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Israelis, Palestinians present peace manual

By: AP, Karin Laub

15.09.2009

 

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli and Palestinian activists on Tuesday presented the most detailed vision yet of what a peace 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 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 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 percent 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, President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attend the U.N. 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 won't 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.
The plan's 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 Mideast summit he hosted at Camp David. 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.
Of the new chapters in the peace plan, the one on security was the hardest to put together, said Baltiansky, the Israeli director general of the Geneva Initiative.
It tries to address Israeli concerns that in the event of a West Bank withdrawal, Palestinian militants would overrun the territory and launch rockets at Israel. Gaza was seized by Hamas in 2007, two years after Israel's withdrawal from the coastal strip, and the group has fired thousands of rockets into southern Israel.
Netanyahu wants a future Palestinian state to be demilitarized, and the security annex, formulated with the help of former Israeli military officials, goes into detail.
It lists the weapons the Palestinian security forces would be banned from having, including tanks, artillery, rockets and heavy machine guns.
It also stipulates that an Israeli infantry battalion of 800 soldiers would remain in the Jordan Valley, on the West Bank's border with Jordan, for three years after all other Israeli troops have left the Palestinian territory.
There's no chapter on the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants because the issue is still too sensitive to address in detail, said Nidal Foqaha, a leader of the Palestinian team.
Palestinian participants in the project chose to keep a low profile, apparently because of the tensions with the Netanyahu government.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Abbas aide who has been involved in the Geneva Initiative from the start, declined comment Tuesday, and none of the Palestinian experts attended Tuesday's release of the plan at a Tel Aviv news conference.