Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue Group

Two Candles Have Been Lit

31 December, 2003


Two recent unofficial peace proposals have stirred hope for renewed movement toward an official Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. As members of SAMED, both proposals hearten us. One is the People’s Voice, launched by Ami Ayalon, former head of Israeli security, and Sari Nusseibeh, a prominent Palestinian, currently president of Al Quds University. This proposal lays out six broad principles for peace, consistent with the Geneva Accord described below. A campaign is underway to gather signatures from Israelis and Palestinians signifying their support. Ayalon and Nusseibeh report that 100,000 Israeli and 60,000 Palestinian signatures were collected in the first three months of the campaign.

The other peace proposal is the Geneva Accord, which offers a detailed plan for a possible final status peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. It was prepared by Palestinians and Israelis who were members of the official delegations conducting negotiations immediately prior to the eruption of the current intifada, most notably Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo.

This remarkable plan indicates one way in which both Palestinians and Israelis might reach an agreement providing much of what is essential for each people. The concessions that would be required by each side are rewarded by great gains and exceed those envisaged in previous peace plans.

One of the most remarkable – and promising – aspects of this plan is the fact that it addresses the truly difficult obstacles to peace, rather than leaving them for a future team of negotiators to settle. Matters such as the final status of Jerusalem, the question of the “right of return” for Palestinians, and the ultimate border between the two states are clearly addressed in great detail. The significance of this cannot be underestimated, for it directly addresses the MidEast’s cultural requirements for a genuine negotiation; namely, that it not be a piece-meal process, but rather be a comprehensive plan.

The hope offered by this plan is made possible by appropriately involving the international community in implementing the plan and by thinking creatively about instrumentalities that could resolve complex dilemmas.

In regard to the critical matter of security for the two peoples, the plan proposes that Palestine be a non-militarized state (with a strong security force) and a Multinational Force would be deployed in Palestine to provide security for both parties.

In regard to Jerusalem, Palestine and Israel would have their capitals “in the areas of Jerusalem under their respective sovereignty.” The Wailing Wall shall be under Israeli sovereignty. Visitors to the al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, being under Palestinian sovereignty, will be allowed access without discrimination. An international group will be established to monitor and assist in the implementation of the provisions of the agreement relevant to this site. Detailed provisions are formulated for different areas of the old city to be under different sovereignties, but to allow people to move freely within the old city.

The border between the two states “shall be based on the June 4th 1967 lines with reciprocal modifications on a 1:1 basis.” This would allow for the border to extend into the present West bank to include many of the Israeli settlers living there; and an equal amount of land in what is now Israel would become part of the new state, Palestine.

In regard to the difficult issues related to the permanent place of residence of Palestinian refugees, the solution proposed entails the refugees making a free and informed choice in accord with clear options and modalities. The options include: the right of residence in Palestine, in accordance with Palestinian laws, residence in third countries in accordance with numbers submitted by each third country to the (to be established) International Commission, and residence in Israel in accordance with a number submitted by Israel to the International Commission.

Although these and many other items in the very detailed Geneva Accord are clearly subject to refinement and modification through negotiations among the parties, this proposal demonstrates that there can be a way out of costly impasse in which Israelis and Palestinians are now foundering. As Amos Oz, the noted Israeli author commented, what is needed is “a 2-family house, not a double bed.”

The "road map" set forth by the US, Russia, EU and UN is presently stalled. The Geneva Accord can invigorate progress by providing a light at the end of the tunnel, while the road map points the way. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who met with Beilin and Rabbo in Washington, DC on December 5,2003, has commented that projects such as theirs “are important for sustaining hope and understanding.”

When viewed alongside the thousands of Palestinians and Israelis who signed the People’s Voice petitions, these developments reinforce the findings of many recent polls that indicate the overwhelming majority in both communities are willing to support compromises which could lead to a just and lasting peace

To realize the vision of this plan, or a similar one providing substantial mutual benefit, the international community must be engaged to assure its successful implementation. The neighboring Arab countries, the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and certainly the United States have vital contributions to make if peace is to be achieved by the Israelis and Palestinians.

We urge President Bush and his administration to seize the opportunity these proposals are creating. The administration should energetically help Israeli and Palestinian authorities mutually create the conditions needed to speedily begin peace negotiations. Doing so will greatly contribute to the security of all Americans.

Submitted by the 21 members of the Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue Group