Exploring the Geneva Initiative

I have had a bit of time to explore some of the detailed Annexes to the long-running, Swiss-funded peace-visioning project called the Geneva Initiative. You can access them through this portal page. It’s probably good to start with the first PDF file there (“Summary”), and then go to the others for more details as you want them.
These Annexes, which were released last month, build on the general framework for a two-state outcome that was established in the 2003 Geneva Accord. The whole process is a non-governmental one between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the lead Palestinians involved in it have always been people very close to– or actually members of– the Ramallah interim PA government. Most Israeli participants are close to the dovish wing of the Labour Party, or other left parties. So they are considerably further from being able to influence any real current centers of power in Israel than are their Palestinian counterparts.
(On the other hand, for the Palestinians, if the only center of “power” that they are able to influence is the heavily Israel- and US-dependent Ramallah PA, then what real power are we talking about, anyway?)
There are many other power imbalances between the participants from the two sides, too. Primarily, the fact that on one side the participants are citizens of a wealthy independent country and on the other, the participants are citizens of a country under extreme stress and under complete military occupation by the first country. This imbalance underlies everything about the Initiative– including, for example, the fact that all the people who play named functions in it seem to be Israelis. And not just any Israelis, either, but Jewish Israelis. For some reason, it appears that no Israeli citizens of Palestinian ethnicity are included in the Israeli team– despite the fact that these Palestinian Israelis constitute around 20% of the national population; and if they supported a project such as this one they could probably make a particularly helpful contribution.
There are, however, many items of interest in the latest Annexes. Page 17 of the Summary gives you the broad map of the proposed national borders. The Initiative’s approach to borders is that they should be based on the June 4, 1967 line but with mutually agreed land swaps on a 1:1 basis. This map shows you that the land swaps would involve Israel hanging onto most of the big settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem, and to some others near the Green Line in the Northern West Bank and the Latrun salient. The land the Palestinians would get in return would be in the (less developed and more arid) south– both a thickening of the Gaza Strip to the south-east and a little land west of Hebron.
The connector between the West Bank and Gaza that the Initiative envisages would not be counted in the land swap as it would remain under Israeli sovereignty (but have Palestinian administration.)
The border line becomes particularly convoluted as it approaches Jerusalem (see p.53 of the Summary.) On pp.55 and 56 you can see how the planners tried to design ways for Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a reasonable degree of contiguity across some of those salients.
Some of the most interesting parts of the Jerusalem border are where it goes through the Old City, which they propose dividing in the only way that seems reasonable, if there is to be a two-state solution, that is, by giving the Jewish Quarter to the Israeli city of Yerushalayim and the other three quarters to the Palestinian city of Al-Quds (though they would also give Yerushalayim a chunk that i think was part of the historic Armenian Quarter.)
The 13 Annexes include no fewer than three that concern only Jerusalem. One deals with an Inter-Religious Council for the city, another with “The Multinational Presence in Al-Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount Compound” (see its very complicated organization chart on p.77)… and then there is the mapping/town-planning one.
The Water annex– which I am happy to say was negotiated in part at a session hosted by the Annapolis Friends Meeting, in Maryland– does base its approach on the need for “a just and rightful re-division of water resources” between the two countries. However, sadly, when it comes to spelling (p.92) exactly how much water “will become available to the Palestinians” under the agreement, none of the figures have yet been agreed.
Also, I have a concern that spelling it out in that way makes it seem that it would still be Israel that, over all, would control the water resources, doling them out to the Palestinians, rather than the two sides having equal control over shared aquifers.
… If there is to be a two-state outcome, the work in all these annexes will be extremely useful to the negotiators. Two authoritative negotiating teams negotiating in good faith could probably take this set of templates and nail down a final agreement within 2-3 months.
But will that ever happen?
There are problems in generating an “authoritative negotiating team negotiating in good faith” on both sides of the line. But the problems on the Israeli side are far, far greater at this point than those on the Palestinian side since Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown no signs whatever that he is prepared to negotiate in good faith. Indeed, his government is continuing to take very widescale actions deep inside the occupied territories that daily make it much harder for him or any subsequent Israeli government to undertake the withdrawal of settlers that would be needed by any two-state agreement.
On the Palestinian side, though many disagreements continue between Fateh and Hamas, the Hamas leadership has stated very clearly for several years now that it is quite prepared to let the Fateh leadership and its allies go ahead and negotiate a two-state peace agreement– provided that any agreement that results is then submitted to a Palestinian-wide referendum. (So yes, the referendum provision does hamper the freedom of the negotiators to give away just any concession they want to to the Israelis. But if they did make more concessions than a subsequent referendum could support, then the agreement would not prove viable over the long run, anyway.)
Similarly, the concessions the Israeli side must make must also be supported in subsequent Israeli elections– and possibly also, specifically, in a referendum.
These political facts, on either side of the line, mean that peace-minded leaders need to be spelling out very explicitly for their people to hear, their compelling vision of the many benefits that peace will bring. Plus, the whole of the international community needs to tell both peoples that there will be tough consequences for not supporting a fairly negotiated agreement.
The Geneva Initiative folks have made an earnest– but, I have to say, not terribly persuasive– attempt to start spelling out their version of the benefits (as well as the nuts-and bolts) of the two-state peace they envision.
Their efforts at “selling the peace” are sometimes quite maladroit. For example, on the Geneva Initiative website, they republish an excerpt from an article by the Nasser Lahham, the chief editor of the Ma’an News Agency, titled “US President Obama Expresses Interest in the Geneva Initiative”…. Which sounds quite upbeat and positive, right?
But if you go to the original article from which these few paragraphs were taken, you’ll see that in that broader context the reference to the Geneva Initiative was a decidedly negative one, from the Palestinian point of view.
The original article, which was published a couple of weeks ago, was titled, “A Palestinian mini-state linked to Iran strike”. The lead was this:

    Israel has been holding secret meetings with Arab leaders over the past several months with the aim of establishing a miniaturized Palestinian state and in hopes of gaining Arab acquiescence in a first strike on Iran.
    According to Ma’an’s well-placed sources, Israeli President Shimon Peres has been the “godfather” of these meetings. Their aim is to “resolve” the Palestinian issue which has dogged Israel for decades and clear the agenda for an attack on Iran.

Now, it is very possible indeed that for the Israeli staff members who seem to control what goes onto the GI website, the idea that their pursuit of the GI could help pave the way for an attack on Iran would be seen as a positive. I know that is absolutely not the case for most Palestinians– and that probably includes most of the ones who work on the GI…
Ah well, I’m not going to tell the people who run the Geneva Initiative how to run their public outreach effort.
I think they’ve done just about everything a non-governmental effort can do to spell out how a two-state solution could be achieved– if indeed it still can be achieved. Which daily looks more and more unlikely.
What’s the game-changer here? My hopes that it might come from Washington have sunk very low in recent weeks. Now, maybe we’ll have to go back to the only remaining game-changer that’s left after Washington disappoints: the UN Security Council.
Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is so important to world peace that it should never have been taken away from the Security Council. It was Henry Kissinger who smurfed it away, really, after the 1973 war and under the guise of the Two-superpower condominium that hosted the 1973 Arab-Israeli Peace Conference in– Geneva. But then he brilliantly out-manipulated Moscow; 16 years later the Soviet Union collapsed; and by then many people around the world thought it was just somehow “natural” that the US should be the party that leads Arab-Israeli peace efforts.
But it’s not “natural” at all. It is most un-natural that a distant government that provides rock-solid partisan support to one side in a dispute should be the main arbiter and leader of all peace efforts involving that side and its opponent. It’s also most un-natural that this arbiter should keep proposing and pursuing actions that are quite contrary to international law– but then be able to enroll the UN itself as a junior partner in the peacemaking…

3 thoughts on “Exploring the Geneva Initiative

  1. Jack

    If there ever was a chance for a real two state solution, it has clearly passed. Attention should now turn to a real civil rights movement within de facto Israel; that is the true struggle now and one the world can reasonably get behind just as in South Africa. If any Israeli ever supported a true two state solution, Netanyahu certainly does not. There could never be such an entity under his government (not to mention Lieberman). The so-called “peace process” has always been a giant stall to appease American public opinion. Netanyahu took the measure of Obama and found there was no there there. Obama blinked first and was forced to back down on the settlements just as he has done with every other issue, international as well as national. I worked for his election and hoped for much better. Palestinian civil rights will be the new call.

  2. traducteur

    The whole point of the GI was to make sure that no Palestinian refugees would ever be able to return to their ancestral homeland. It was never meant to foster reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians, it was deliberately designed only as a solution to the “demographic problem”, a step along the road to the long-cherished Zionist vision of a goyimrein state in Palestine. As such, it was illegitimate from the outset.

  3. HALI

    It seems ISRAEL is the main stumbling block..all this paranoid situation on Iran will not help Israel in the long run as after the GAZA WAR Isreal is even hated more and is fast losing its stature of a oppressed nation!!!!!!!!At one time nobody could raise a finger against Israel of course with the protection of Big Brother UNCLE Sam but same is being protected by Uncle Sam…but for how long?
    To link Palestinian issue with Iran is the stupidest thing to do…

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