December 10, 2003 | Op-ed

The Geneva Initiative

December 10, 2003
Jonathan L. Snow                             

The Geneva Initiative

Key Facts

  • The “Geneva Initiative” is a new, unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

  • Created by Yasser Abed Rabbo, former Minister of Information of the Palestinian Authority, and by Yossi Beilin, former Minister of Justice in the Ehud Barak government, and head of the far-left Meretz party.

  • The accord had the support of the government of Switzerland and was signed with much fanfare from the press and the international community in Geneva on December 1st, 2003.

  • Neither the Israelis nor Palestinians who drafted it have a mandate from their respective peoples or governments to make a deal or to compromise on any issues.

  • While the maps used are based on pre-June 5, 1967 ceasefire lines, the actual borders laid out in the plan differ significantly from those lines. Numerous changes have been made to the borders, exchanging areas from the Israeli side of the ceasefire line for reciprocal modifications on a 1:1 basis.

  • Ma’ariv reports that the Arabic text differs from the English (official) version.

    Positive Features of the Initiative

  • The accord includes some concessions from both sides, and demonstrates that there are Israelis and Palestinians willing to accept compromise and eager for peace.

  • The plan seems to recognize the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to self-determination.

  • The proposed solution for the dilemma of the “Right of Return” may point the way to an eventual solution, one that recognizes the plight of the Arabs who fled rather than accept the two-state partition mandated by the UN in 1947, but does not threaten the identity and integrity of the Jewish state.

    Negative Features and Questions

  • The key issue of how and when Palestinian terrorism will be eliminated is not addressed in any meaningful way. No real consequences are specified if terrorism continues. Once a Palestinian state is established, Israel will have no way of countering Palestinian terrorism, other than to complain to a “Trilateral Security Committee.”

  • The text does not clearly recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Instead, it talks of “the right of the Jewish people to statehood.” It adds that, “the parties recognize Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples (Article 2.4).” While this could be read to imply acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, some diplomatic observers see ambiguity in the wording.

  • The agreement differs little from what was offered by the Israeli side to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000. Arafat turned down that offer and launched a wave of terrorism in response.

  • Articles 12, 13, and 14 and Annex X (which spells out many of the specifics of the plan) have not been published, so there is no way to judge what is in them. Yet the agreement has already been signed (See comments from Yossi Beilin below).

  • The plan’s treatment of minority groups is disturbing. While Arabs will be allowed to continue to live as citizens in Israel, the Israeli government will be responsible for the removal of all Jews from the new state of Palestine. In recent decades, Jews have been ethnically cleansed from many Arab states that had had Jewish populations for centuries. In many Arab states, Jews are now prohibited from holding citizenship.

  • The plan outlines a settlement of to the “Right of Return” issue, but there has been almost universal rejection of this provision by Palestinian officials and the public (see responses below and Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) poll.)

  • This agreement sets a precedent that Israel has responsibility towards Palestinian refugees and their loss of property in a war that Arabs started. Also, the agreement offers compensation not only to the refugees, but to Arab “host states” as well. By contrast, no compensation is offered to any Jewish refugees who were expelled from any Arab countries and absorbed into Israel during these Arab-initiated wars.

  • The plan requires Israel to release within 30 months “all the Palestinian and Arab prisoners detained in the framework of the Israel-Palestinian conflict prior to the date of the signature of this agreement.” No exceptions are provided even for the most egregious crimes. This will likely result in the release of hundreds of terrorists and violent criminals who will pose a future danger to Israelis, Palestinians, and other innocent civilians.

  • This plan, unlike the Road Map, does not require that a Palestinian state be a democratic state. Shouldn’t Palestinians finally have a real choice about who governs them?


  • President George W. Bush: “I think it’s productive, so long as they adhere to the principles I have just outlined. And that is, we must fight off terror, that there must be security, and there must be the emergence of a Palestinian state that is democratic and free. We appreciate people discussing peace; we just want to make sure people understand that the principles to peace are clear.”

  • Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Rafik Natshe: “The right of return is holy and no one can cancel it.” He said that according to the PLC, the right of return refers to the return of Palestinian refugees to the land from which they came, meaning the territory of Israel and not the territory of the PA. “If we do not achieve our rights through peace, then to fight is a legitimate right…We will teach this hypocritical world how our people wins its rights through its steadfast struggle.”

  • PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath: “There is no negotiating the return of Palestinian refugees to the territory of the Palestinian state…The negotiation will be over the return of Palestinians who wish to return to their villages and towns in the lands that were conquered in 1948 [Israel proper].”

  • Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak: “After three years of one of the bloodiest suicide bombing campaigns in the history of terror led by [PA Chairman Yasser] Arafat and [Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed] Yassin, this accord is rewarding terror, it will not save lives, it will lead to more deaths…The issue of right of return into Israel is not solved, it gives Israel a measure of control over the rate of that return, but it doesn’t solve the problem, it complicates it. Contrary to what Jimmy Carter said tonight; there is no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Not even this simplest demand is met.”

  • House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas): “An end to Palestinian terror is not a concession in peace talks, it is a prerequisite to them…Entertaining freelance peace plans – like the Geneva Plan – that morally equate terrorism and self-defense is not only counterproductive to the peace process, but dangerous in its validation of terrorists and terrorism…No wonder Yasser Arafat likes this thing.”

  • Geneva architect Yossi Beilin: “There are two important things here: One is the ability to get into details, and we did not finish this walk. We are now going to write the annexes. Because if you saw the draft agreement, it doesn’t include the annexes. It does include 30 maps on our website, not the annexes on water, on the economic agreement. There are many questions there. We solved only the major questions, but the technical details are still to be dealt with.”

  • Geneva architect Yasser Abed Rabbo: “The Palestinian Authority does not officially support or adopt the Geneva document because, for an obvious reason, this official adoption needs official negotiations and an official partner on the other side. But we are encouraged by their support, and the Fatah mainstream, Fatah activists have participated with us in signing this agreement.” <P

    Additional Information

    The Geneva Initiative; The Maps (in Hebrew); The Dangers of the Geneva Accord (Ha’aretz); Citizens Show Peace is Possible (USA Today); After Geneva (Wall Street Journal); The Geneva Accord: A Strategic Assessment (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs); His Dream, to Be the Light at the End of the Israeli-Palestinian Tunnel (New York Times); Geneva: A Blueprint for War, Not Peace (Boston Globe); The Geneva Initiative: A Blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Brookings); Fantasy (The New Republic); Roed-Larsen: Geneva Accord ‘Unworkable’ (Associated Press);