A concession on the right of return for Palestinian refugees in exchange for Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount is the core of a draft peace agreement concluded by unofficial Israeli and Palestinian negotiators yesterday.
Palestinian sources said that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was updated on the talks and is aware of all the details of the agreement. On the Israeli side, however, all of the negotiators were members of the opposition, acting without the government's knowledge or approval; thus the draft has no official status.
The draft, known as the Geneva Accord, is to be signed in Switzerland in the coming weeks - possibly on November 4, the anniversary of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. The Swiss Foreign Ministry financed and mediated the negotiations, which took two and a half years. In the weeks leading up to the signing, both sides intend to embark on an aggressive campaign to market the agreement to their respective publics.
Yesterday's ceremony in Jordan to mark completion of the document was attended on the Israeli side by former minister Yossi Beilin, who headed the Israeli negotiating team; MKs Haim Oron (Meretz), Amram Mitzna (Labor) and Avraham Burg (Labor); former MK Nehama Ronen; Brigadier General (reserve) Giora Inbar and author Amos Oz. Other Israelis party to the initiative include former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, MK Yuli Tamir (Labor) and several Meretz MKs. The Palestinian representatives at the ceremony, who also led the talks for their side, were former ministers Yasser Abed Rabbo, Nabil Kassis and Hisham Abdel Razeq and two leaders of the Fatah-affiliated Tanzim organization, Kadoura Fares and Mohammed Khourani.
Abed Rabbo, who defined the draft as "the start of a new era," said that he had received congratulations on the agreement from Arafat, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Qureia's predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas.
Khourani, who noted that four of his brothers are in Israeli jails, said: "We understood that Israel cannot defeat us by military means, but we also understood that we can't defeat Israel, and the solution must be political."
Declared Mitzna: "The peace camp now has an agenda. We've finished the easy part; now we've come to the hard part - to return to Israel and knock on every door, and convince the public."
Oz noted that "those who attack us will undoubtedly ask: `What have you done? You've given them everything in exchange for a few embraces' ... But what we have done today will determine the future."
Beilin, responding to his critics on the right - who charged that the architect of the Oslo Accords was now repeating his disastrous error - said: "I know that they'll say this is a bad agreement, that we caved in and gave away everything. But one thing they won't be able to say: that there is no partner [for an agreement]."
Government officials led the attack on Beilin and his colleagues. "There is a government in Israel, and it is the one that deals with such matters," said Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. "Everything else is virtual. I wouldn't have expected much else from those who brought us the Oslo Accords, for which foolishness we are still paying the price today, but therefore, we need to keep this in proportion."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who first began attacking the Beilin-Abed Rabbo initiative last week, said yesterday that it has foiled any chance of advancing serious negotiations on a peace agreement.
Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres declined to comment on the document, saying he could not do so until he knew what it said.
The main points of the draft are as follows:
* The Palestinians will concede the right of return. Some refugees will remain in the countries where they now live, others will be absorbed by the PA, some will be absorbed by other countries and some will receive financial compensation. A limited number will be allowed to settle in Israel, but this will not be defined as realization of the right of return.
* The Palestinians will recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
* Israel will withdraw to the 1967 borders, except for certain territorial exchanges, as decribed below.
* Jerusalem will be divided, with Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem becoming part of the Palestinian state. Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank suburbs of Givat Ze'ev, Ma'aleh Adumim and the historic part of Gush Etzion - but not Efrat - will be part of Israel.
* The Temple Mount will be Palestinian, but an international force will ensure freedom of access for visitors of all faiths. However, Jewish prayer will not be permitted on the mount, nor will archaeological digs. The Western Wall will remain under Jewish sovereignty and the "Holy Basin" will be under international supervision.
* The settlements of Ariel, Efrat and Har Homa will be part of the Palestinian state. In addition, Israel will transfer parts of the Negev adjacent to Gaza, but not including Halutza, to the Palestinians in exchange for the parts of the West Bank it will receive.
* The Palestinians will pledge to prevent terror and incitement and disarm all militias. Their state will be demilitarized, and border crossings will be supervised by an international, but not Israeli, force.
* The agreement will replace all UN resolutions and previous agreements.
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