EuropeIsraelPalestine

Alternative peace plan should be put to the people

Prominent European politicians who came out recently in favour of an alternative plan should push the EU to support and embracing other avenues to peace.

The stalling of the Middle Eastern roadmap and the upcoming presidential elections in the United States have left the EU and other parties to the – the UN, and Arab countries – frustrated and willing to explore other options. One increasingly popular alternative is the unofficial ‘Geneva initiative', a complete final accord negotiated by private Israeli and Palestinian citizens.

 As leaders of this group, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo – members of former Israeli and Palestinian cabinets – went on a European tour recently to promote the informal plan. Their visit elicited positive reactions from top European politicians, including EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and UK and Danish Foreign Ministers Jack Straw and Per-Stig Moeller.

“I think the Geneva initiative is perfectly compatible with the roadmap and, in fact, I think it may help not only to implement it but to resolve its last phases,” Solana said after meeting the veteran politicians.

In a 13 February resolution, the German parliament (Bundestag) welcomed the Geneva initiative, which represents “a compromise line” and “completes” the roadmap by giving it a “concrete perspective”. Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, had previously greeted it as “an encouraging signal of hope”. In contrast to other plans on the table and the defunct ‘Oslo Process', the Geneva initiative takes as its starting point a final status agreement. By tackling the sticking points of and the exact borders of a future Palestinian state, the plan's authors hope to overcome grassroots scepticism.

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The positive momentum the plan is creating, with 58 former global leaders and eight US officials signing a letter of support, is a good start. But much more is needed to prevent this umpteenth high-level effort from becoming yet another dead letter. To that end, Patten indicated his willingness to put some EU money behind the project. The commissioner touched upon the crux of the initiative's success – citizen involvement. In a region sceptical of every new plan and disgruntled with its leadership, getting people directly involved might instigate a major breakthrough.

Recognising this, the text of the Geneva initiative was sent to every Israeli household and was made available in the Palestinian media. Additionally, Ami Ayalon, a former Israeli security chief, and Sari Nusseibeh, a senior Palestinian academic, kicked off the People's Voice project, which aims to mobilise mass public support for a similar final status agreement. They have so far gathered some 100,000 Israeli and 60,000 Palestinian signatures. Joint Israeli-Palestinian popular action has traditionally been limited to such non-political gestures as expeditions to Antarctica and communal peace villages.

These new initiatives finally deem Israelis and Palestinians to be sufficiently mature politically to have a say in the shape of a future peace. The next step would be to launch a broad public debate in which the various proposals could be discussed and refined before being put to a referendum. The parties to the Geneva initiative believe that the leadership should “put the plan directly to their respective peoples”. The international community should mount “a concerted political campaign, calling on Israelis and Palestinians to vote in favour of the plan,” as Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group, the Brussels-based think-tank behind the unofficial accords, put it in a recent article.

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While people on both sides long for peace – 82.8% support the cessation of violence – an overwhelming 83.7% believe the peace process is dead, but roughly 40% support the Geneva initiative. However, the vast majority of those involved – Israelis, Palestinians and third parties alike – anticipate that the terms of any final settlement cannot differ much from what has already been negotiated. What appears to be missing for a breakthrough is mutual trust, political courage and respect for public opinion.

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This article first appeared in the 19-25 February 2004 edition of The European Voice.

Authors

  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil . Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and . He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in , on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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  • Katleen Maes

    Katleen Maes is the victim assistance coordinator for the Nobel peace prize-winning Handicap International in Brussels. She works on the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and is part of the Cluster Munition Coalition. She was the final editor and lead researcher on Fatal Footprint, which measures the human impact of cluster munitions. She is also a conflict resolution and sustainable peace expert specialising in the Middle East. In addition, she writes for various publications.

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled’s life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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