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The Geneva Initiative and The Carter Center: Q&A with Matthew Hodes

The Geneva Initiative, an unofficial peace plan formally launched in December 2003, offers what former U.S. President Jimmy Carter calls, "the best chance for peace in the Middle East."

The Initiative was forged over a two year period by influential Palestinians and Israelis following the failure to finalize an agreement during the 2001 peace talks at Camp David. Its key points include:

  • Creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza
  • Secure borders for Israel based on the 1967 border but with adjustments through territorial exchange with the Palestinians that permit the retention of Israeli settlements in the immediate area around Jerusalem and the removal of others using a formula that requires a deviation of only 2-3 percent of territory from the 1967 border
  • A vision for the future of Jerusalem and the holy sites, which includes Palestinian sovereignty over Temple Mount and Israeli sovereignty over the Wailing Wall, under an international security force, and
  • A fair resolution to the question of final status for Palestinian refugees, including repatriation to the new Palestinian state and compensation for expropriated property.

Carter Center Conflict Resolution Program Director Matthew Hodes attended two of the Initiative's negotiation sessions and provided advice when requested. Hodes, with President Carter, attended the accord's signing in Geneva Dec. 1, 2003.

In the Q&A below, Hodes outlines the current status of the Geneva Initiative and the role of the Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program in promoting peace in the Middle East.

What impact have recent events had on the Initiative?

After the formal launching of the Geneva Initiative on Dec. 1, 2003, the Israeli government seemed to recognize that they needed to respond to public pressure demanding they show their own vision for the future. Soon after that, they put forward their plan for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the Israeli military also moved forward with their tactic of targeted assassinations, killing Hamas leaders like Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, and increased house demolitions in the Gaza Strip.

The momentum on the Gaza withdrawal plan stopped when the proposal failed in the May 2004 Likud referendum vote. Responding to the referendum defeat, Prime Minister Sharon said, "The question is whether Israel initiates or is led and to make sure the plan does work in our favor and not against us." It looks apparent that the Sharon government will continue to propose their own unilateral actions to avoid losing the initiative to outside actors, domestic or international. The Geneva Initiative may well represent an example of the kind of outside intervention that is too forward leaning for the Israeli government.

The Geneva Initiative regularly polled at 40 percent approval ratings in Israel prior to the referendum vote, and a majority of Israelis and Palestinians consistently support the underlying principles from the Geneva blueprint. Most recently, a poll showed 76 percent of Israelis and Palestinians broadly supported efforts for a two-state solution such as that suggested in the Geneva Initiative.

Do you view this as a moment of opportunity for the Initiative?

Every moment is one of opportunity. The Conflict Resolution Program vigorously monitors the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as other conflicts around the world, in order to recognize and forecast avenues for intervention. The Geneva Initiative is a privately negotiated document that hopes to inform official negotiators. Its primary purpose has been to dispel the twin myths that there is no partner for peace and there is no vision for peace.

As other more incremental alternatives fail to move forward, a visionary approach such as that provided by the authors of the Geneva Initiative appears that much more appealing.

What role has The Carter Center played in the Geneva Initiative since the signing in December 2003?

President Carter sent letters to all the heads of state of the Arab League prior to the cancellation of their summit in Tunisia this March, indicating his absolute support for the Geneva Initiative and the principles it embodies. We are in regular communication with the Israelis and Palestinians responsible for this initiative, as well as some who oppose it. President Carter's long-standing history of diplomatic efforts in the region demonstrates his sincere motivation to see a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and he believes this initiative is the best attempt in recent memory to address all of the grievances that hinder resolution.

In September 2003, at our event in Washington D.C. commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Camp David Accord, President Carter described the effort then underway to complete what is now referred to as the Geneva Initiative and expressed his hope that it would lead to a comprehensive approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

How does participation in the Geneva Initiative fit into the broader work of the Center's Conflict Resolution Program?

President Carter's personal interest in the ongoing problems in the Middle East dictate a certain amount of focus upon the entire Middle East peace process. Our involvement in what we hope will be a major contribution to the successful resolution to the world's most visible conflict is very important to us. President Carter is respected around the world for the agreement reached at Camp David in 1978. The Carter Center itself was conceived in the image of Camp David as a neutral site for conflicting parties to come and sit and reasonably approach their grievances. The Conflict Resolution Program was born of this founding principle. As the Geneva Initiative moves forward, it is imperative for the Conflict Resolution Program to lend our collective knowledge and experience, in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, to assist the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve the success they hope for and deserve.

As someone who witnessed first hand the negotiations between key Israelis and Palestinians resulting in the Geneva Initiative, what is your hope for this plan and, more fundamentally, for the Middle East?

Obviously, we want to see official actors go back to the negotiating table. In pursuing their formal negotiations, we hope they will embrace the principles in this plan, as it addresses all the issues required to come to a peaceful permanent status agreement. Leading members of the Israeli and Palestinian communities have spent an exhausting amount of hours attempting to create viable solutions agreeable to both Israelis and Palestinians. No plan is perfect; however, this plan speaks to the majority, from the majority. The authors have reached an agreement through rational decision-making and principled compromise. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects not only the Middle East, but also the stability of the entire world. A final resolution of this conflict will have wide-reaching effects, most notably in the immediate impact it will play in the war on terror.

Learn more about the Geneva Initiative, the Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program, and peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.

Related Information:
(The Carter Center is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites)

A Palestinian man places his vote into a ballot box during the 1996 elections, monitored by The Carter Center.
Photo Credit: CarterCenter/B. Howard

A Palestinian man places his vote into a ballot box during the 1996 elections, monitored by The Carter Center.

Matthew Hodes (center), with Geneva Initiative leaders Yasser Abed Rabbo (left) and Yossi Beilin (right).

Matthew Hodes (center), with Geneva Initiative leaders Yasser Abed Rabbo (left) and Yossi Beilin (right).

President Carter addresses participants in the Geneva Initiative public commitment event.

President Carter addresses participants in the Geneva Initiative public commitment event.

Read more:

Nov. 3, 2003
USA Today Op-Ed by President Carter: Middle East Accord Offers 'Best Chance' for Peace

Dec. 3, 2003
President Carter's Geneva Trip Report

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