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The Geneva Accord

Speakers: Yasser Rabbo, former minister of information, Palestinian Authority, Zuhair Al-Manasreh, governor, Bethlehem, and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former chief of staff, Israeli Defense Forces
Moderator: James F. Hoge Jr., editor, Foreign Affairs
Speaker: Yossi Beilin, former minister of justice, Israel
December 4, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations


Cosponsored with the East-West Institute

New York, New York

JAMES HOGE: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. Welcome to the Council. I think we're going to have a most interesting session today on the Geneva Initiative, which is new as of this week. Let me come back to that.

First, a few of the usual logistics:

Today's meeting is on the record, and it is cosponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the East-West Institute.

We're going to try a slightly different approach to questions for this session. I guess the Council's in an experimental mood. You will find on your tables in a glass, I believe, paper and pencils. As a question comes to you, write it down and put your hand up, and we have various members of the CFR staff who will come around and collect them, bring them to me. After we've had a chance to discuss it for a while, I will then go through the questions from the audience and pose some of them, as well.

We will be closing at 2:00, as always.

One last procedural matter: cell phones. Please check to see that they are off.

I should also mention that we're joined today by national members. This is being videoed, I guess, whatever, to our national members around the country.

Our panelists up here, starting on my right and moving straight across, are General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who's the former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces. On my immediate right is Yossi Beilin, who is former minister of justice. On my immediate left is Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is the former minister of information of the Palestinian Authority and a member of the PLO Central Committee. And lastly is Zuhair Al-Manasreh, who is the governor of Bethlehem.

The gentlemen on my immediate right and left have been involved for a long time in peace negotiations involving Israel and Palestine.

Now, on to the—oh, excuse me. I almost forgot something. We have more than just our panelists today. We also have some guests who are with us, and they're in the audience, and they're at a table over here. Let me tell who they are: Shaul Arieli, who's a retired colonel of the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] and former head of the negotiating center with Ehud Barak; Nahema Ronen, who's a member of Likud Party Central Committee and a former member of the Knesset; Samih Al-Abed, deputy minister of planning, Palestinian Authority; and lastly, Nabil Kassis, minister of planning of the Palestinian Authority.

Now these guests will be available to answer questions if some of our panelists want to shoot it down to them, if they're in a better position to answer than we up here.

Let's move on to the topic for the day, the Geneva initiative. This is a 50-page—some have described it as a symbolic blueprint for what a final settlement might look like, ought to look like, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It was unveiled Monday in Geneva, after two years of these behind-the-scenes, unofficial negotiations. It's meant to act as a catalyst for official negotiations. There is, of course, the road map process which is out there. Now, this initiative really forsakes the phased approach of Oslo and moves straight to what a final solution ought to look like, what the trends ought to be. And we haven't got time to go through all of them, but let me give you a rough sense of some of the main ones.

A two-state solution is proposed, with East Jerusalem as the capital for the Palestinian state, and West Jerusalem as capital for Israel. A roughly—a borderline between the two countries of the 1967 border, with some land exchanges to compensate for changes in the border that are made for Israeli security reasons, or to incorporate some of the settlements. Dismantlement of a substantial amount of the settlements in the West Bank. A waiver of the right of return by the 3.6 million refugees and their descendents from the 1948 war. A recognition of Israel, and an end to violence, and a disarmament of militants. And finally, sovereignty of the Temple Mount would be with the Palestinian state, while the West Bank would remain in the control of Israel.

There's plenty more but that's—

UNKNOWN: The Western Wall.

HOGE: Pardon?

UNKNOWN: The Western Wall.

HOGE: Western Wall. What did I say?

UNKOWN: West Bank.

HOGE: Oh! (Laughter.) The Western Wall.

YASSER RABBO: We don't want it. We don't want it.

HOGE: I almost sunk the Geneva Initiative right there! (Laughs; laughter.)

So, let's just start out with some questions. We're going to go back and forth here among the panel for a while, and then we'll be going out to the audience.

There's been a lot of reaction to this plan right away. The official reaction goes all the way from Sharon saying that these kinds of private negotiations border on treason and are—endanger Israel, to Arafat expressing some support but no official endorsement, to militant elements on both sides rejecting the proposal out of hand; the United States welcoming the initiative, but at the same time, staying with the road map as the way forward.

Let me start by asking both of you, who have been so much involved, how do you expect to have this initiative, what steps are you going to take to see that this initiative has some staying power, has some effect, and doesn't become just another report that ends up on a back shelf?

Would you start, Yossi?

YOSSI BEILIN: Thank you. I think that the reactions so far, in less than two months since we signed the cover letter to the Swiss foreign minister, which was attached by the draft agreement, the reactions are much, much beyond our expectations. It became controversial both from the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side. It became in a very short while almost a household title or name in both places, maybe—and not only because we distributed it to every household, which was a kind of a precedent, but because the media took it, all over the world, and they referred to it very seriously.

Our role is to keep it on the agenda because what we need is to use the public opinion in our two peoples in order to change the policy of the leadership. This is the role. In order to change the public opinion so that the public will support something like that, we will have to explain. We will have to go from one place to another. I mean, our plan for 2004 is just a kind of a canvassing campaign to convince more and more people that this is the only way to save ourselves from the current situation, which is very, very gloomy.

Now, we are going to have conventions in Israel, on the Palestinian side, and abroad because we cannot meet together either on the Israeli side or on the Palestinian side. We intend to have a very big conference in Cairo in a month time. And we are going to continue and debate it in schools, in different places in Israel and on the Palestinian side.

This is our main aim right now. According to the public opinion polls, the support in Israel is between one-third to 40 percent. Today, the latest polls we've heard, to 40 percent. It is something which is not far from there. If you have 40 percent already, then to get more than 50 is not impossible, not impossible. And we have proven to ourselves in previous campaigns. So this is now our role.

And in order to get our public opinion, we need also the legitimacy and the support of the world. We don't want an imposed solution. We think that it is the worst thing that we can imagine. But if the world respects it and if the world is suggesting to maybe change the policy towards the two peoples or the two countries while there is such an agreement—for example, if there is a readiness on the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel on the basis of such a document, it will encourage, it will be an incentive for many Israelis to support it.

If the Europeans are saying to us, okay, such an agreement, if you sign it, you might become candidates for the enlargement of the European Union, it is a very important incentive. And the same goes for the United States. The United States has many ideas which can be incentives for both peoples. And if it is connected with a permanent solution, I think that we can get more and more support at home. And this is our biggest asset, our public opinion.

HOGE: And how about among the Palestinians? I know it's very early, but what are some of the initial reactions? I understand that at least one group of Palestinians who were headed to Geneva for the ceremony ran into considerable opposition on the ground in Gaza. Now I'm not saying that that represents the totality of feeling, but give us some sense of what you know about Palestinian feelings on this matter.

RABBO: Well, first of all, let me say this is the first document in our history which includes a detailed, comprehensive solution without any ambiguity, without any vague elements in it. We never had such a document. In the past, Palestinians, Israelis will meet and, of course, under the sponsorship of a third party, and they draw certain general outlines for the solution. Each side returns back happily and saying, "Well, we have a document, and it includes 10, 15 elements and points. But although we agreed on these principles, but our interpretation of these principles are different from the Israeli interpretation to it." And where do we end? We end nowhere, in the same place without any movement forward. This is one element.

The other element is, in the past, the world was trying to intervene all the time to convince us to solve our conflict and our problem. It is the first time that we have reached at a solution and we are introducing it to the world to convince the world to support us. And this is maybe a new, different element in what we did. We initiated this solution; we have a detailed solution.

And for that purpose, we were expecting that there will be some negative response, even, I would say, greater than the response that we had received up till now. Because behind us, there's a long history, decades and decades of confrontation, of hostile propaganda exchange between the two sides. In the past three years, there was a kind of a doctrine which was being spread: No possible solution because we offered those Palestinians—I don't know—a general solution in Camp David, and after, and they—because they rejected this solution. Okay, this was the myth that was spread by Mr. Barak, and was inherited by Mr. Sharon, and he used it to justify all the policies that he had adopted later on. And as long as we don't have a solution, we don't have also a partner for the solution.

Now we are telling both sides—on the other side, we have also the same Palestinian propaganda, I would say approach, which would say also: We will not be able to have a solution with the Israelis, and there is no possible partnership as long as the current Israeli leadership is adopting the policies which we see on the ground, ending with the wall, which is another story, and we might have time to talk about it later. So we had this atmosphere behind us—decades and the past three years.

We, in fact, believe that this document has a very important educational work in order to confront the extremist policies and extremist—I would call it doctrines, even, that were spread and were also encouraged by strong forces in both sides, and in general also in the region. We think that the understanding of the people is much better than we had expected. All the polls among the Palestinian people had shown that there is not less than 40 percent of the Palestinians support this document. Although we are still at the beginning, we are being faced with all kinds of accusations and et cetera. And the Palestinian Authority itself had taken a positive response, which is encouraging, and supporting the efforts and the resolution that we had reached at. But still, also we had a very long way to go.

HOGE: That gives us a sort of spotlight on the subject. We can come back to it, but I want to get the other panelists involved here.

Before this initiative was unveiled, we have had a rather surprising situation in which Israeli security officials, former security officials, and a general have spoken up that current policies are destructive of Israel's long-term interests, and in essence, putting their voices behind more diplomacy than is currently going on.

General Shahak, do you expect that kind of response to continue from the military forces, so to speak, past and present? And how much effect is it having?

AMNON LIPKIN-SHAHAK: I believe that now most of the Israelis understand—well, Israel is a very strong country, no doubt about it. And the IDF is a professional force, a very effective one, and I do believe that is doing what he has to do to defend Israelis against terror in a very professional and very moral way.

But we all understand that only by doing what we are doing for the last three years, and more than that, it's not a solution, it's not the way to solve the conflict. We all agree that terror has to be fought. We're not going to give up to terror. We are not going to let terror win anything. And we'll continue to do it. But just fighting terror or only fighting terror, it won't bring us to an end of a conflict that has a lot of bad implications on both people.

And therefore, I believe that we heard in the last three years—and by the way, it started by a few people, not people coming from the military side of the Israeli public, saying, "Let the army win." In the beginning of the last intifada, in the first year of the last intifada it was a slogan mainly among a few politicians, "Let the army win," as if the army is not doing enough. The army was doing its best, and the army still does whatever is possible. But then I believe more and more people were convinced that just by doing whatever we are doing to prevent and to preempt their attacks, this is not the solution for the conflict, and the solution of the conflict has to be done by politicians, by leaders, who have the legitimacy and who have to sit down and to find and to reach an agreement.

HOGE: Mr. Manasreh, this is an assumption, which is that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority would be in a stronger position to go for something that looked like the Geneva initiative if they got really strong backing and pressure from surrounding Arab governments: the Arab League, if you will. That hasn't always been there during negotiations. Is there any reason to expect that it will change now? Are there any efforts underway to get Arab countries to be more forthright and forceful in helping the peace process go forward?

ZUHAIR AL-MANASREH: Our experience with the Arab countries, I think, is easy to explain. The Arab countries, as are most of the actors and the involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, are tired of this conflict and they would like to see this conflict solved. And they gave, I think, in Beirut in their summit meeting an Arab initiative for a solution, which was included in our way of thinking when we developed this document for Geneva initiative.

Of course the Arab governments, and even the Arab people, would appreciate and would support a visible and convincing solution. And I think, from discussions we had previous to this document and also now, that they are happy to have such an agreement, suggestion or proposal formulated by Israelis and Palestinians, without being all responsible for presenting this document. It is an Israeli-Palestinian suggestion, and I think their support is more expected than their negative or passive role.

RABBO: They were present in Geneva events.

AL-MANASREH: Yeah. They expect—

RABBO: They—uh-huh.


RABBO: Three days ago the representatives of different Arab countries—and there were messages that were sent by King Mohammed—of Morocco—and President Mubarak. And their envoys by different Arab countries, to show their support to this initiative.

HOGE: Mr. Beilin—let me just remind you, we're about to go to the audience, so if you have any questions and you haven't written them out, please go ahead and do so.

Mr. Beilin, I've read that the Geneva initiative is meant to be complementary to the road map process. At first glance, it seems to me it's really more substantive, because it's on a different timetable and so forth.

But explain to us how you see it working in the road map and how the United States, in your opinion, ought to be responding to it beyond the initial welcoming remarks of the secretary of State.

BEILIN: Well, the road map is including three different components. The first phase is confidence-building measures. It deals with settlements. It deals with violence and terrorism.

The second phase is an option for a Palestinian state with provisional borders.

And the third phase is a permanent solution by the year 2005.

Now one thing that—the road map is the only game in town, since the two governments were ready to accept it and did it formally. The only problem with this game is that nobody is playing it. So it's not enough to be the only game in town. The question is whether we can revive it.

In my view, the main reason why this game is not being played is it because—it is because of the endgame, which doesn't exist. There is a general reference to the Bush vision, but it is very, very difficult to know what kind of a permanent solution would be there, and we are speaking, again, about 2005.

The way to revive it is to say: Okay, here you have the endgame. You can go now to the first phase. If you wish, you can go to the second phase, and then to the third phase. But if you are serious about the timetable—and the road map is just a timetable—if you are serious about it, and if you want a permanent solution by 2005, you had to negotiate about it yesterday! Do you think that it will be a kind of a deus ex machina at 2005, which is actually tomorrow; there will be a permanent solution suggested to both sides, and they will applaud? Only if you have the endgame in front of your eyes it is possible to implement it. And that's why our suggestion may be the only way to save the road map, which is the only game in town, and which will be played by the different players once they know what they are heading to.

HOGE: Very good. Okay, we're going to go to the floor on some of the questions, and we can take some more if your minds are still thinking them up.

Let me start with General Shahak. And here's a question from one of our members: How do you answer the criticism that by making deeper concessions than before the current intifada, the Geneva initiative shows the Palestinian people that violence pays?

SHAHAK: Well, it's not a new question in the conflict between us and the Palestinians, because whenever we had no conflict or no intifada, there was no pressure to reach an agreement. Whenever violence occurred, there was no reason to reach an agreement. And we were running one after the year, and years passed by, and time is running, and we are gaining nothing.

It's true that the last intifada started after there was a lot of optimism in the air, especially after Camp David—or before Camp David—not so much after Camp David. And the last intifada created a lot of damage on both sides. First of all, it destroyed the trust between people, totally destruction of trust that was built with so many efforts on both sides and was very fragile. But it was badly damaged. The fear, hatred and anger are what Israelis and Palestinians are exercising every day. Even children are speaking in a different language toward their neighbors on both sides again. I'm not talking about incitement and other things that are with us every day, everywhere. And the big question is how can we get out of this vicious circle?

It's also true for the road map. If the first phase will not be implemented—and it is not implemented till now, although both sides accepted it—and this is the tragedy of our region; we accept the papers and we don't implement them the next day. And there is no value to agreements that people are not committed to what they sign. And there is no disarm of armed groups on the Palestinian side, and there is no total freeze of settlements on the Israeli side. And there is no way to start to rebuild trust when both sides see no sign of light in the end of the tunnel.

And therefore, what are we waiting for? I do believe that what we are trying to do, we are not going to replace not the Israeli government and not the Palestinian Authority. We cannot choose for the Palestinians who will be their leader, although Israelis don't trust Yasser Arafat because of their experience, and again, especially the experience of the last three years. And I believe that the Palestinians—I cannot speak for them, but I would guess that they don't trust Sharon. (Laughter.) And they have their reasons. And the problem is we cannot force the leaders to come together. Although Geneva broke certain things over the reality. Sharon is going, I hope, to meet the Palestinian prime minister. I don't know if it's only because of Geneva, but I do believe that Geneva has to do a little bit with this fact. Sharon's son went to London officially for a meeting with Palestinians. It did not happen before. Even the Israeli opposition woke up. Labor, that did not say anything, suddenly is preparing a program. Shinui, who is part of the coalition, is thinking what should they propose. Even the council of the settlements is going to propose certain ideas of their own for the future.

We should argue about our future—it's our future!—and not wait for other people to provide us solutions. We have no authorization whatsoever to—not to sign papers, but no one can prevent us from thinking and proposing solutions for a chaotic situation that people are getting killed every day. And killing a child, that's for sure, is not the solution.

HOGE: Thank you.

SHAHAK: And that's what we are trying to do. (Applause.)

HOGE: That's a very eloquent statement.

Mr. Rabbo, let me ask you a question from the floor.

By the way, some of you have signed your names, and where you have, I'll read them off. And where you haven't, I can't.

This has to do with the Geneva initiative. What are the territorial compromises in the general fashion that are envisioned in the initiative? Did you get down to that level of detail? And will there be Israeli soldiers still left on the West Bank to protect settlers and to man security posts?

RABBO: No. I mean, the solution we reached at is an implementation of the vision of two states. If we speak about two states or two nations with defined borders between them, we mean that a Palestinian state, which is the homeland of the Palestinian people, beside Israel. And the line that separates is the 1967 line. Of course, there was an exchange of territory in order to help in solving the problem of some settlement blocks which are on the borders between Israel and the Palestinian territories. And in exchange for annexing these settlement blocks to Israel, the Israel should replace them with other territories, especially territories on the eastern side of Gaza in order to enlarge Gaza, which is also a national interest for the Palestinian people because Gaza is the most populated area all over the Earth.

So we have a clear-cut map that defines the borders, and this map includes Jerusalem. When we speak about sharing Jerusalem, the line of borders also includes Jerusalem, where there is a separation between East and West Jerusalem, but of course there are arrangements in order to keep the utmost cooperation and coordination possible between the two sides. Even the Old City in Jerusalem will be divided on the principle which was known in the Clinton parameters, the Palestinian quarters will go to the Palestinian state, and the Jewish quarters will go to the Israeli state.

There will be no settlers inside the Palestinian state, and the settlements should be transferred intact to the Palestinian Authority as a part of compensation.

Now, there will be two stations or monitoring—how do you call it?—

UNKNOWN: Early warning.

RABBO: Early warning system, two stations. And there will be a temporary presence of a limited Israeli force on the borders with Jordan. But—and this force will be within the international force that will guard these borders.

These are the outlines of the solution. This solution is accompanied by a map, and when we distribute it, distribute the—I'm sorry, I don't have a copy of it, but maybe this copy will help to show. When we distribute this copy of Geneva Accords, there is a map accompanying it that shows where are the borders and how these two states will look like. And this is the first time we are doing it.

HOGE: Let's just explain the colors [referring to map held by Rabbo].

RABBO: Yes. The colors—the blue color here are the areas that will be—dark blue—are the areas which will be annexed to Israel, and they include the settlement blocks. The red are the areas from Israel to compensate the—as a part of the exchange of territories. It is all around 2.5 percent from the total area of the West Bank, around—maybe less than 2.5. But this is the totality of it.

So, this solution shows that the sovereignty of the Palestinian state and the independence of the Palestinian people, ending the occupation is the key for us to the whole formula and the package that we had reached, because without this in the past, maybe we differed, we had all kinds of confrontations between us and the Israelis, the problem was how we are going to implement the two-state solution.

And maybe I return back to the first remark all I made. Always we spoke about a two-state solution, always we spoke about sharing Jerusalem, always we spoke about a Palestinian state side by side, but we did not put this principle on paper, on maps. When we started doing this, everything would freeze and then we start confronting each other.

HOGE: Very good.

Let me follow up with another question that has to do with the map, as a matter of fact, to Mr. Beilin. And it goes like this:

There is—the Geneva initiative is recommending the 1967 border, with the changes that have been just gone over. However, there's a wall being built. Some call it a fence. In some places, it is a fence. In other places, it's a wall. And it does not correspond to the 1967 lines in some very significant ways. How are you going to bring these two factors into some sort of agreement?

BEILIN: We decided that the settlements will not determine the future border. And we are drawing a border according to our mutual needs, not according to the 140 settlements.

If this is not preventing from determining a border, a wall which is being built in the beginning of the 21st century will be the last thing to prevent us from drawing our future border.

HOGE: Well, what do you expect? That the wall will be torn down if some—

BEILIN: Exactly so. We have some precedents. I mean, it is—(laughter, applause)—

HOGE: Yes, you do.

BEILIN: The wall is a result of the Israeli genuine fear of terrorism, of mothers and fathers who see the situation and who are afraid to send their kids to school or to the theater or whatever.

So many of the Israelis, more than 70 percent of the Israelis, wanted a wall. It is more than natural, because understand that there is no other solution, there is no peace around the corner. They don't trust the other side. They know that the government is not negotiating at all. So they wanted a wall. The government, which did not want a wall, saw the public opinion polls, and Sharon decided to build a wall. Now we accused for building this wall, but I can tell you, behind closed doors, this was the last thing on his mind. He didn't want a wall, for his own reasons.

Now that such a wall is being built, and it is so expensive, and it is between Israelis and Israelis, and it is creating suffering for the Palestinians, it is really the wrong thing to do.

Once there is an agreement, the first thing that we will do is to destroy—and really, the money which was spent on it is a waste of money. And we don't have too much. (Light applause.)

HOGE: Very good.

Mr. Manasreh, a question from Rita Hauser. If—let's assume for a moment the PLA goes forward with a full endorsement of the Geneva initiative. Can they bring Hamas and other militant groups along? And if not, will they be prepared? Do they have the capability of enforcing—i.e., demilitarizing the militant groups?

AL-MANASREH: Well, your first question was what? About the Palestinian opposition to Geneva?

HOGE: Right.

AL-MANASREH: And it's going to be stronger when it becomes an official agreement. I don't think that the Palestinian Authority alone can deal with Hamas without a clear, convincing political solution for the whole problem, such as in Geneva document—that's one thing—because Hamas and Islamic Jihad are principally against a coexistence agreement with Israel. They declared this, and they are going to oppose any agreement that leads to such coexistence. And we are aware of that.

But the problem is not that Hamas is opposing such a political project. The problem is that through the ongoing reality on the ground, Hamas is winning on the ground people who are supporting Hamas. That means there is a change within the population in the direction of radicalism and extremism. And this gives Hamas political strength and influence.

Now, if we want to overcome this problem, which is a very big problem—and, of course, opposition is everywhere and for everything—we have to convince the people through a clear political solution, and through immediate change on the ground, that things are going to be better, and to give them the option—for Hamas—to give them the constructive political option that occupation is going to be ended, that the problem of the refugees is going to be solved in a fair and honorable way, and that the security of the Palestinian population is going to be guaranteed. Then I think the Palestinian Authority, in cooperation with Israeli partner, in cooperation with the Arab states who—you know that the strength of any political power in Palestine is not only because of the local factors, but because of the intervention from external factors, from other Arab countries, and even more than Arab countries. And, of course, Palestinians, with Israelis together, within a clear political solution, then the Arab region factors and the international support and cooperation. Palestinians alone, and even Palestinians plus Israelis alone, cannot overcome the problems coming out even of a political solution. They need the support and the help of the regional and the international actors.

HOGE: It would appear, unless we have it wrong—I haven't had a chance to look at the full document—that the Geneva initiative sort of waives the right to return, which is a highly volatile issue. If that is the case, Ken Roth asks a question: Why are you abandoning the right of return instead of perhaps pacing its implementation, both in terms of time and in terms of numbers who might be allowed to return to Israel?

RABBO: Well, in fact, what is included in this document is a comprehensive and detailed solution for the refugees problem. Any attempt to sum it up in a slogan here or there, in fact will lead to misinterpretation of this document and will lead also to a negative response maybe from both sides, both populations.

We tried to have a very pragmatic and practical approach to solve the problem of the refugees. We had with us the five options which were introduced by President Clinton in his parameters before he left office, and that was at the end of 2000—yes, the year 2000. And both sides had accepted them. We had also the Arab initiative, which called for an agreed-upon solution, agreed solution for the problem of the refugees. And we have also the concept on which this plan was built on, which is to have two states, where the Palestinian state will be the homeland for the Palestinian people.

On this basis, we outlined a detailed solution. Maybe I have to remind with the five options of Clinton parameters, which include the return to the Palestinian state that will be open and uncontrolled; the return to the areas that will be swapped between the Palestinian state and Israel; and a limited and controlled return to Israel, of course with the sovereign decision of Israel as a state and as a government. And there will be also other two options: whether the Palestinians will have the citizenship of the country where they are staying now—of course this depends on the sovereign decision of the country itself; or to choose to go to a third country. These are the five options. And on the basis of them, we said there is a possible solution.

Now to say that we neglected the rights or we sold out the rights of the refugees, but the other side might say no. I mean as maybe Yossi said or maybe Amnon said, that the exchange now of the drums of accusations in the orchestra which is being played by the two extremists, one side is accusing us of giving up the right of refugees; the other side is telling that the Israelis, the Israeli team with us, gave in the right of the refugees, the right for return of refugees.

We found a solution, this is the important thing. What do we call it? I call it the best possible solution for the plight of my people, the refugees. I am a refugee. And I am explaining it in its details, not in the way it was explained in the past through slogans, either a slogan here or a slogan there, an expression; this is playing with the plight of the people, with the deep wound of the people. I'm not intending, I'll not go on with this game anymore. I want the problem of my people to be resolved. I don't want the future generations of the refugees to have the same suffering that I faced, my generation had faced and our children are still facing until today.

And for that purpose, I believe when it is explained in a courageous manner, in a very frank and clear manner, taking into consideration that there were changes that had occurred in the past decades, including demographic changes, there were changes that had occurred in the past decades concerning the situation of the refugees themselves, and especially because they are dispersed in so many countries; there are also in the solution which we are adopting a clear-cut understanding that there will be, as Amnon Shahak maybe said, that there will be separation between two peoples, and on the basis of this separation, there will be two neighboring states for the two nations without prejudicing the rights of the citizens who are non-Jewish, for example, inside Israel, or who might be non- Palestinian inside Palestine; this is the solution we want.

This solution differs from the wall, because the wall intends to destroy the possibility of this solution. The wall intends to prevent the implementation of a Palestinian state. Okay, it was the Israeli opposition which called for separation, building wall, et cetera, in the beginning. But Sharon took this opposition and he drew the line of the wall in accordance with his own understanding and his own scheme. His intention is to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and to turning the Palestinian-populated areas into prisons and ghettos for the Palestinian people.

If you want examples for them, go to some cities and towns and villages at the borders now of '67 and see what happened to towns like Qalqilya, to so many villages where they are now in between the wall, which is mostly a wall; sometimes the word "fence" is used in order to make it more palatable, as if to show that it's just a fence as the fence which separates between two gardens, you know, and not a wall which is over 25 feet high, eight meters, with areas on both sides to guarantee the separation. It's destroying the Palestinian life totally. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on both sides of the wall will be affected immediately, and they are being affected. This is a danger against our solution and against the solution which we intend to establish on the ground as a historical compromise.

The last sentence I would say: When we do this plan, we tried to address the basic interests of both sides, the basic aspirations of both sides. We knew that we cannot—- they can coexist, and we proved, through this map, that coexistence is possible, through proving that a detailed, comprehensive solution is possible.

HOGE: Thank you, Mr. Rabbo. (Applause.)

Mr. Beilin, a question that has to do with Arafat. The General mentioned earlier what we all know, which is there is, for many reasons, a deep distrust of Arafat in Israel, and not there alone. The Bush administration will not deal with Arafat. Neither will the Sharon government. Can the Geneva Initiative go forward without dealing Arafat back into the game? Do you envision, for example, that we continue road map discussions with Geneva Initiative elements inputted, with the prime minister of Palestine, with the Palestinian Authority? And if so, do you think that can work?

BEILIN: I'm not sure about it. I'm very doubtful about the policy which is boycotting a leader of the neighboring country.

No, I believe that the Palestinians deserve a better leader, I believe that the Israelis deserve a better leader—(soft laughter)—and I believe that many countries, by the way, deserve better leaders. (Laughter, applause.)

No, no, the question is whether the conclusion is that we have to boycott any leader whom we believe is not the ideal type. (Scattered laughter.) And had we done it, we would have been there alone, because we, of course, are the ideal type.

But this is a very, very major problem for us. I think that for many, many years, since '67, we have searched for a partner. We thought maybe King Hussein would be the partner, but eventually he gave up on it. We thought maybe there will be the mayor of Hebron, Sheikh Jabri, who is somebody whom we like very much. But he did not want to be the leader, and nobody saw him as the leader of the Palestinians.

Then when Sharon became the defense minister in '81, '82, he nominated somebody by the name of Mustafa Dudim to become the leader of the Palestinian people. Do you remember his name? Maybe not, because nobody saw him as the leader of the Palestinians, and he disappeared. He disappeared—I don't know what happened to him after—some months.

It means—

UNKNOWN: He died.

BEILIN: Well, it's a good reason. (Laughter.)

But now the question is whether we are able to do something like this. When the Madrid conference began—I mean, in Camp David, Begin signed an agreement with Sadat about the future of the Palestinians, but there were no Palestinians around dealing with it. So eventually, in Madrid, we found an idea, a formula, for a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation which would be together. Now, the Palestinians agreed to it because there was no—it was the only game in town. And as a result of it, they would go after every round of talks to Tunis to consult with Arafat. But Israel knew that Arafat was not in the picture.

Now, the Oslo process actually brought Arafat into the picture because we understood that he was the real leader of the Palestinians, whether we liked it or not, and most of us did not like it. And with him we signed the agreement, the Oslo agreement, the interim agreements, and it was possible to have some kind of negotiations.

As a result of the last three years, in which he made big mistakes, big mistakes—I don't think, by the way, that he invented the intifada, but he rode the wave of terror in the intifada, and he did not stop it in time. He could have stopped it. Now maybe—later it only became difficult for him. But in the first steps of the intifada, he could have stopped it. And people like Amnon Shahak and others would go to him and speak to him, and it was impossible. And I think that this was his biggest mistake. But it didn't make him a lone leader of the Palestinians. And boycotting him and putting pressures on those who meet with him is, I think, the wrong way to deal with the issue because it strengthens him. He is now the lonely person in a surrealistic place called the Muqata'a.

I mean, when we think about it in five or 10 years from now, we won't believe that we were involved in something very strange like this. He is there alone, meeting only those people who are ready to meet with him, giving orders. He is the only one who can still give orders to his people. He became more popular than before. And we still call him an irrelevant leader. I think that he is a relevant leader. I think that eventually, at the end of the day, if we want to sign an agreement, it won't be without him. And we have to understand it.

And Geneva is not a way to bypass Arafat, neither a way to make him a leader again. Geneva is an agreement, a draft agreement between Israelis and Palestinians who want to save their children. This is—they are very selfish people, I know all of them. They are very, very selfish. And even if it is connected with this leader or another, for me, personally, I would say it is a secondary matter to the question of whether we can sign an agreement with the other side. (Applause.)

HOGE: Thank you, Mr. Beilin.

Well, we're getting close to the end here. We may have time for one or maybe two extra questions.

Mr. Manasreh, you all are on a program to sell the Geneva initiative. You outlined, Yossi, a number of steps you're going to be taking. At the same time, one of our questioners points out that the Palestinian media is already harshly attacking it. And to add a second question to that one, it really might be viewed as part of a larger and longer problem, which is Palestinian media and education stressing the iniquity of Israelis and stressing the utility of violence. And how can this be countered, because it has to be if you're going to be able to sell something like the Geneva Initiative in the Palestinian areas.

AL-MANASREH: First, allow me a correction. The Palestinian media are not against the Geneva document. We made a survey and we found out the first news about the Geneva initiative that eight out of 10 articles were for Geneva.

HOGE: Were what?

AL-MANASREH: For it, positively for it. And two were against it or had some remarks on it. But still, we have to expect opposition, you are right, and it's a struggle that we have to fight for.

How do you want to fight for this initiative? There are two tracks that we have to go. The first one is to work with our own people, but even our own people are more capable of being influenced if some help comes from outside, because they don't believe also in us; they don't believe in anything—in any group who is telling them stories. After the suffering, after all the proposed solutions, all the initiatives that came from the United States, from the Europeans, from the Arabs, no solution brought them really a solution, therefore, they lost their belief and their hope. We have to work on that and we need here the help.

How can we help? Or how can we get there? The second track is to work on the political track. This means—and I think Yossi said something about that—make our initiative carried out by more political powers, official and non-official in civil society all over the world should support our initiative and should make it more convincing. It should give more hope that more people are with the initiative. And more important is the official support of this. We want this initiative not to stay only an initiative of private groups of people here, we want it to become initiative for all those actors who always declared that they want to create peace in our area, then it might succeed. And that helps us a lot in convincing our people that this stops—of course it helps us more really to convince our people that this is the option—what Sharon is doing every day, and what our suffering and the suffering of the Israelis is doing every day, and reality is that we found an Israeli partner who is sharing (with) us this initiative and this vision of friendship.

HOGE: Thank you.

You know, during lunch, Dan Rose said to me something to this effect: Isn't it unfortunate that we live at a time in which initiatives that are so needed, that have substance and courage such as this one, have to come from two unofficial channels, that the official channels aren't, apparently, capable at this point of producing such initiatives and acting upon them. Well, let's hope that changes.

I think we should be very thankful to these gentlemen and their associates for the two years of hard work that have come up with something as provocative and as constructive as the Geneva initiative. And if you will help me with thanking them for coming to explain it all to us.









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