Geneva Initiative Annexes
Geneva Initiative Annexes

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Wait until January

By Yossi Beilin, Bitter Lemons, 10.03.08

Before closing down the Palestinian Authority, ending peace talks, unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state or deciding to opt for a one-state solution, we should calm down and wait another ten months until January 2009.
We have waited 40 years rather than agreeing to accept a Palestinian state alongside us within the borders of the Rogers plan and since the Arab world ran to Khartoum to declare no recognition, no negotiations and of course no peace with Israel. We've had the Peres-Hussein agreement that was never signed, the Madrid conference, the Oslo agreement, the autonomy agreement, the Camp David talks, Taba and the Geneva initiative. We are now in a kind of final stretch, and there is no reason--now of all times--to make irreversible decisions or to end negotiations prematurely.
The idea of dissolving the PA in particular is a kind of suicide threat: "I won't be here any longer, but you will never forgive yourselves." Elimination of the PA will not generate any positive replacement. It will end the Oslo agreement that constitutes the only basis for the fragile, problematic but all so vital system of relations between Israel and a Palestinian leadership that is recognized by the entire world.
According to Oslo, the PA was supposed to have gone out of existence in 1999. It will, I hope, soon disappear--but not before it is replaced by an agreed Palestinian state.
If, as next January approaches, it emerges that we have failed to make progress and there is no permanent status agreement on the horizon, I will be the first to advocate a fall-back solution such as a long-term interim agreement, a declaration of principles that does not address all core issues, implementing the forgotten third phase of the 1995 interim agreement or even a Palestinian declaration of independence--but one that is pre-coordinated between the two sides and can be understood as implementation of the second phase of the roadmap.
We have such an abundance of unimplemented agreements that if there is no alternative we can agree to implement one of them, thereby taking a partial step forward. One thing is clear: we must not repeat the terrible "all or nothing" mistake of the year 2000. That could again generate an outbreak of violence that even those who foment it cannot stop. If only we had had the wisdom to conclude the unfortunate Camp David summit with an additional interim agreement, with all its disadvantages, the region would look completely different: we would not have witnessed Hamas winning parliamentary elections, taking control of Gaza and violently sabotaging any chance of a peaceful settlement.
Is it really possible to reach agreement in 2008, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice again suggested in her brief visit to the region last week? I don't know, and I assume she doesn't either, but one thing I do know: it cannot happen unless we all make a supreme effort to reach such an agreement. After seven hard years of violence and political paralysis, of preference for unilateral steps and continuous reduction in public confidence regarding one another's intentions, after a dramatic weakening of the PA and following a prolonged period of illogical and inexplicable behavior on the part of the US administration--there has now emerged a chance to return to the status quo ante of January 2001 and try again to proceed.
What must we do?
We need an immediate ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza. This should include the return of Gilad Shalit and cessation of Qassam and mortar firing from the Strip on the part of Hamas, a release of security prisoners and a cessation of targeted killings and armed penetrations into the Strip on our part.
With the PLO, Israel must maintain intensive day-to-day negotiations, preferably not here and preferably through a secret channel. These talks should deal with all core and related issues so that by the end of 2008 we can sign a comprehensive peace agreement and, in parallel, agree on its phased implementation in accordance with the Palestinians' capacity to do so.
This is the real interest of President George W. Bush, who seeks to end his term of office on a positive and dramatic note; of Mahmoud Abbas, who wishes to complete his presidency by making peace; and of Ehud Olmert, the unpopular prime minister who does not want to be remembered by the public as the man who failed at making war in Lebanon. This is a rare opportunity with a measured chance of success. Instead of proposing ideas of despair, better to improve those odds.- Published 10/3/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Member of Knesset Yossi Beilin is chair of the Meretz-Yahad party.