Yossi Beilin succeeded twice - once in imparting a bit of renewed relevance to the Israeli left, at least in the media, and again in irritating Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who abandoned his moderate image and lashed out at the "attempts of the left to bring down the government at a time of war." Beilin took advantage of the Sukkot-induced media dry spell to attract widespread attention to the draft he formulated together with a group of Palestinian public figures headed by Yasser Abed Rabbo. Beilin's main goal was to disprove the notion promulgated by Sharon and his predecessor, Ehud Barak, that "we have no partner." Ever since the failure of Barak's negotiations at Camp David and Taba, Beilin has been trying to show, mainly unsuccessfully in terms of the media, that the Palestinians are ready for compromise, especially on the question of the Palestinian refugees' right of return, which is seen by Israel as the death knell of the Jewish state.
The Geneva accord, authored by Beilin, Amram Mitzna, Avraham Burg, and their Palestinian counterparts, is another expression of the awakening of the left, that was paralyzed during the period of the national unity government. Sharon is encountering the buds of opposition the likes of which he has not seen since the beginning of his tenure. He therefore reacted with uncharacteristic acidity to reports on Beilin's document.
As the Prime Minister's Office explained yesterday, "At a time when the whole world is becoming convinced by our arguments against Arafat, people stand up among us and come to a final agreement with them. This puts us in a ridiculous light." As a Labor Party official put it more succinctly, "If there is a partner on the Palestinian side, we don't need Sharon."
The accord itself is an intellectual exercise - its authors do not have the authority to implement it. Even so, the document is worth cautious consideration, at least until the full text is published when the Palestinians will evince their tendency to distance themselves from such documents.
Initial revelations indicate that the Palestinians have given up on the right of return. A closer examination shows that this is not exactly the case. The document repeats the menu offered the refugees by the Clinton plan, which allows a certain number of Palestinians to return to Israel, not within a "right of return" but according to a different formula.
Details that have come to light so far show that most of the compromising was done on the Israeli side, especially in terms of the determination of borders and the division of Jerusalem. The Geneva accord goes even further than Barak did on some points. It gives up Ariel and transfers authority on the Temple Mount to the Palestinians. It surrenders Israeli control of the border passages between Israel and the Palestinian state (but not its demilitarization); it grants status to an international force in Jerusalem and at border points; and agrees to a border based on the Green Line, with a 1:1 exchange of territories.
The Palestinians' main compromise was in recognizing Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and its agreement to annex Ma'aleh Adumim and Efrat to Israel in exchange for the transfer of Ariel to its territory. It also compromised by agreeing to accept sovereignty over the Temple Mount gradually, rather than all at once.
The Geneva accord seeks to solve the conflict by dividing the land into two states, and in this it is in line with President Bush's vision of the road map. But unlike that plan, it does not push the Palestinians toward comprehensive democratic reforms, as do the proposals of the Sharon government. As one official involved in the agreements put it, "As far as I'm concerned, it can be a dictatorship like it is in Egypt, but if they can't provide security, there will be no accord."
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