- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

By endorsing the quixotic Geneva Accord signed on Monday by Yasser Abd-Rabbo, a former senior official in Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and Yossi Beilin, a leftist Israeli politician who lost his Knesset seat last year, the Bush administration has decided to send a signal to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that it is impatient for some kind of movement in the peace process. Unfortunately, it appears that in its desire to show its displeasure with Mr. Sharon’s failure to move vigorously to dismantle wildcat settlements, the administrationhas latched on to an initiative that appears to be an effort to revive the Oslo peace process.

“DearYossiand Yasser,” Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in a letter given to the Associated Press by an aide to Mr. Beilin. “The U.S. remains committed to the president’s two-state vision and to the road map, but we also believe that projects such as yours are important in helping sustain an atmosphere of hope.” The practical application of these feel-good sentiments eludes us. Mr. Beilin told al-Jazeerah over the weekend that he hopes to use the agreement to mobilize public opinion to pressure Mr. Sharon to “return” to “negotiations on a permanent solution” to the conflict.

This formulation, however, ignores cause and effect. The problem is not Mr. Sharon, a democratically elected leader who has been actively seeking to engage the new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Koreia, in negotiations. The problem is the legacy of Oslo: More Israelis have died as a result of terrorist attacks in the 10 years since Mr. Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo I agreement at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993, than in any decade in Israel’s history.

From 1993 through September 2000, Israel (pursuant to an agreement negotiated in large part by Mr. Beilin) withdrew from much of the West Bank and Gaza and turned civil and political authority in these areas over to Mr. Arafat. In addition, it lobbied Washington and the international community in favor of assistance to Mr. Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, and helped Mr. Arafat arm a “police force” to oversee security in PA-controlled areas. Mr. Arafat pocketed the concessions, but failed to carry out his obligations under Oslo: preventing terrorism against Israel and anti-Jewish incitement in the Palestinian media.

Then, in late 2000, Mr. Arafat rejected an offer by Prime Minister Ehud Barak to withdraw from Gaza and virtually the entire West Bank and to effectively divide Jerusalem between an Israeli and a Palestinian state. He launched a war that destroyed Mr. Barak’s government (in February 2001, he lost by 25 points to Mr. Sharon). Now, Mr. Beilin is attempting to mobilize pressure on Mr. Sharon to make additional concessions that go beyond those agreed to by Mr. Barak three years ago. One area that is deeply troubling to Israel is the fact that the Geneva Accord does not bar the Palestinians from inundating Israel with refugees, something that would effectively end the country’s existence as a Jewish state. Small wonder that Mr. Barak, badly burned by Mr. Arafat three years ago, blasted the agreement as one that rewards terror and “will lead to more deaths.”

On Friday, Mr. Powell is scheduled to meet with Messrs. Beilin and Abd-Rabbo at the State Department to discuss their peace plan. It is difficult to see what this will accomplish. Mr. Beilin is widely discredited in Israel. And it’s a huge stretch to think that Mr. Abd-Rabbo can persuade Mr. Arafat to stop sabotaging the peace process. The Geneva Accord is a sideshow. It does nothing to advance a genuine peace process — which will require painful, difficult decisions from Mr. Sharon and some responsible leaders on the Palestinian side.

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