Geneva's not so good for Israel

Any initiative for dialogue within the difficult situation in which we find ourselves deserves admiration for the hope it tries to inspire. The Geneva initiative is completely legitimate, especially in light of the fact that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has managed for three years now to fool the public with declarations, while on the ground the settlements are expanding and the occupation is deepening, driving the country into despair. However, the public should be given a chance to understand what Geneva means, on the basis of information, and not just a campaign.

* Palestinian achievements: There's no single issue that Geneva offers that is a significant improvement for Israel, compared to the Clinton ideas or Israel's positions at Camp David or Taba. In every key parameter, the Geneva document tilts toward the Palestinians. Arafat's military adviser, Mamduh Nofel, told Al Rai, the Jordanian newspaper, that "what was proposed [to the Palestinians] at Taba was better than what was proposed at Camp David, but what was proposed at Geneva is twice the progress."

There's been a deviation from the Clinton plan regarding the division of territory (100 percent in Geneva compared to 92-96 percent according to Clinton). In addition, Geneva does not limit fulfillment of Palestinian self-determination to the areas of the Palestinian state, which alongside the PLO becomes the exclusive representative of all the Palestinian people in the world. Alongside that, the document includes a proposal for a multinational force with enforcement and operational authorities, including an implied right to operate inside Israel.

At Taba's negotiations, and in its reservations submitted to the Clinton plan, Israel demanded a special regime for the Old City of Jerusalem, without dividing it. Alternatively it proposed a symmetrical arrangement for sovereignty on the Temple Mount. According to the Geneva document, the Palestinians get full control over the Temple Mount, except for the Western Wall. The Wall's Tunnel, the Mt. Of Olives, and the City of David will be under Palestinian sovereignty, though under Israeli control. That is a sure-fire recipe for friction.

* Implied recognition of the right of return. The document includes an implied recognition by the State of Israel of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, based on UN resolution 194. Key issues, like the number of refugees who will enter Israel or the amount of compensation Israel must finance, remain open. No ceiling was set and therefore, most of the elements of the solution, such as the property demands and the host countries demands, won't be fulfilled. According to Israeli estimates, there's $20 billion at stake, while the Palestinians speak of anywhere between $40-600 billion. And by implication, the document does not absolve Israel of responsibility for creating the refugee problem.

* Difficulties in implementation: The proposed arrangements in the document are very difficult to actually execute. For example, in its proposal for dividing the Old City of Jerusalem, or in the matter of the refugees, the document sets six months for calculating the amount of compensation to the refugees, and tens of billions of dollars are at stake. Other countries have taken years to formulate agreements on such matters.

* Earlier or later: One of the considerations in the political process is whether the Palestinian state should be established before the issues of Jerusalem and refugees are resolved or whether the aim is to head for a full agreement that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state after those issues are resolved.

Seemingly, the document seems to turn its back on the road map and goes back to the political architecture of the Olso agreements. However, an agreement signed after the establishment of a Palestinian state, in the third stage of the road map will be fundamentally different than an agreement signed before the establishment of the state of Palestine. In effect, the Geneva accord is meant to replace not only the road map, but also the Clinton plan as a basis for the permanent agreement. There is no justification for that for Israel, which loses on every account.

* There's someone to talk to. The Geneva document does prove there is someone to talk on the Palestinian side and something to talk about. That's not new; there have always been Palestinians with whom it was possible to engage in dialogue. But it does not prove that Israel has a partner in the Palestinian Authority or PLO interested and capable of signing agreements and implementing them. I hope that one day there will be such a partner.

Therefore, with all due respect to the Geneva initiative, the test of the government will be in its efforts to leave no stone unturned in official negotiations while preparing for unilateral withdrawal. If it fails, the people will not hesitate to replace it with a center-left government that will complete either the separation or the negotiations, and promise Israel's future as a democratic Jewish state. Without a permanent solution, as much as is possible through an agreement, Israel will be single-handedly dismantling the Zionist dream and establishing a binational state that will not be called Israel and will not have a Jewish identity.

Attorney and reserve colonel Gilead Sher was the prime minister's bureau chief and a negotiator with the Palestinians from 1999-2001

The article was published in
Haaretz, November 30, 2003