A shaky foundation
In the Geneva Accord, Israel does indeed concede the 1967 lands, but in exchange accepts the opening of the refugee file, discussion of which is carried on between it and the Arab world and the international community. This is a bad format for Israel.
Supporters of the Geneva Accord have raised four main claims: Israel is recognized in the accord as the state of the Jewish people; they do not hold out the right of return of refugees to Israel; it is Israel that exclusively decides on the entry of refugees into its territory; and the accord makes it possible to close the refugee file, enabling the end of the conflict. A close reading of the accord shows these statements are not exactly true.
The cover of the Geneva Accord booklet notes that "recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people" is one of the accomplishments of the initiative. However, this phrase is not found in the accord. There is phraseology that seemingly comes close to the aforementioned recognition, but, in actual fact, the Palestinians evade doing so.
For comparison's sake, the statement of principles of the "National Census" drafted by Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh defines Israel as "the only state of the Jewish people."
As for the right of return, the accord does not explicitly use the term "right of return," nor does it recognize it in its sweeping denotation. However, it affirms the principle of entry of refugees to Israel. The only questions are how many will be permitted to come, how will it be decided, and who will make the decision.
The refugee chapter of the accord is based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which notes that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date" and also that compensation will be paid to those choosing not to return. According to the Geneva Accord, the refugees will be able to choose from among five options for their permanent place of residence. One of the five is Israel. The Palestinian participants in the Geneva Accord, such as Khadura Fares, claim that since the understanding is based on Resolution 194, the Palestinians have not actually conceded the right of return.
As for the parties that decide on the fate of the refugees, these include Israel, the refugees themselves and an International Commission, which will be exclusively responsible for implementation of aspects of the accord that pertain to refugees. Israel has the sovereign right to decide regarding the entry of refugees into its boundaries, and their number will be in accordance with the number that it submits to the commission. This number will represent the overall number of Palestinian refugees that Israel will receive. In its calculations, Israel will take into account the average number of refugees that the third countries (those willing to absorb refugees) submit to the representation.
But what is this average? Assessments of Israelis and Palestinians range from 20,000 to 150,000 or more. However, aside from Israel, the refugees themselves will be deciding on their fate. They are given the right to freely choose their permanent place of residence. Between the sovereign Israeli decision and the free choice of the refugees, a conflict is liable to be generated, not to close the refugee file, but even to open it to prolonged quarrel, in conditions that are not to Israel's benefit.
This has to do with the status of the International Commission, which has the exclusive responsibility for this issue. The commission is supposed to comprise a list of members, which aside from the United States, Israel will have a difficult time finding sympathetic partners among them. It will also find there the UN, UNRWA, the Arab states hosting refugees and the EU. Technical committees of the commission "shall establish mechanisms for resolution of disputes arising from the interpretation or implementation of the provisions of this agreement relating to refugees" and "shall render binding decisions accordingly."
Supporters of the Geneva Accord explain that these decisions will only be binding when it comes to refugees. But is the commission supposed to rule only on disagreements arising from interpretation of the agreement solely among the refugees? This is unreasonable. More reasonable is that it is supposed to rule on disagreements between the parties to the agreement.
The refugee chapter is a shaky foundation for the accord, and it is more reasonable that it will be a source of discord and strife in which Israel will often find itself in splendid isolation. The most fair and reasonable formula for regulating relations between Israel and the Palestinians is concession of the lands occupied in 1967 in exchange for closing the 1948 file. This is the advantage embodied in the Ayalon-Nusseibeh agreement. There, in exchange for this concession, the 1948 file is closed through the return of refugees "only to the State of Palestine." In the Geneva Accord, Israel does indeed concede the 1967 lands, but in exchange accepts the opening of the refugee file, discussion of which is carried on between it and the Arab world and the international community. This is a bad format for Israel.
The writer is head of the Dayan Center for Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University.