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The Geneva Initiative: A Path to Peace in the Middle East?

It started with a question posed to him from Alexis Keller, a Swiss professor, after Yossi Beilin had delivered a guest lecture to Keller's class in Geneva. What would have happened if you had more time during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2001?

Read President Carter's Geneva trip report, including full text of speech.

Beilin, the former Israeli justice minister and a member of the Israeli negotiating team in 2000 and 2001, told Keller that he believed the Israeli delegation and his Palestinian counterparts would have reached a peace agreement if the negotiations had not been halted early. Together Beilin and Keller developed an exercise to test that theory. They recruited Yasser Abed Rabbo, at the time a member of the Palestinian Authority cabinet and another veteran of the 2000-2001 talks, to join the exercise. Each put together a small team of negotiators and together they began hammering out a model peace agreement.

That was more than two years ago. They finalized the agreement Oct. 12. The Geneva Initiative, as it is being called, isn't official, but it does provide a framework and hope for a political solution. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has called the agreement the "best chance for peace" in the Middle East. He and the Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program Director Matthew Hodes will attend the accord's signing in Geneva Dec. 1.
Hodes attended two of the negotiation sessions in support of the process and provided advice when requested.

The agreement lays out the following:

  • the 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 only requires a deviation of 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.

"The conversations were alternatively positive and contentious," Hodes said. "The discussions were exceptionally candid. I took it as a reflection at how deeply felt the positions were, how firmly they were prepared to protect their underlying interests and how hard it was for them to acknowledge the need to compromise. While the agreement is not official, the parties understood how significant this could be so they held their core values to heart."

Read more about President Carter's support for the Geneva Accord
in his USA Today op-ed.

Now the negotiation teams will publicize the agreement to stimulate debate and educate the public, Hodes said.

"The Oslo agreement and the road map to peace suggest a path to peace but without specifying what the final resolution will look like, but the Geneva Initiative lays out the specifics such as borders and settlements and the status of Jerusalem," he said. "That's a major difference. People can now see that there are potential partners for peace and that there is a vision of what that peace can look like."

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