Don't Panic! December 11 2003

Your war questions answered

What is the Geneva Accord, and will it bring peace?

The Geneva Accord is the latest in a long line of agreements meant to bring mutual peace and freedom to Israelis and Palestinians. There are two important distinctions between the Geneva Accord and prior peace attempts — such as Clinton's failed Camp David talks, the failed Oslo Accord and Bush's failed "road map" to peace. The first difference is the Geneva Accord is complete. The document was signed this month in Geneva, Switzerland (home to Europe's tallest fountain, and public transportation that serves food and alcohol).

The second difference is these negotiations were conducted by private citizens with no governmental authority. The Geneva Accord has as much legal authority in Israel as a Geneva cookie (you know, the one with the dark chocolate and nuts on one side).

Why would anyone bother putting together a peace agreement that has no governmental authority? They did it to prove that it could be done. The agreement is a great big F.U. to the people on both sides of the argument who justify their extremist — or just plain ignorant — positions by insisting the other side isn't interested in peace. The agreement wasn't negotiated by bored Swiss on a hot chocolate break from the cuckoo clock factory. It was put together by Israelis and Palestinians, led by former cabinet-level officials Yossi Beilin (Israeli) and Yasser Abed Rabbo (Palestinian). By negotiating for two years, reaching a comprehensive peace agreement on their own, and sending copies of it to every household in Israel and the occupied territories, they're trying to create public demand for an actual, officially negotiated peace agreement.

The agreement's main stipulation is for Israel to cede the West Bank, East Jerusalem (the proposed Palestinian capital) and Gaza Strip for the formation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that promises not to attack Israel. Because the Gaza Strip doesn't border the other two, a road will connect them. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Geneva Accord differs from the old United Nations Resolution 242, which also calls for Israeli withdrawal from the terroritories, by acknowledging the reality of Israeli settlements. Since 1967, Israel has densely settled parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank — particularly near Jerusalem and closest to its border with Israel proper. The Geneva Accord says to Israel, "OK, you keep those settlements that are real close to Israel, but for every square mile (or kilometer!) you keep, you're giving a square mile (or kilometer!) to the new Palestine. The Accord has maps detailing the give-and-take.

In Jerusalem itself, Palestinians would get al-Haram al-Sharif (aka the Temple Mount), and Israel would get the Western Wall (of the Second Temple, destroyed by those stupid Romans). About 40,000 Palestinians would be allowed to return to Israel, with Israel having final say over who gets to come in. The rest would be allowed to either stay where they are and be compensated or settle in the new Palestine.

The Accord was unveiled at a star-studded event in Geneva attended by Nobel Laureates Jimmy Carter and Lech Walesa. World leaders past and present, such as Tony Blair and Nelson Mandela, sent their endorsements. Actor Richard Dreyfus emceed the unveiling ("one of these things is not like the other ...").

Ariel Sharon and his peeps have trashed the plan — calling it treasonous, suicidal, a reward to Palestinians for violence, and a shock considering how much they all enjoyed Mr. Holland's Opus. Sharon's in good company. Many Palestinian militants agree and have issued similar-sounding statements trashing the Accord. Great minds think alike, I suppose.

Polls show that about one-third of Israelis support the plan. Not bad for a bunch of freelance negotiators dismissed in at least one Israeli editorial as "peace yuppies" (as if that's a bad thing). The same polls, however, show that even more people oppose it — and not just extremists.

The plan has no chance as long as Sharon is in power, but by energizing his opposition, it may bring about Sharon's departure sooner. In typical fashion, Yasser Arafat is both for the plan and against it, depending on who he's talking to.


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