A Flicker of Light in the Dark

by Mohammad Daraghmeh
The Geneva Document, signed by unofficial Israeli and Palestinian political figures, seemed, to many citizens of the two nations, a flicker of light in a very dark reality lived by the two parties for over three years. For the first time since the eruption of the current violence in September 2000, a potential solution, with a large component of realism, for emerging out of a prolonged state of war-like exhaustion, has appeared on the horizon. The realism of this document stems from its ability to be implemented, as it was based on the conclusions achieved by the two parties in their previous negotiations. The negotiators themselves, who participated in previous negotiation rounds, picked-up from the points where previous rounds left-off.

“Our delegation carried with it maps and documents it acquired during the last official negotiations in Camp David and Taba with the Ehud Barak government, and commenced from that point to arrive at the document we have today,” said Qadoura Fares, one of the leaders of the young generation within the Fatah movement, and one of the prominent members of the Palestinian delegation to the Geneva negotiations. Fares describes the Geneva document as “the best result reached by the Palestinian party in its negotiations with Israel since the Madrid Conference in 1991,” referring to the Israeli team’s acknowledgement of the Palestinians’ right to an independent state on all the lands occupied in 1967, with minor border modifications.

The Geneva Document stipulates that Israeli settlements shall be combined in groups, and will be allowed to remain in what amounts to 2.6% of the West Bank area, and Palestinians, in return, will be compensated with lands in the Gaza and Hebron areas. Palestinian-Israeli negotiating documents show that the most that Labor governments ever conceded to Palestinians in previous negotiations did not exceed 91% of the West Bank. And it must be noted that the various national and Islamic Palestinian factions are in consensus over the fact that an independent Palestinian state is the main objective of the Palestinian people.

The Document also sends a very important message to the Israeli street, from which the Palestinian position has been absent in the dynamics of the confrontation’s whirlpool, where the voices of the right-wing and extremists rise high above all others. “The Palestinian position in the Geneva Document presents a response to the Israeli and American claims that there is no Palestinian partner for peace,” says prominent Palestinian researcher and analyst, Dr. Khalil Shikaki. “The Palestinians proved to the Israeli street that they are partners, and it is now up to the peace powers in Israel to fight the election battle, take the leadership and grab the opportunity to achieve peace for both nations, based on this Document,” adds Shikaki.

The Geneva Document carries with it a balance that provides it an opportunity to be accepted by both nations, although some individuals, or perhaps many of them, will accept it rather reluctantly. In this Document, the Palestinian party achieves its objectives of a Palestinian state on lands occupied in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, and a solution to the refugee problem that provides for the right of return, in principle. The Document also proposes a solution to water problems based on sharing rights to common aquifers, and a solution to the problem of prisoners, whereby 90% of the prisoners would be released in the first year, and the rest over a 30-month period. The Document also proposes a safe passageway between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Document provides Israel with a solution to the issue of settlements by combining settlements into clusters, a solution in Jerusalem that gives it control of the Wailing Wall and the Jewish Quarter, and freedom from the “ghost” of millions of Palestinian refugees that the Jewish state views as a source of danger threatening its survival.

Many observers in Israel view the Document as a basis for reaching an acceptable settlement if a satisfactory climate prevails. “Conditions prevailing today do not provide for the success of the Document, but when they get better, i.e. when the fighting stops, the Israeli public opinion may resort to it as an acceptable framework for a solution, or as a bridge that takes us to one,” says former Israeli diplomat Victor Nahmias. He adds, “The Geneva Document represents an initiative of hope, but the climate of war, which is not conducive to open minds and hearts, has obscured it.”

The Document affected the current rightist government in two ways. First, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his deputy, Ehud Olmert, resorted to talking about a solution based on unilateral measures. Second, the government resorted to a military escalation that has displaced the Document from the center stage of dialogue in public opinion. But observers in Israel see the Document as a moment of truth that will, by necessity, return to the middle stage, after the limitations of military power are realized. Nahmias adds, “The continued bloody clashes obscured the Document. Under conditions of killing, assassination and violence, hope and optimism recede, and priority is given to talk about violence and putting an end to it. But when the parties realize the limits of their powers, priorities will change and the Document will assume its position in seeking a solution and a settlement to the conflict, next to other peace initiatives, such as the Nusseibeh-Ayalon one.” He adds quickly: “…and this will soon come. Israel will realize the limitations of its power. Its superior army will not vanquish the Palestinians, who will also realize that force will not compel Israel to change its positions.”

As much as it carries pleasing gains for the two parties, the Geneva Document also includes painful concessions that represent the price for any settlement between them. These concessions represent obstacles that still persist and prevent the Geneva Document from gaining acceptance among the majorities within each nation. On the Palestinian side, many activists within the refugee-rights circles express objections against the principles of the Document. Tayseer Nasrallah, head of the Committee for Defending Refugee Rights, with headquarters in the city of Nablus, says, “The way we understand its text, the Document clearly abandons the right of return of five million refugees. This is unacceptable to those refugees and to all the Palestinian people.”

But Shikaki does not see the Document as abandoning the principle of the right of return, although it makes concessions where return mechanisms are concerned. “In principle, the Document considers UN resolution 194 and the Arab Initiative launched at the Beirut summit conference as a basis for the solution. This does not imply abandoning the right of return, but rather that return mechanisms give Israel the right to decide the numbers of returning refugees, which represents a concession.” Shikaki quickly adds, referring to the results of a survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which he runs, which indicated that only a limited number of refugees wish to return to Israel, “But the more important question is, are there many refugees who want to return to Israel or not?”

From the Palestinian point of view, there are realistic reasons that justify the concessions included in this controversial part of the Geneva Document. “Let us be realistic. There is only one method of returning five million Palestinian refugees to Israel. It is simply ‘Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war,’ as the Holy Koran bids, but is this realistic?” wonders Fares, the parliamentarian and minister who enjoys large credibility among the Palestinian public.

The balanced content of the Geneva Document makes it a basis for any potential solution in the future. As Shikaki says, “If there is ever an opportunity for a political settlement, it will always be within the Geneva Document framework.”

- Palestinian journalist and writer. This article is part of a series of views on the "Geneva Initiative" published in partnership with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
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The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation
Hope and Glory - Geneva
Why Geneva? A bridge between justice and wisdom
The Geneva Accord - Issues missed in the public debate
The Missing Component in Geneva
“Reality:” Between Surrealism and Hyperrealism
What happened to the Geneva Accord?
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Other articles in this series

The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation by Tawfiq Abu Baker
Hope and Glory - Geneva by Avraham Burg
Why Geneva? A bridge between justice and wisdom by Akiva Eldar
The Geneva Accord - Issues missed in the public debate by Jonathan Kuttab
The Missing Component in Geneva by B. Michael
“Reality:” Between Surrealism and Hyperrealism by Hazem Saghiyeh
What happened to the Geneva Accord? by Dr. Abdel Monem Said