From Geneva to Gaza: Implementing the Endgame Strategy of the Geneva Initiative

Article excerpt

Supporters of the Geneva Initiative have been more modest than its detractors in assessing this unofficial model agreement's role in shifting policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past year and a half. The debate stimulated by the Geneva Initiative after three years of post-Camp David policy coma in addition to the local and international support that the initiative received spurred Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to take his first political, non-military move since being elected in 2001. Prime Minister Sharon openly acknowledges that the plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza strip and four settlements in the Northern West Bank (GNWB) came against the backdrop of the challenge posed by the Geneva Initiative. Sharon's senior advisor Dov Weisglass, in a revealing interview to the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz, stated that "The Geneva Initiative is one of the factors leading to the pullout plan."

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All of this could be very gratifying for the architects of the Geneva Initiative. Our intention, however, was to promote an agreed-upon, peaceful, and comprehensive resolution of the conflict--not a unilateral and piecemeal measure that could be designed to postpone and avoid the very goal we desire. Having fallen victim to the law of unintended consequences, then, is the Geneva Initiative still relevant, and is the peace agreement it proposes still attainable? In short, where does the Geneva Initiative fit in the new mix of policy debate and options for the morning after Gaza?

The Geneva Initiative

The Geneva Initiative is a joint Israeli-Palestinian attempt to show that there is a detailed model for a peace agreement that addresses all contended issues and serves the national interests of both peoples. This model agreement provides workable solutions to a high degree of resolution on all the core issues. It follows the relevant international resolutions, the previous negotiations, the parameters proposed by former US President Bill Clinton, the vision articulated by US President George W. Bush in June 2002, and the Quartet Road Map.

The text of the accord and suggested maps were drafted and negotiated over the course of two years by experts, former negotiators, senior reserve security establishment personnel, as well as sitting and former political office holders. By reaching such a detailed model for a possible peace treaty, the initiative seeks to challenge the narrative that took root after Camp David--that there was no partner for negotiation and no plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. While this narrative has been the subject of keen academic debate, the Geneva Initiative tackled the underlying premise head-on by demonstrating the existence of actual solutions. Many of the architects of the Geneva Initiative were present during the 1999-2001 negotiations and were convinced that an agreement was within reach. Drafting the model accord was an attempt to test this hypothesis and to apply the lessons learned during the negotiating experience.

In retrospect, the negotiators, the international community, and the Israeli and Palestinian publics were all insufficiently prepared for what a permanent status agreement would entail. Public education is perhaps the most crucial component to a consensus. What emerged during the negotiations was a gap between official negotiating positions and public rhetoric that could not be easily bridged, leading to a loss of public faith in the process. Consequently, the Geneva Initiative aimed to create broad public awareness among Israelis and Palestinians of the necessary compromises for peace and the reasons why these were in each side's respective interest.

Since its launch, the Geneva Initiative has conducted an active educational campaign promoting and explaining the content of the agreement to create a public comfort level with the substance of a future peace accord. Polling data suggests that Israelis and Palestinians, while still distrustful of the intentions of the other side, are ready for the kind of peace deal outlined in the Geneva Initiative model. …