Two Views: Does Geneva initiative spell hope or gloom for Israel Plan finally renews prospects for

The signing of the Geneva initiative has done what more than three years of violent confrontation have failed to achieve: It has renewed the hope that a workable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is attainable. The prospect of a negotiated settlement has aroused the ire of Ariel Sharon’s government and shaken its working premise that no political negotiations with the Palestinians are possible today.

Instead of grappling with the substance of the agreement, its detractors have heaped abuse on the drafters, charging them with subversion, and questioning their morals and their democratic values. Delegitimation — especially when personalized — is the weapon of the flailing and the insecure. It should not — and will not — divert Israeli citizens from addressing the content of the Geneva understandings and making up their own minds about the terms, which can bring an end not only to the overwhelming violence that engulfs them, but also to the century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The draft permanent status agreement contains more than 50 pages and a series of annexes and maps that are an integral part of the final text. The strategy guiding this undertaking, in a major shift from the phased approach governing the Oslo accords and the “road map,” is to first iron out in detail all the key elements of a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace treaty.

Agreement on the ultimate goal and the breakdown of the measures required for its realization (according to a 30-month timetable) provide both a clear, consensual objective and the promise of a reduction of violence and terrorism en route to its implementation.

The Swiss-backed initiative contains path-breaking understandings on absolutely vital issues to Israel and its future. The preamble to the document highlights the centrality of the achievement of a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. For the first time in Israel’s history, there is explicit recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. And, tellingly, there exists, in black and white, the coveted clause that full compliance with the terms of the agreement will bring an end to the conflict and foreclose any further claims.

The chapters of the Geneva understandings cover all the main issues on the Palestinian-Israeli agenda. Much attention is devoted to the termination of terror and violence and to steps to eradicate all forms of incitement. Elaborate provisions are made to safeguard Israel’s security, including the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state.

The refugee issue is resolved through compensation, repatriation in Palestine, relocation in a third country or official residency in existing domiciles. There will be no Palestinian return to Israel (extraordinary individual humanitarian cases will be settled only by agreement).

Jerusalem will become the capital of two states, and much of the area around Jerusalem (including Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev) is absorbed into Israel. Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall (and Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount) will be assured by international authorities.

The Palestinian state will be established on 97.6 percent of the territories. The remaining 2.4 percent, containing 75 percent of the settler population, will be included in Israel in return for an equal amount of territory around the Gaza Strip and in the Negev (south of Hebron). Other settlements will be either evacuated or dismantled, leaving the Palestinians with 22 percent of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.

Other questions — safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, access to the holy sites, prisoner release and labor exchange — receive specific treatment. A complex system of monitoring mechanisms is set in place to assure compliance.

This is a rich, serious, action-oriented document. It defies the official mantra that there is no Palestinian partner for negotiations (the Palestinian Authority has accompanied every move). It flies in the face of the conventional wisdom perpetuated by Ehud Barak, and conveniently echoed by his successors, that everything was offered at Camp David and summarily rejected by Yasser Arafat. Clearly, as the Clinton proposals and the Taba talks indicated, too many topics were either obscured or ignored. What was left open three years ago is now apparently solvable.

The Geneva understandings have totally undermined the rationale behind Sharon’s militaristic policy. It is hardly surprising, under the circumstances, that the government has lashed out against its architects who have done precisely what oppositions are meant to do — offer a real alternative to the present quagmire. The Israeli signatories (unlike the right-wing opponents of Oslo who lobbied in Washington and in European capitals to obstruct the accords) propose positive steps to facilitate a full resolution of the conflict in line with official Israeli policy, confirmed most recently by the prime minister himself in the Aqaba summit. Denouncing them will no longer sway a despairing Israeli public skeptical of the capacity of the present leadership to bring about significant change.

The full text of the Geneva agreement will reach every Israeli home in the next few weeks. Those who truly cherish democracy and the civil society it nurtures would do well to let each and every person read the proposed agreement and make their own decision. The future of the country depends on the good sense of its citizens and the ability of the leadership to listen to their voices.

Naomi Chazan, a former Meretz Knesset member, is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This column appeared previously in The Jerusalem Post.