- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

GENEVA — Israeli officials are fuming over Swiss funding for an unofficial peace agreement negotiated by Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians in Geneva, which will debut later this month at a signing ceremony with former President Jimmy Carter.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry called in the Swiss charge d’affaires early last week to express its displeasure at the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, for funding the project and promoting the plan in the United Nations and other diplomatic forums.

The United States, whose approval the sponsors consider key to the plan’s viability, appeared more open to the scheme when a copy was presented to David Satterfield, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.

“We will be reviewing this document and welcome the interest in advancing the cause of Middle East peace exhibited by the participants,” said one U.S. official, who added that Washington remains committed to the “road map” peace plan proposed by President Bush on June 24.

That plan calls for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel by 2005

The “Geneva accord,” as it is being called, is far more detailed, with 50 pages of annexes, formulas and maps that tackle issues that have been deal-breakers in previous peace talks — such as the final political status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and the status of Palestinian refugees — including compensation for the loss of property.

“You have both sides willing to go to the end of the road. This is very significant,” said Pierre Allen, dean of economic and social sciences at the University of Geneva and a member of the Swiss academic team that facilitated the secret two-year discussions between Israeli and Palestinian teams in Europe and the Middle East.

Key figures in the initiative included former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Minister of Information Yasser Abed Rabbo.

“The road map is the only game in town,” said Alexis Keller, a Geneva-based academic, who also played a key role in the process but was quick to add the Geneva accord provides details on how to negotiate the third phase of the road map.

The Geneva accord is “the first time ever you have a final-status agreement” crafted by Israelis and Palestinians, Mr. Keller said.

Sources close to the initiative say that getting the Bush administration’s support — and winning the confidence of Israeli public opinion — are critical if the plan is to ever go beyond an academic exercise and provide the basis for new peace talks.

“We can’t afford to lose the Bush administration. The [pro-Israel] hawks are strong,” said a source familiar with the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

The plan has been roundly condemned by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which has argued throughout the three-year uprising that the Palestinians should not be rewarded with negotiations before they get serious about halting terror attacks on Israel.

“We stress: Israel is committed to President Bush’s vision for the Middle East and to the road map,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yaakov Levy, said in an interview Friday.

“Any efforts to promote alternative initiatives could be injurious to the road map,” he said.

Nevertheless, international diplomatic support for the scheme has been growing ahead of the Nov. 20 signing ceremony, with backers claiming support from such foreign capitals as London, Paris, Brussels and Tokyo.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week that “grass-roots initiatives which bring ordinary Israelis and Palestinians together help to create a vision for a common future,” while stressing there is no substitute for official negotiations between the Sharon government and the Palestinian Authority.

Arab diplomatic sources say the initiative also has the tacit support of the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat.

The Geneva accord envisages the creation of a nonmilitarized Palestinian state with a strong security force, its borders based on pre-June 1967 Middle East war lines with modifications; a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza that will be under Israeli sovereignty but be permanently open; and a multinational force to oversee implementation of the accord.

The blueprint also envisions mutually recognized capitals in the area of Jerusalem under their respective sovereignty, freedom of access to sites of religious and cultural significance, and a complex formula to determine how many refugees could return to Israel proper.

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