Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Debating the Geneva Accord

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Debating the Geneva Accord

Article excerpt

At a Dec. 15 debate sponsored by the Palestine Center in Washington, DC, four experts offered arguments for and against the controversial Geneva Accord. Speakers discussed details of the proposal, drafted by former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and launched in Switzerland Dec. 1.

First to provide his perspective on the accord was Giliad Light, deputy director of the Israel Policy Forum's Washington, DC office. Light offered reasons why some Israelis are criticial of the document, including the fact that "Yossi Beilin had the audacity to negotiate with the enemy."

Many Israelis also feel the proposal "gives up too much" to a future Palestinian state that will be "close to or on the 1967 borders," Light said. A number of large illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank will also be dismantled. As far as Jerusalem goes, Light said, many Israelis do not want the city to be divided-but, he noted, "it's already divided." According to the accord, sovereignty over the Jaffa Gate would accrue to the Palestinians and the Western Wall to the Israelis.

Perhaps the most critical issue for Israelis, Light opined, is that of Palestinian refugees' desire to return to their homes in Israel. "No Israeli is going to accept an agreement that allows millions of refugees to alter the demographic landscape of Israel," Light said, describing the Palestinian "fixation" on this issue as "a hopeless cause." Delaying an agreement because it doesn't include the right of return will only prolong the suffering of Palestinian refugees, Light insisted.

Geneva transformed the debate within Israel regarding reaching an agreement with the Palestinians the moment Sharon "attacked Yossi Beilin so viciously and put Geneva in the spotlight," Light remarked. Finally, Light observed, one positive outcome of the accord is that "it showed us that a formula [for peace] is possible." In his opinion, however, the unofficial agreement will not have a long-lasting effect and "has gotten all the 15 minutes of fame that it will get."

Khaled Turaani, executive director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, began his talk by saying that while any "serious crack at peace in the Middle East is welcome, there are serious shortcomings with the Geneva Accord." In the section on Jerusalem, it is clear that "two unequal powers are negotiating," Turaani asserted. According to the accord, he told the audience, Palestinians would not be allowed to carry out any renovations on the Haram Al-Sharif, the area that contains Muslim holy sites, without first getting permission from the Israelis. While the accord contains 15 different subsections on Arab Bast Jerusalem, he noted, there is only one sentence on West Jerusalem, basically granting Israel sovereignty of that section of the holy city.

Turaani also criticized the accord's language. "Geneva calls Israel a Jewish state, but what about the 20 percent of its citizens who are non-Jews?" he asked. "While Israel calls itself a Jewish democracy, it deprives its Palestinian citizens of their basic rights.

"There are oxymoronic tendencies there, I think," he added.

The section of the agreement on the right of return also troubles Turaani. "In the minds of Israelis, it's a concession to allow refugees to have a life again," Turaani said in response to Light's earlier comment telling Palestinians to get past the issue. …

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