The Geneva Accord - Issues missed in the public debate

by Jonathan Kuttab
The Geneva Accord has aroused such intense debate and partisanship as if it were an actual agreement, and not simply a proposal by serious, but unauthorized, individuals from both sides. As such, they were unfairly attacked for having “given away” rights and positions, even though it was acknowledged that neither the Israeli nor Palestinian participants had any authority to give up anything in drafting the Accord.

The real value of the Accord was in broaching a number of issues that the authorized negotiators in the past had skirted, or were unwilling to address. In that sense, the Accord could be a very useful exercise in addressing some of the glaring inadequacies of the actual agreements previously reached, which have failed to achieve their stated goals and have fallen into disrepute, including the Oslo Accords, the Interim Agreement (on the West Bank and Gaza Strip), and the various other agreements that have only further legitimized and confirmed the existing situation of occupation and conflict. The authors of the Geneva Accord have stated as much.

It is indeed a pity that only one issue addressed in the Accord has achieved the goal of generating a public discussion: the issue of the right of return and the refugee situation. In my view, there are at least three other issues that were addressed with great thoughtfulness in the Accord, but failed to generate any public notice or discussion. With each of these three, no less than with the issue of the right of return, the authors bravely addressed an area that was ignored by the previous agreements, but which would be an essential element in any lasting peace.

The first is the international presence. The Geneva Accord provides for an international armed presence (Multinational Force) to monitor and enforce key controversial elements in any future agreement reached. Given the history of mistrust between the parties, provisions that are key to the security and well- being of the parties need to be firmly guaranteed, and not left to the “goodwill” between the parties. Given the imbalance of power, that usually means leaving such elements in the hands of the Israelis. Such an outcome has already resulted and proven unworkable. It dooms any “security arrangements,” because Palestinian acquiescence is interpreted as legitimizing the occupation, and PNA cooperation in such arrangements is viewed as collaboration. The Geneva Accord postulates an international military presence that would observe such matters and provide both the guarantee and the neutrality required for its implementation.

For example, there may be a legitimate Israeli concern regarding entry of hostile elements through border crossings, which they acknowledge should be primarily in Palestinian hands. Under the Cairo Agreement this concern was to be handled through one-way mirrors at the bridge crossings, where Israeli officers, unseen, would monitor and prevent the crossing of genuine security threats without interfering with the vast majority of Palestinians crossing the bridges. That solution did not work, and it soon became the case that the Palestinian presence at the bridges was merely symbolic, and Israelis continued to hold real power at the crossings. Under the Geneva model, however, that Israeli concern would be handled by an international, not Israeli, presence at the Palestinian border.

Second is the provision of a clear and binding mechanism for resolving disputes and deadlocks in the implementation of the agreement. Such a device was conspicuously and deliberately absent in the Oslo Agreements, which referred too many issues to “joint” committees to resolve. DCOs (District Coordinating Offices) were an integral part of the system of running the lives of Palestinians. Yet these “joint” committees quickly became a joke in the Palestinian community, given the power imbalance, and the veto power that theoretically both sides wielded, meant that in any deadlock, power was wielded solely by the Israeli side. Even before the current uprising, the Palestinian component at the DCOs was reduced to the level of an office boy (murasel) who carried the requests for permits from Palestinian individuals to the Israeli authorities, and relayed their answers, positive or negative, back to the population. By contrast, the Geneva Accord envisions a definite binding mechanism for resolving disputes and agreements in a practical, effective, and prompt manner.

Third, the Geneva Accord prohibits WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and requires the dismantling of all existing WMDs. This bold and sweeping prohibition reflects a different approach to peace agreements in that it attempts to actively work towards a new future, and provide for concrete provisions that reflect that vision. If a peace agreement works and is successful, it must reduce the level of danger and fear for both peoples, and must provide for a better future, not only at the level of idealistic slogans, but in concrete, realistic terms.

WMDs provide for a situation of constant insecurity, danger, mistrust, and violation of international law. No peace agreement worth the name can accept as a given the necessity in the long term of continued use and possession of weapons of mass destruction by either side. In that sense, removing WMDs is in the interest of both peoples, and providing for their elimination shows that the authors are neither mere theoretical academicians, nor slaves to the current balance of power, but realistically are seeking, in a progressive fashion, a new future that is peaceful and free of fear and threats.

It is unfortunate that practically no discussion occurred around this revolutionary provision, and most discussion centered on the right of return as if the “concession” given on that point by the Palestinian side was historic and binding, while the “concession” on WMD was irrelevant and meaningless, and not expected to ever be implemented.

- Jonathan Kuttab is a Jerusalem-based Palestinian human rights lawyer and peace activist. 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
A Flicker of Light in the Dark
Why Geneva? A bridge between justice and wisdom
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
A Flicker of Light in the Dark by Mohammad Daraghmeh
Why Geneva? A bridge between justice and wisdom by Akiva Eldar
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