Aviv.

“It shows that reaching agreement with the Palestinians is much easier than people think,” he said.

Most of the signatories of the 2003 accord also participated in the production of the annexes. Their work, which involved a large number of experts in each field, began almost two years ago.

In the wake of the conflict in Gaza, and with a new peace effort being made by Mr. Obama, Mr. Beilin and Mr. Abed Rabbo made it clear that negotiators on each side must waste no time in moving the peace process forward.

“We have faced such moments of truth and missed them too often in the past, because we thought we had all the time in the world ahead of us. That is a mistake we must not repeat,” they wrote in the introduction to the annexes.

Here are the kinds of questions the Geneva Initiative answers:

Where will the borders be? For the most part, they would run on or near the Green Line that delineated Israeli territory from 1949 to 1967.

Exceptions would be those areas of Israeli settlement within the Palestinian territory that are near the Green Line or near Jerusalem – these would be annexed by Israel – and those areas of Israeli territory that the parties agree should be annexed by Palestine. The latter areas are found in the southwestern part of the West Bank and the southeastern part of the Gaza Strip. The amount of Israeli land to be annexed by Palestine would equal the amount of Palestinian territory to be annexed by Israel.

The city of Jerusalem would be divided between areas of Palestinian sovereignty and areas of Israeli sovereignty.

What happens to the settlers?

Most get to remain where they are. This includes the major settlements of Maale Adumim, Modiin Ilit, Beitar Ilit and the Etzion Bloc.

Those Israeli settlers whose communities fall outside the areas annexed by Israel would be evacuated to Israel. These include the large northern settlement of Ariel and the settlements in and around Hebron in the south. Gadi Baltiansky, director of the Geneva Initiative's Israel offices, estimates that about 100,000 of the 300,000 settlers currently living in the occupied West Bank, not including east and north Jerusalem, would have to be moved.

The 200,000 Israelis who live in occupied areas that Israel now considers to be within Jerusalem would be allowed to remain and the area would be annexed by Israel.

How would Jerusalem be shared? The new settler communities in north Jerusalem would be included in Israel, along with the traditional Jewish neighbourhoods of west Jerusalem. Keeping these dispersed communities connected will be an interlocking transit system of tunnels and bridges that maintains ties between Israeli communities as well as between Palestinian communities.

The system also would permit Palestinians to traverse the area when travelling between communities in the north, such as Ramallah, and the south, such as Bethlehem.

The Old City of Jerusalem would be physically divided, with Israel retaining only the Jewish Quarter, including the Western Wall, while Palestine would have sovereignty over the other three quarters (Muslim, Christian and Armenian) as well as the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount.

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians would be allowed to cross from one side of the Old City to the other, though international visitors would be allowed to cross, provided they have the necessary documents to visit the other state.

Security in the Old City would be maintained by police forces of each state, along with an international police unit that would assist the two forces and serve as liaison between them. Along with a multinational presence on the Temple Mount, the police unit also would safeguard the integrity of the Haram al-Sharif.

The large Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives would be under Palestinian sovereignty, but would be administered by Israelis. The Old City police unit would police the road connecting Israel to the cemetery.

Will the Palestinians have a military force? Yes, but its nature and armaments will be limited. A police force, gendarmerie, border security and intelligence forces will be permitted, but not an army, navy or air force.

The Palestinian Security Force, a gendarmerie, will be permitted up to 400 wheeled armoured vehicles; otherwise no armoured vehicles, including tanks, will be permitted. Rockets, guided missiles, anti-aircraft weapons, artillery, mortars, mines and machine guns above a calibre of 7.62 mm will all be prohibited.

The use of any anti-armour weapons, explosives and grenades by the PSF will be controlled by the multinational force.

No armed militias will be allowed.

How can each side be sure the other will adhere to security terms? An implementation and verification group, composed of representatives of the “Quartet” (United States, Russia, European Union, United Nations) will be established to oversee the adherence to the terms of the peace agreement. The group will establish a multinational force to protect the territorial integrity of the non-militarized Palestinian state, as well as verifying compliance with the prohibition of certain weapons.

Will Gaza and the West Bank be linked? Yes, by a corridor that runs between the southwestern part of the West Bank to the northeastern part of the Gaza Strip.

The corridor will be on sovereign Israeli territory but administered by the Palestinian authorities. The corridor's roadway will be lower than ground level, enabling Israel to construct overpasses so that Israeli vehicles may cross.

The corridor may also be used to carry high-voltage lines, fuel pipes, water pipes and communication cables, as well as a railway if the Palestinian government chooses.

Will the two countries share water? Yes, in a new formula that varies significantly from the current sharing arrangement.

The water available to both Israel and Palestine is contained in aquifers that exist beneath both jurisdictions. Until now, Israel has used the greater share of this water.

Under this agreement, Israel and Palestine “agree on a just and rightful redivision of the shared water resources” that would reduce the share Israel uses and increase the Palestinian share. The new division will be based on international law and factors such as hydrology, human needs, economic circumstance and availability of alternate supply.

What's missing? The issue of refugees is absent from the annexes published this week, though both sides agreed to the principles of settling this issue laid down in the 2003 Geneva Accord. These principles include the right to an informed choice of where a refugee will make his permanent place of residence, and the right to compensation for lost property.

Among the choices of permanent residence will be: the state of Palestine; areas of Israel transferred to Palestine under the land swap; third countries that may offer residence to a declared number of refugees; the state of Israel, which will offer residency to a number of refugees based on the average number of refugees absorbed by third countries; countries that currently host refugees, subject to their sovereign discretion.

Asked what's keeping the Palestinians from signing on to these annexes, Mr. Beilin said that there really are no differences between the two sides concerning the subject of refugees, but that the “sensitivity” of the issue made it difficult for the Palestinian side to agree publicly to the refugee annex.

Palestinians familiar with the two positions say there is concern in the PLO over some of the ideas proposed by the Israeli side. These ideas include a cap on compensation for lost property, and the absence of a clause asserting the right of Palestinians to return to what is now Israel.

Mr. Baltiansky said that while “Palestinians won't sign an agreement that says they give up the right to return, Israelis won't sign if it says there is a right to return.” The answer, he said, was arrived at in 2003: “The right to return is not mentioned at all.”

“The fact is,” he said, “either we're dealing with a dream or with reality.” The reality says both parties must compromise on their dream.

A Palestinian official familiar with the two approaches says that while the Palestinian Authority “accepts that the implementation of the right to return may be subject to various practical and political conditions, the right to return, itself, must be absolute.”