It is an opportunity not to be missed. This is what the Geneva accord on the Middle East, completed on Monday in Geneva, should represent for the European Union. It is the fruit of two and a half years of secret negotiations, launched by two former Ministers, the Israeli Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian Abed Rabbo, with the blessing of prominent international statesmen, the likes of which have never been seen before in this troubled region.
Without a doubt it is not a peace plan that was conceived either within the Israeli Government or within the Palestinian Authority. But, at least now that the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has promised to meet the agreement’s patrons, Beilin and Rabbo, in Washington, it can no longer be dismissed as a ‘virtual’ accord. No matter what the Israeli deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who has harshly accused Powell of committing ‘an error’ and of taking the ‘wrong’ decision ‘for an American leader’, says.
In reality, both the method and the content of the Geneva accord offer a promising alternative to the current stalemate in the Middle East. And they are, moreover, perfectly in tune with the European view of the conflict.
Firstly, because, broadly, the Agreement foresees the creation of a Palestinian State in 97.5% of the territory that Israel has occupied since 1967; it gives up the right of return for Palestinian refugees, leaving them instead the choice of three different options (1); and it puts forward an administrative, but not physical, division of Jerusalem, entrusting the much contested Temple Mount to the Palestinian sovereignty. It is fundamentally a perfect compromise for the European Union because, in contrast to the Road Map, it goes right to the heart of the problems. And it outlines – in a way that is acceptable to the moderates on both sides – the creation of two States, which is just what the EU has wanted since the Venice European Council in 1980.
Secondly, the Geneva accord presents a wonderful opportunity for the Union because the centre of gravity will move from the conflict on the battlefield to the political arena; from the dusty streets of the Middle East, with their check-points and exploding buses to the complex universe of public opinion, both Israeli and Palestinian. Beilin and Rabbo’s objective is clear: to make Sharon and Arafat’s basis for consensus collapse, thereby proving to their peoples that the demilitarisation of this conflict is possible; that ‘on the other side there is a believable interlocutor’. It is a punch in the face for Israeli militarism and Palestinian terrorism.
One in two Israelis are in favour
It is politics’ revenge. And, the European Union, founded as it is on civil not military power, and having always justified its scarce involvement by the conflict’s military nature, must not let this opportunity pass it by. The Italian Presidency has not understood this. It has been too busy with the provincial battle over launching the European ‘Constitution’ in Rome. Indeed, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Frattini, could only manage to repeat the wretched three-line comment published on the official Presidency web site warning that ‘the Agreement should not be considered as an alternative to the Road Map’. Instead, Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, has been the one to understand. He has defined Geneva as a ‘powerful example of how civil society can impose a return to the political perspective and reinvigorate public debate’.
But, if the Geneva initiative is to have this effect, the EU must help its patrons with generous financing in order to allow the peace plan to spread as widely as possible in Palestinian and Israeli society, in the face of extremists on both sides. Certainly, in the quagmire that is the Palestinian Authority it will be more difficult than in Israel’s democracy. But the outlook remains favourable on both sides. According to the most recent polls, in fact, 53% of Israelis and 55% of Palestinians support a peace plan based on the Geneva accord.
We cannot wait any longer. In Geneva politics has been brought back to life. Europe must now help to keep it alive, in the face of Arafat’s terrorism and Sharon’s militarism. This time there are no more excuses.
(1) The refugees would have the possibility to either:
- settle in the new Palestinian State.
- stay in the country they are in and receive financial compensation.
- return to Israel according to the procedures (quotas etc) that will be fixed by the Israeli Government.