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Israelis, Palestinians present Middle East peace manual

By: The Guardian



TIRED of war and seeking lasting peace, Israeli and Palestinian activists have presented the most detailed vision yet of what a truce deal could look like, more than 400 pages crammed with maps, timetables for troop withdrawals and even a list of weapons a non-militarized Palestine would be barred from having.
The development came as a United Nations report said there was evidence that both Israeli and Palestinian forces committed war crimes in the recent Gaza conflict.
The report criticised Israel for using "disproportionate force" and "collective punishment" during the three-week attack ending January 2009.
It also condemned Palestinian rocket attacks, which sparked the offensive.
Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed, but Israel puts the figure at 1,166.
The peace manual has no official standing, but has generated interest among Israeli and Palestinian leaders and is meant to show it's still possible to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, despite many setbacks, said those involved in the drafting.
The plan's, according to the Associated Press (AP) yesterday, envisioned eviction of 100,000 of the West Bank's 300,000 Jewish settlers would be a major hurdle for an Israeli government that has shied away from dismantling even small settler camps. And Hamas militants, who at best consider a two-state solution a temporary arrangement on their way to destroying Israel, remain firmly in control in Gaza.
The Geneva Initiative's plan echoes the outlines of a peace deal set out in late 2000 by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, several months after the failure of a Middle East summit he hosted at Camp David.
President Barack Obama has not unveiled his peace vision, but is not expected to deviate dramatically from the Clinton parameters.
Under the Geneva Initiative, Israel would annex several large West Bank settlements near Jerusalem, and Palestinians would be compensated with an equal amount of Israeli land.
The plan's details illustrated the many obstacles that have to be cleared: The plan is complicated and expensive, and the proposed borders would require the removal of tens of thousands of Jewish settlers. There is also the reality on the ground that Hamas militants remain in control of the Gaza Strip. Nonetheless, the activists stressed the progress that had been made and said the plan could serve as a ready-made model for the two sides to work off.
"If you want to resolve the conflict, here is the recipe," said Gadi Baltiansky, a leader of the Israeli team.
The core of the plan is a Palestinian state in nearly 98 per cent of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip and the Arab-populated areas of Jerusalem. The plan was put together over the past two years by Israeli and Palestinian experts, ex-government officials and former negotiators. It builds on the 50-page outline of a peace deal published in 2003 by the same group, known as the Geneva Initiative.
The expanded version is being published at a time when the U.S. is pushing hard to restart peace talks.
Next week, Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attend the UN General Assembly in New York, but it's not clear whether they can find enough common ground for a three-way meeting.
Netanyahu is balking at U.S demands that he halt all Jewish settlement construction in areas claimed by the Palestinians, and Abbas says he would not resume peace talks without such a freeze.
The ready-made peace treaty is to be given to Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday and later this month to Abbas. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior European officials have already received copies.
Yet, in going into such detail for the first time, the plan also highlights how complex and expensive it would be to implement a peace deal.
For example, it had to resort to flow charts to describe a multilayered bureaucracy of thousands of international forces and monitors who would serve as referees. Partition of Jerusalem would require building border terminals in the city and dividing a major Jerusalem thoroughfare between the two states, with a wall in the middle.
A sunken four-lane highway, with bridges and tunnels, would be built through Israel to link the West Bank and Gaza, administered by the Palestinians but under Israeli sovereignty. Israeli motorists would have to carry tracking devices on designated transit routes through Palestine, to make sure they won't go astray.
Implementation of a peace deal would also require trust, good will and compliance with tight timetables - none of which have characterized the past 16 years of failed peace efforts.
Meanwhile, Israel's justice ministry said the corruption trial of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would begin on September 29 in Jerusalem.
Olmert was indicted last month for illegally accepting funds from an American supporter and double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad. Olmert has denied any wrongdoing.
The charges, stemming from when he was Jerusalem's mayor and later as a Cabinet minister, emerged when Olmert was still prime minister. He eventually resigned the premiership, to which he was elected in 2006.
The 63-year-old Olmert left politics when Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister last March.