Arafat: accord is bid to win peace, but lacks official standing

By Haaretz Service and BPI-and Agencies Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, responding with caution to the Geneva Accord peace proposal drafted by former senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, Tuesday called it a bid to achieve Middle East peace, but noted that the document had no official standing.

Arafat did not comment on the specifics of the deal, which gives Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and divides Jerusalem, but largely keeps Palestinian refugees from returning to homes in what is now Israel. „Our policy is not to undercut any attempt to reach the peace of the brave,” Arafat said, pointing out that the document has no official standing. Former justice minister Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Geneva Accord concluded in recent days in discussions between former senior Palestinian Authority and Israeli left-wing figures, said Tuesday that, contrary to reports, there will be no mention of a Palestinian right of return in the final text of the agreement. (Click here for main points of accords) Beilin blasted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for reportedly condemning the accord as hampering peace efforts. „Does anyone truly believe that Sharon is in the midst of serious negotiations and Yossi Beilin is hampering him by bringing an agreement with someone else?” „This is foolishness and nonsense,” Beilin continued. „For three years, Sharon has been babbling on about his wanting peace – and he doesn’t do anything.” Senior government officials continued to lambast Beilin and his team Tuesday for conducting the negotiations. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the negotiations were at once „very grave and pathetic,” and that concessions over holy sites in Jerusalem were „shameful.” „It is pathetic, in that the public cast aside these people, threw some of them out of positions of influence in Israel, and they presume to do these things. It is grave, because they knowingly want to act as levers in the hands of foreign powers in order to put pressure on Israel.” Olmert said the Israeli negotiators were „not private citizens, but members of Knesset, they represent parties in an official capacity. This impersonation, this pretense, that they are signing a supposed agreement with a foreign entity, is something for which I cannot find a precedent in the modern history of democratic nations.” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is said to have described the document as „the greatest historical mistake since Oslo.” Sharon’s predecessor was equally withering. Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who left office in early 2001, several months after the intifada broke out, said Monday it was unfortunate that the Labor Party had permitted some of its members to formulate such a „delusional” peace plan. „This is a fictive and slightly peculiar agreement… that clearly harms the interests of the State of Israel,” Barak told Israel Radio. Top Palestinian Authority officials confirmed Monday that Yasser Abed Rabbo, the former PA minister who headed the group of unofficial Palestinian negotiators, is a very close associate of Arafat’s, and there is no chance he would have gone ahead with the talks without the PA chairman’s approval, the Palestinian leaders emphasized. According to Haaretz Palestinian Affairs reporter Arnon Regular, Arafat will not take a clear position on the accord proposal until he is able to gauge Palestinian public opinion. It remains unclear how the Palestinian public is leaning on the accord issue. At the same time, Arafat is reaping a secondary benefit from the accord, which has both bolstered public debate within Israel, and helped defray the government’s contentions that there is no one to talk to on the Palestinian side, Regular said. With respect to the right of return, the full version of the Geneva Accord refers to UN Resolution number 194, which allows refugees to choose between return or compensation – but the Geneva Accord adds that such refugee return is contingent upon Israel’s consent. Should the PA officially endorse the Geneva Accord, it would be the first time the Palestinians have effectively relinquished demands for a full right of return for all refugees. Former Palestinian minister Hisham Abd al-Raziq was quoted Monday as denying that the agreement includes a concession on the Palestinian right of return, which was said to have formed the core of the agreement. But Beilin told Israel Radio Tuesday, „No Palestinian will enter Israel under a ‘right of return. There will be nothing like this. This does not exist in any (document). There will be no right of return. … Who ever thinks that through some clause or other he can say that there is a right of return – there is no right of return here. „If the Palestinians keep this hope in their hearts, hope cannot be uprooted from the heart, but there is no right of return in this agreement, and there will be none.” Olmert said that the dealings over the right of return were a „terrible exercise in fraud.” “There has been no Palestinian concession over the right of return. This is a deceitful, wicked attempt, that may expose the lack of honesty of some of the (negotiators),” Olmert said. Abed Rabbo declared Monday that „the Palestinian Authority supports our [Geneva] Accord.” He added that the new plan „completes negotiations that were conducted at Taba after the eruption of the intifada, and also fills gaps left by the Road Map plan, which talks about a Palestinian state in 2005, without giving full details about terms of its establishment, and its components.” But Farouk Kaddoumi, Palestinian envoy to a summit of the world’s Islamic countries, the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, Tuesday dismissed the Geneva draft, telling reporters that the Palestinian Authority would not be involved in an unofficial peace track that didn’t include the Israeli government. „I don’t think there will be any agreement, this kind of side negotiation (is done) in order to have more support from the Israelis who care about peace,” Kaddoumi said. „This is from the opposition, not from the government of Israel.” Kaddoumi, an early and consistent critic of the defunct Oslo accords of the 1990s, said, “Whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, it doesn’t mean they negotiate for the (Palestinian) National Authority.” The top negotiators responsible for the Geneva Accord began efforts on Monday to recruit international support for the peace initiative, ahead of its anticipated signing in a few weeks, possibly on the November 4 anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Beilin said of the draft that „There are certainly areas of agreement – including agreement over Jerusalem – in the spirit of the Clinton plan,” a reference to then-president Bill Clinton’s hands-on diplomatic mediation following the ill-fated 2000 Camp David summit between Arafat and then-prime minister Barak. Israelis would eventually come to view the agreement as best answering their own vital interests, Beilin argued. „Even if it’s not today or tomorrow, within a relatively short time span, the Israeli public will become convinced that this is the best plan for it … The alternative could be much, much worse if within seven years, this nation cannot be a democratic and Jewish state. The two top negotiators – Yossi Beilin and Abed Rabbo – held meetings in Egypt Monday to win support for the peace proposal. Beilin’s spokesmen said that top Egyptian officials promised to promote the peace proposal in the Arab world. Though two top Labor party politicians, MKs Amram Mitzna and Avraham Burg, were involved in the drafting of the Geneva Accord, Labor responses to the plan yesterday were mixed. Silence maintained by party chairman MK Shimon Peres fueled speculation about the veteran peacemaker’s stance on the new plan.