Three days after the administration of President George W. Bush shrugged off the unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace plan released last week in Geneva, a bipartisan group of eight former top U.S. national-security officials said they supported the so-called "Geneva Accord."
The endorsement of the group, which includes four former national security advisers, comes amid a growing controversy within the US Jewish community about the plan, as well as indications that Israel’s ruling Likud coalition is deeply divided about how to react to it.
The plan, a 50-page draft treaty based largely on tentative agreements reached between official Israeli and Palestinian delegations at Taba, Egypt, in January 2001, proposes the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state with predominantly Arab parts of East Jerusalem as its capital.
It provides for the absorption by Israel of a number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank close to the "green line" that defined Israel’s border before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in exchange for a comparable amount of Israeli territory contiguous with Palestinian territory.
The plan was worked out by teams led by Israel’s former justice minister, Yossi Beilin, and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, and signed in the presence of former US President Jimmy Carter, who negotiated the Israel-Egypt Camp David accord 25 years ago, among other international statesmen and women.
Despite the backing it received from Carter and European leaders, in particular, however, most analysts believe its prospects rest primarily on the attitude taken by the Bush administration, which, as Israel’s strongest ally, also enjoys the most leverage over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Sharon and his mainly neo-conservative allies in Washington have been remarkably successful in securing US support for his more-aggressive stance against the Palestinians and particularly Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat in the context of the US "war on terrorism."
It was thus considered remarkable that the Geneva Accord and a similar, shorter one drawn up by former Israeli intelligence chief Ami Ayalon and a leading Palestinian, Sari Nusseibeh drew favorable comments last month from both Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, even after the government of Prime Minister Sharon denounced it as subversive.
Indeed, both Powell and Wolfowitz scheduled meetings with Beilin and Nusseibeh, who traveled to the US to mobilize support for the effort after the signing in Geneva.
The Israeli government, however, and its right-wing Jewish and Christian allies in Washington also mobilized to try to prevent the meetings from taking place. Sharon’s deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, for example, publicly warned that Powell would be making a mistake if he went ahead with the meeting.
"I think he is not helping the process," Olmert, who is considered close to Sharon, warned, repeating the government’s arguments that the U.S.-backed "road map" was the only peace plan on the table.
As pressure increased, the administration began to succumb. Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, rejected a request for a meeting, while Bush himself, when asked about the accord at a White House photo opportunity with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Dec. 4, struck a deliberately ambiguous note. A meeting between Powell and the Accord’s two authors would be "productive so long as they adhere to the principles I’ve …outlined," an allusion to Washington’s adherence to the road map.
Meanwhile, Wolfowitz canceled his meeting at the last moment. While his office offered no explanation, Washington Post columnist Robert Novak, who is close to the Pentagon, reported Sunday that the cancellation was due to pressure from the White House.
It was in that context that Monday’s statement by the former senior officials was released by the International Crisis Group (ICG), which last week released a similar statement of support signed by 60 foreign leaders.
"We believe that the best way to move forward is to address at the outset, not at the end of an incremental process, all the basic principles of a fair and lasting solution," wrote the officials in an implicit critique of both the Oslo process and the road map.
"Postponing the final outcome makes any progress hostage to extremists on both sides. A process must be devised to give practical and political expression to the heartfelt desire of clear majorities on both sides to end this conflict once and for all," the statement said.
Signers included the national security advisers of Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski; former President Ronald Reagan, Richard Allen and Robert McFarlane; and former President Bill Clinton, Anthony Lake; as well as Clinton’s first secretary of state, Warren Christopher; Reagan’s defense secretary, Frank Carlucci; and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who served under former President George H.W. Bush during the Gulf War, but who previously served as ambassadors to both Israel and Egypt. The eighth signer was Robert McNamara, defense secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who later headed the World Bank.
The most significant omissions on the statement included Clinton’s second national security adviser, Sandy Berger, and secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, both of whom, according to sources, have conveyed their support privately and intend to do so publicly as well. Clinton himself has written favorably of the initiative and reportedly offered the two authors his personal assistance when they met by accident on a train between Washington and New York last week.
Also missing was former Secretary of State James Baker, who, according to sources, has expressed support but feels it would be awkward to do so publicly now that he has been appointed by the administration as the director of its efforts to gain debt relief for Iraq from its international creditors. Significantly, Baker’s Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, cosponsored with ICG a recent poll of Palestinians and Israelis that found that a majority of each people supported the basic principles of the Geneva Accord.
These endorsements suggest that Bush’s efforts to refocus attention on the road map, which has made virtually no progress since it was released last January, may not be as effective as the White House wishes. Indeed, the Geneva accord and the People’s Voice (which has been signed by more than 200,000 Israelis and Palestinians) are clearly stirring up the US Jewish community.
While right-wing groups like the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) have attacked the Accord in much the same terms as the Likud in Israel, peace groups have taken heart. "This is really drawing out a lot of people who have been reluctant to speak out in the last couple of years," said Lewis Roth, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now (APN).
While the large, mainstream Jewish organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, have not taken a position on the proposals, the largest Jewish newspaper, The Forward, called last week for its embrace both by "Israel’s friends" and by Sharon.
At the same time, leaders of the country’s largest synagogue movements joined a new Jewish, Christian and Muslim coalition called the "National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East," which last week demanded that Bush step up peace efforts.
(Inter Press Service)
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