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Middle East experts detail two-state future

By: Clare O'Dea and Dale Bechtel, swissinfo.ch



While the official peace process has stalled and settlers remain a stumbling block, an independent group of experts has drafted its own Middle East peace plan.
The Swiss-backed Geneva Initiative, an umbrella group of Israelis and Palestinians, presented its detailed "recipe" for resolving the conflict in Tel Aviv on Tuesday in a manual more than 400 pages long.

Created by teams of experts, former negotiators and officials, the issues include water rights, security arrangements, the fate of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a solution for Jerusalem, and the role of a multinational force.

Israeli team leader Gadi Baltiansky told swissinfo.ch that the timing of the two-state plan, ahead of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly next week, couldn't be better.

"We are probably on the eve of the resumption of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The new American administration is focusing on how to resolve the conflict after several years of trying only to manage the conflict," Baltiansky said.

New state
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, which was put together over the past two years, builds on the 50-page outline of a peace deal published in 2003 and known as the Geneva Accord.

Switzerland played an important role as financial and logistical facilitator for the accord, and is backing this one to the tune of SF1 million ($970,000) a year, according to Swiss special envoy to the Middle East, Jean-Daniel Ruch.

Ruch told swissinfo.ch that Switzerland has been helping disseminate the plan since June, and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey gave a copy of the initiative to her United States counterpart, Hillary Clinton, in July. The Egyptian government has also received it.

Ruch shared Baltiansky's optimism, calling it "the most detailed and comprehensive settlement plan that has ever been elaborated. It offers very concrete and practical solutions to all key issues, such as the borders, security, Jerusalem or the refugees".

A spokesperson for Israeli President Shimon Peres confirmed to swissinfo.ch that a meeting had been held with the Geneva Initiative representatives but wouldn't comment on the content of the document.

And there has been no comment yet from the Palestinian Authority.

The silence from both sides is a reason for caution, says Middle East expert, Riccardo Bocco, professor at Geneva's Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

"My question is who are the partners in Israel and Palestine for resuming peace talks? Is the Hamas leadership included in these talks, or only Fatah? Who is supporting this in the Israeli government?" Bocco said in an interview with swissinfo.ch.

He also doubted whether the initiative could win support from the Palestinian side since – in its present form – it lacks a detailed plan for solving the refugee problem. He also said the plan would be very costly to implement.

However, Bocco said the plan's "participatory approach" was extremely important, since it is the first time initiators of a peace deal intend to take into account the views of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians.

The proposals were made public just before the end of another round of talks between the US and Israeli governments on a West Bank settlement freeze. There was no sign of a deal.

"Two capitals"
Bocco said it will be crucial for the Americans to win a commitment from the Israelis, if the Obama administration is to be a credible partner for the Palestinians.

If and when peace talks are resumed, the participants in the Geneva Initiative believe their material will provide a reliable guide on how to tackle problems.

"It shows how Jerusalem can be two capitals of two states. It shows how the security needs of Israel will be met, how the vital interests of the Palestinian state will be met. It shows the exact role of the international community," Baltiansky said

The architects of this peace model hope that their detailed vision of the future, complete with maps, timetables and flow charts, will save official negotiators time and assist them in their difficult task.