The so-called Geneva Initiative, a peace proposal unveiled this week by former and current Israeli lawmakers and Palestinian officials, is designed to demonstrate to the Israeli public that "there are decent people on the other side, that there is what to talk about, and basically whom to talk to."
That was the assessment of Colette Avital, a Knesset member from the Labor Party who at one time participated in the effort to formulate the proposal. She insisted that at no time was it an attempt to replace or circumvent the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Instead, she told The Jewish Week, it was a move by former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and other former Labor Party leaders to see if a peace proposal could be worked out based upon the initial agreements reached during peace talks at Taba, Egypt, in January 2001. Those talks ended because of the change of administration in the U.S.
"They took the Taba agreement and continued to explore [the issues]," Avital said, noting that the talks resumed in secret a few months after they officially disbanded.
"The fact that they negotiated this for over 22 years shows that it was not so easy to reach [agreement]," she said. "It took a lot of wheeling and dealing. At one point, they even had to go over details with a map and a pencil."
But Tommy Lapid, the current justice minister, said this agreement will actually be "an impediment to peace because it opens for the Palestinians such hopes that will never be fulfilled."
"Therefore," he said, "the road to peace has now become more difficult."
Lapid insisted that much of the agreement is "unacceptable to the Israeli government and to the Israeli people." And the fact that an agreement was reached is not surprising, he said, because the Israelis "gave in on every possible subject."
The agreement calls for Israel to give the Palestinians control over the Gaza Strip and all but 2 percent of the West Bank, thus virtually returning Israel to its pre-1967 border and giving such major West Bank communities as Ariel and Efrat to the Palestinians. It would also give the Palestinians sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but allow Israel to retain control over the Western Wall, and divide Jerusalem between Israelis and Arabs.
Lapid said the Palestinians who signed the agreement did not give up the right of Palestinians to return to Israel. But Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations said the proposal accomplishes the same thing by giving Israel veto power over Palestinians who want to move to Israel. In addition, he said, the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Although Siegman said the initiative would not be adopted by the current Israeli government, it "may energize the peace camp in Israel to become an active opposition."