Foreign Ministry Chastises Swiss Envoy: Stop Pushing Geneva Understandings

The Foreign Ministry yesterday launched its diplomatic battle against the Geneva Understandings by summoning the Swiss charge d'affaires for a meeting at which Israel expressed its displeasure over Switzerland's activities on behalf of the document, a draft Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement negotiated by opposition figures without the government's knowledge or consent.

Israel is trying to prevent foreign countries, and particularly members of the European Union, from either giving the document formal backing or financing the opposition's efforts to promote it. It is directing its criticisms not at the document's contents, but at the impropriety inherent in a foreign government supporting a private diplomatic initiative.

In response, the document's Israeli sponsors, headed by former minister Yossi Beilin, said that they would continue to solicit funds to promote the document, including from foreign governments.

According to government sources, yesterday's meeting with the Swiss charge d'affaires focused not on Switzerland's financial support for the talks that produced the document, but on the current efforts by its foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, to persuade other European countries to adopt it.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Yoav Biran told the Swiss official that "the government of Israel did not authorize anyone to deal with this issue, and the Geneva Understandings have no legal validity." The Palestinian negotiators, he said, were also not authorized by their government to conclude a binding agreement.

"Israel supports the road map and President Bush's vision. That is the only plan that has gained international legitimacy and that is acceptable to the parties," he continued. "There is no place for alternative initiatives, and international effort invested in promoting the Geneva Understandings, such as the current Swiss activity, is liable to come at the expense of the road map and cause it to fail."

In addition to Calmy-Rey, two other foreign ministers - France's Dominique de Villepin and Belgium's Louis Michel - have also decided to push the document within the EU and to finance efforts to promote it within Israel, according to a report on their meeting last week that has reached Jerusalem.

The Foreign Ministry has instructed all its representatives overseas to combat any move by foreign governments or international organizations to either formally adopt the understandings or to finance efforts to sell them to the Israeli public, on the grounds that this constitutes unacceptable interference in Israel's domestic affairs. However, it has decided against lodging formal protests (demarches) with foreign governments, lest it thereby ascribe undue importance to the document.