Geneva Initiative relaunches its grassroots peace recipe

Beilin: We need to talk about "the really hard things."

beilin nice 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
beilin nice 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Talk about a settlement freeze distracts negotiators from the real issues - such as Jerusalem and refugees - that truly block the path to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, former Meretz Party leader Yossi Beilin told reporters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. He spoke on the same day that US special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss halting construction in West Bank settlements. "Today, Bibi and Mitchell will talk about how, when and where to freeze. But we say that you have to discuss the really hard things. Talk about the moment of truth. Do not waste time on small things. This is the time to speak of big ones," said Beilin, who chairs the private Geneva Initiative. While he agreed that settlement construction is an impediment to peace, Beilin said there are many larger problems that need to be solved. In 2002, Beilin, a former justice minister, along with Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo, drafted a grassroots peace plan for a two-state solution, known as the Geneva Initiative, which they inaugurated in December 2003, weeks before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his disengagement plan. While the Geneva Initiative is often referenced by diplomats, it has no official standing. On Tuesday, Beilin and Geneva Initiative Israel director-general Gadi Baltiansky announced the publication of a much more detailed version covering 13 topics, such was Jerusalem, refugees, security, water and the Palestinian economy. "If you want to resolve the conflict, here is the recipe," Baltiansky said as he held up a 400-page book that details the new and old aspects of the plan. He and Beilin presented that book to President Shimon Peres on Tuesday evening. A copy has been sent to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and it will also be dispatched to other senior officials of the Middle East Quartet as well as leading politicians in Europe. In the coming year, the Geneva Initiative plans to hold seminars on aspects of the plan, starting in October with a meeting in the Czech Republic about water. In 2003, the Geneva Initiative was signed by Israeli (private individuals) and Palestinian negotiators (in an unofficial capacity), but no Palestinians were present at Tuesday's press conference in Tel Aviv. Palestinian members of the Geneva Initiative plan to hand Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a copy of the new version in a few weeks. Beilin said the absence of the Palestinians was technical, and that what was important was that they had signed the 2003 document. "Everything that is written here has been agreed on, and until now, nothing has competed with it," he said. The initiative calls for a Palestinian state in nearly 98 percent of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip and the Arab-populated areas of Jerusalem. "If you are a Zionist, you have to go to a two-state solution as soon as possible," Beilin said. He and Baltiansky said that according to their plan, 200,000 West Bank settlers could remain in their homes. Israel would retain most of the large settlements blocs, but not Ariel. Jerusalem would be divided and border terminals would need to be built in the city. A major Jerusalem thoroughfare would stretch between the two states, with a wall in the middle. The plan calls for a Palestinian state with no army, but with a strong security force. An international force, posted on the Temple Mount, would mediate between the two sides and protect the Palestinian state. The plan calls for a transportation corridor linking Palestinian areas of the West Bank with the Gaza Strip. Shared water resources would be redistributed. Both sides would have to commit to improving the environment and to righting past injustices in that arena. A solution to the refugee issue is still being worked on.