Thursday, January 20, 2005

Geneva Initiative Gains Momentum

Geneva Initiative Gains A New Momentum
Jan. 20, 2005

The latest poll conducted jointly in Israel and Palestine shows very clearly that those who opted for peace as their strategic choice never erred. The poll results were published in Haaretz on Tuesday 18 January 2005


When 54 percent of the Palestinian public, according to the poll, support "a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, with border corrections and no massive return of refugees" this is a very clear indication that the Palestinian public in general favors a political settlement with Israel based on President Bill Clinton’s parameters, on the ideas that floated during the Taba talks in 2001 and on the Geneva Initiative. The organizers decided to raise the questions without naming any of those three frameworks. Instead they concentrated on the details to avoid any pre-conceptions.

In fact, there was no need to wait for the results of this poll. The outcome of the presidential elections in Palestine on 9 January showed that the Palestinian public at large strongly supports a pragmatic and practical leadership that is determined to solve the conflict without caving in to pressure from within or from without.

In his meeting with a delegation representing the Palestinian and Israeli partners in the Geneva Initiative on Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said very explicitly that he was determined to carry out the political agenda he campaigned for prior to his election. His message was firm and clear. He reiterated his commitment to stop all attacks on Israel because that falls within the supreme national interest of the Palestinian people. However, he insisted that his security plan forms only one leg of the process. The other leg, he explained, is in Israel's hands. The Israeli army, said Abu Mazen, should stop all its activities and attacks on the Palestinians in order to enable the Palestinian security forces to do their job. More importantly, he added, a political breakthrough to provide the people on both sides with hope is what they require to sustain the calm that they both need.

Abbas noted that in the heat of the election campaign, he did not hesitate to voice his views against the militarization of the Palestinian uprising though some of his aides advised him to avoid controversial statements that may cost him a few thousands votes. PLO Executive Committee Member and head of the Palestinian Peace Coalition/ Geneva Initiative Yasser Abed Rabbo, attended the meeting and told the press afterwards that it was fruitful and very constructive. He said that Palestinian-Israeli peace partnership has gained a new momentum with the election of Abbas in that the Israeli government has been stripped of the alibi it used over the past years claiming there was no partner for peace on the Palestinian side. Abed Rabbo stressed that Abu Mazen and the rest of the Palestinian leadership are a real partner for peace and that it is now up to the government of Israel to decide what its next step should be. Israel, he said, can choose between two things: either to react positively and end this conflict or continue with its efforts to perpetuate the occupation and engage the two peoples in further cycles of violence and confrontation.

When Abu Mazen spoke to his Israeli guests, he did not only outline his strategy and goals but also listed a number of steps that Israel should carry out parallel to the steps he plans to do. Israel, he said, should stop the wall construction because the Palestinian people cannot accept the presence of this wall on their land no matter what Israel’s excuses were. He criticized Israel's attempts to prejudice a permanent peace deal by creating facts on the ground. All issues of the final status, said Abu Mazen, should be subject to negotiations. He was referring to borders, refugees, settlements, water and Jerusalem. He noted that Palestinian prisoners can play a very constructive role in campaigning for peace. The prisoners, he said, are the “best electoral platform” and once Israel accepts this notion and releases remarkable number of prisoners, especially those who have spent long years in prison, “the whole environment will change and the Palestinians will start to see things in a totally positive way.”

The Israeli delegation members who arrived in Ramallah were somehow excited. For them, it was the first time in four years that they were allowed into Ramallah and had a chance to meet with Palestinian officials in their own offices. Yossi Beilin, Yahad Chairman and head of the delegation said it was Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's office who gave the orders to allow the team into Ramallah “but a few hours later the prime minister himself criticized the delegation for holding the meeting!”

Other members of the delegation were Knesset members Amram Mitzna, Yuli Tamir and Haim Oron and former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg. They were interested in knowing what Abu Mazen had on his agenda vis-à-vis talks with Israel. The answer on this point was clear too. The region, Abu Mazen said, cannot live with another set of interim agreements. Therefore, he added, the two sides, Israel and Palestine, should work together on the withdrawal from Gaza, the implementation of the Roadmap and the resumption of the final status negotiations.

In short, the momentum the peace process gained with the election of Abu Mazen needs to be grasped and promoted not only by the peace camps in Israel and Palestine but also by the leaderships on both sides. While Abu Mazen declared openly his support for negotiations as the only means to end the conflict, he certainly needs a reciprocal declaration from the Israeli government. Any failure or delay on Israel’s part to meet Abu Mazen’s extended hand for peace will only play into the hands of extremist forces on both sides. We have seen what extremism has brought on the two nations in the past four years. Today, it is our duty to give peace a chance.

Geneva Initiative Steering Committees Meet In Ramallah

The Palestinian Peace Coalition/ Geneva Initiative hosted a meeting with the Israeli Geneva Initiative team that met with Abu Mazen on Monday. The meeting, over a traditional Musakhan lunch, was part of the steering committee meetings that the two sides hold occasionally. Regular meetings of the steering committees have not been so possible because of travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on Palestinians planning to enter Israel and on Israelis who want to enter PNA areas.

The members of the two steering committees traded analysis and evaluations of the current situation. They discussed what steps should be taken in the second year of the Geneva Initiative activities. Emphasis was made on the need to address the public opinion in Israel and Palestine. The public, they agreed, can play a very important role in enforcing the change on the government, mainly in Israel while the Palestinian leadership has already been forthcoming with its readiness to negotiate and reach a final peace deal with Israel.

The two sides praised the “There Is A Partner” campaign which had been launched late in 2004 and was still being shown on Palestinian and Arab satellite television stations and in movie theatres on the internet in Israel. They agreed to intensify their steps in 2005 in order to reach an environment that is conducive to the resumption of peace talks between the official leaderships of the Palestinian and the Israeli parties. Peace is possible, they concluded. The model, they stressed, is Geneva Accord.