Fed up with the fighting, a group of self-nominated Israelis and Palestinians decided to see what kind of peace plan they could negotiate. What they unveiled in Geneva with some ceremony last week reflected common sense in its substance. But politically it was the diplomatic equivalent of a high-tech start-up--full of media hype but little guarantee of success. Some Israelis and Palestinians alike were appalled that unelected delegates should negotiate when the two sides are essentially at war. Palestinian refugees said the plan would eliminate their "right of return" to homes inside Israel, while many Israelis rejected the idea of a deal that did not force Palestinians to renounce that very right. Sharon called the Geneva Accord a "historic mistake," and the West Bank leader of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah Party, Hussein Sheikh, rejected the signatories.
The accord's negotiators argue, however, that this is an important start, that someone had to present an alternative to the violent stalemate of the intifadeh and Ariel Sharon's response. Israeli peaceniks, led by former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, said the proposal is helping Israel reignite debate over substance, which could force the Sharon government to soften its obstructionist policies. The Palestinian delegation, led by former Palestinian Authority Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, said it represents the first serious solution Palestinians and Israelis have accepted.
The problem lies less with the content of the proposal than with its implementation. Arafat responded with limited approval, perhaps because he wants to appear to be a man of peace and thus annoy Sharon. The Israeli Prime Minister has been apoplectic in his condemnation of the plan. The Bush Administration, meanwhile, seems to be lending support to Geneva only as a means of pressuring both parties into pushing ahead with Washington's idled road-map peace plan. --By Matt Rees/Jerusalem