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Mideast Peace Proposal

December 3, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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SPENCER MICHELS: Self-appointed Israeli and Palestinian negotiators gathered in Switzerland Monday to present the so-called Geneva Accord, an unofficial peace proposal.

Its architects — who began their secret negotiations more than two years ago — are Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli justice minister, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, a former Palestinian information minister.

YOSSI BEILIN, Former Israeli Minister: We are saying to you, every issue can be solved. Don’t give up on us.

YASSER ABED RABBO, Former Palestinian Minister: The Palestinian people want peace. The Israeli people want peace. The world wants peace. Will we allow a few of the enemies of peace to destroy our dreams?

SPENCER MICHELS: The Geneva Accord is one of a half dozen peace proposals launched in the past several months, as official efforts by the U.S., Israelis and Palestinians to implement the so-called road map have faltered. Fifty pages long, the accord is perhaps the most comprehensive plan to date, with specific language on everything from borders to Jerusalem to a Palestinian state.

It was presented amid much fanfare.

RICHARD DREYFUSS: Former President Jimmy Carter.

SPENCER MICHELS: Actor Richard Dreyfuss presided over Monday’s ceremony. Among the international leaders in attendance was former President Jimmy Carter.

JIMMY CARTER: No matter what leaders the Palestinians might choose, no matter how fervent American interests might be, or how great the hatred and bloodshed might become, there remains one basic choice for the Israelis: Do we want permanent peace with all our neighbors or do we want to retain our settlements throughout the occupied territories? And it is of equal importance that the Palestinians renounce violence against Israeli citizens in exchange for the commitments of this Geneva initiative.

SPENCER MICHELS: The plan was mailed to every household in Israel and published in Palestinian newspapers.

It has sparked international reaction and a dispute between the Israeli government and the Bush administration. Secretary of State Colin Powell welcomed the accord. His decision to meet later this week with the plan’s authors provoked sharp criticism from the Sharon government, which has opposed the plan.

Israeli Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said of Powell: “I think he is making a mistake. I think he is not helping the process.”

Yesterday while traveling in Africa, Secretary Powell responded.

COLIN POWELL, Secretary of State: I have an obligation to the American people and to the president and to my other colleagues in the administration to listen to individuals who have interesting ideas. This in no way undercuts our strong support for the state of Israel, this in no way undercuts our support for the road map. On behalf of this administration we welcome these two initiatives that are in the press right now, we didn’t adopt them, we just welcomed the fact there were new ideas.

SPENCER MICHELS: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called the plan “a brave initiative that opens the door to hope.” But several Palestinian militant groups have rejected it.

JIM LEHRER: And joining us now are the authors of the Geneva plan, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Mr. Rabbo, in general terms how do you feel about the reaction thus far since Monday?

YASSER ABED RABBO: We feel that there is a growing support from the Palestinian and the Israeli public opinion and also there is an international growing interest in this document, which we call now Geneva document.

We are also encouraged by the remarks that were made by Secretary Powell because that’s what we need, in fact, encouragement, support. And this initiative, it presents the attitude of so many people of the mainstream among the Palestinian people, of so many Palestinian political organizations and social ones, the figures, and the new generation even, the militants, they are showing more support to our initiative because through the bitter experience of the past years, we have sent them a message. There is a way to get out of this cycle of violence. There is a way towards better future — a future built on hope, future for peace between the two nations on the basis of a two-state solution — the same vision which was declared by President Bush.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Beilin, from the Israeli point of view, you are from the Israeli left, very much in opposition to the Sharon government, and they have dismissed this plan primarily — not primarily — but partly because you are involved in it and they have other reasons. Do you see that as a serious setback?

YOSSI BEILIN: Well, I had no doubt that such a plan would not have been accepted by the government of Mr. Sharon but our biggest asset in Israel, which is so proud to be a democratic state in the Middle East, is the public opinion. And the support that we get from the public opinion is really beyond our expectations.

JIM LEHRER: How is that measured? How do you know you have the public support?

YOSSI BEILIN: We know it only according to the public opinion polls. We are having public opinion polls on Geneva almost every day. And the latest was 31 percent in favor, 37 percent against, and 20 percent undecided.

This is a very big victory for us. And we believe it’s true, the public opinion it would be possible to change the policy of the government after three years in which there was not even one meeting on the permanent solution, and so many people were killed on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side.

JIM LEHRER: Charles Krauthammer, an American who writes a column for The Washington Post, said that this document is in fact a suicide note for Israel.

YOSSI BEILIN: I doubt it. What does he think about the current situation?

I read his article and I’m thinking to myself he is looking at the last three years, never in the past, never ever, so many civilians were killed in Israel in such a period.

Should we go on? Is there an alternative? We have proven that we have a partner in the mainstream of each society. It is not only Yossi Beilin. We are having hundreds of people supporting Israel. We’re having 25 signatories, among them the former chief of staff of the army, generals, lieutenant generals, major generals, people from different parties including the Likud, and the Shinui Party in the coalition.

Now, these people believe that they have to do something because the status quo is killing us. People like Krauthammer may write very nice columns but the question is if you are an Israeli or if you are a Palestinian, can you comply with the ongoing situation? If there is a better solution, fine. We don’t say that our solution is the Bible or the Koran or the New Testament.

We will applaud anybody who will have a better agreement, but can we continue the current situation? Our answer is definitely no.

JIM LEHRER: Your plan is 50 pages long and it’s complex and we’re not about to be able to go through the whole thing tonight. But the basic thing — in general terms, Mr. Rabbo, would it be correct to say there will be a Palestinian state under your plan? Israel must go back to the 1967 borders?

YASSER ABED RABBO: Right.

JIM LEHRER: Jerusalem becomes actually part of Palestine but the Israelis have a right to go to Temple Mount but it will be –

YASSER ABED RABBO: Jerusalem will be shared.

JIM LEHRER: Be shared –

YASSER ABED RABBO: Will be a capital for both states. The east part of Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state. The western part of the Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the old city will be open for both Israelis and Palestinians. And there will be international guarantees and even international presence there to guarantee that it will stay open.

JIM LEHRER: But the old city, there are many Israelis, as you know Mr. Beilin, who claim that has been part of Israel for a thousand years. And yet under your plan it becomes property — even though it’s open to Israelis — becomes property of the Palestinian state, correct?

YOSSI BEILIN: Only under our agreement Israelis will go there. If you go to Jerusalem you won’t find Israelis in East Jerusalem. If it is open, if there is security, they’ll go there. It will be accessible. People will go to the holy places; people will go to the different neighborhoods. This is the nature of our agreement. Today what we have is a virtual sovereignty over our own capital. Only two countries in the world recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: Costa Rica and El Salvador. Now we believe that we have sovereignty over the Temple Mount but in the Temple Mount, the real sovereign is the Palestinian or the Islamic Waqf.

For three years since the visit of Sharon in Temple Mount, on the 28th of October 2000, no Jews were allowed to the Temple Mount because of the Islamic Waqf. We’re the sovereign but this sovereignty is only virtual. Only if there is an agreement and it is under the official sovereignty of the Palestinian state paradoxically because of the fact that there will be an agreement and there will be an international presence, it will be possible for every Jew to visit this place.

JIM LEHRER: What about to the larger point about many people say there was Oslo Accord, there have been all kinds of past agreements — where essentially the same thing that you all have in terms of what was given to the Palestinians was in every one of them but none of the things that the Palestinians were supposed to do actually happened; in other words, the terrorism continued, the attacks on Israeli civilians continued despite some progress on returning some of the territories. How do you respond to that?

YASSER ABED RABBO: Well, I think that the past experience, especially in the past three years had shown the need to move forward towards a political solution.

I don’t want to go to the experience since Oslo because there are so many controversial issues. Israel, for example, continued the policy of building settlements — of annexation of Palestinian land. Also there were so many violations to the Oslo Agreement, but I don’t want to open this book now.

We want to look towards future. Now we have a plan. This is the first comprehensive and detailed plan that includes solutions without any ambiguity, without anything that is not resolved in it — in our history.

And on the basis of this plan, which is a very realistic and pragmatic plan, we are in fact trying to solve all these issues, addressing the basic needs and interests of both sides and showing that the interests of both sides can coexist with each other and not necessarily conflict with each other. We can have our own independent state but this should not in anyway endanger the security of Israel and its nature as a Jewish state and on the other hand, Israel can withdraw from the Palestinian occupied territories and can be a safe country for its people and can build a good neighborly relations with the Palestinian state as well.

JIM LEHRER: In general terms, not in specific terms, because we don’t have time to go through the specifics here, what is really different than what you all are proposing and what has been proposed many, many times before over many, many tables among many officials of both entities?

YOSSI BEILIN: There was never an agreed upon permanent solution for both sides. It was all either timetables like the Oslo Agreement –

JIM LEHRER: One step at a time..

YOSSI BEILIN: Yes, and there was no end game. There was to picture of the end game or ideas which were suggested by both sides separately. For the first time in history, there is a plan which is committed to by both sides speaking about the mainstreams of society. Now once there is such an end game, once there is a political horizon, then there is a political possibility to pacify the situation.

The flaws of the few past plans was that all of them were provision and both peoples were afraid to touch the moment of truth.

The violations on both sides, by the way, stem mainly in my view because of the fact that we let the extremists torpedo the permanent agreement and the mainstream was not strong enough and did not have a horizon to fight for. Now we are giving the pragmatic people on both sides a very important place to say okay there is a plan, this might be a plan, don’t disturb us, don’t try to torpedo our hope.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. You are here in the United States. You want the United States to support this plan. We just reported what Secretary Powell said. You are going to meet with him on Friday, right?

YASSER ABED RABBO: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Tomorrow you meet with Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, is that correct?

YOSSI BEILIN: No.

JIM LEHRER: Are you meeting with any other U.S. officials?

YOSSI BEILIN: Yes, yes we might with some more officials.

JIM LEHRER: What do you want the United States to do now?

YASSER ABED RABBO: Well, in fact, we consider our plan to be complimentary to the road map.

JIM LEHRER: So, it doesn’t replace the road map?

YASSER ABED RABBO: Of course not. The road map consists of three phases, the first one for security arrangements and the second one for interim steps for building confidence and the third phase includes the vision of President Bush to create a Palestinian state at the year of 2005.

JIM LEHRER: Which he is committed to doing.

YASSER ABED RABBO: Of course. We are introducing a detailed plan for that vision.

So we consider it as a complimentary and not something that contradicts — and that’s why we are really interested in — that the American administration will adopt and support our plan as being a plan that will complement the American efforts and give credibility also to the road map because when the people on both sides see that the end of the tunnel, there is a light, there is a complete plan, there’s a very detailed and pragmatic and possible plan to be implemented, in this case they will trust the road map as a whole.

JIM LEHRER: But as we sit here tonight, you two sit here as private individuals: you do not speak for the government of Israel..

YOSSI BEILIN: No.

JIM LEHRER: Do you speak for the Palestinian Authority?

YASSER ABED RABBO: No. I don’t speak officially for the Palestinian Authority.

JIM LEHRER: But they are behind this, are they not?

YASSER ABED RABBO: Of course. I’m a member of — in the leadership, the Palestinian leadership. I’m one of the oldest members. I report to my leadership and they are backing the steps we are taking.

JIM LEHRER: But without the government of Israel, it’s just an interesting 50 pieces of paper, right?

YOSSI BEILIN: This is very true. This is why my role and the role of my colleagues is to convince the public opinion in order to convince the government. We were successful in the past. This was the way when I begin the Oslo process, when I was in a position — when I began my efforts to withdraw unilaterally from Lebanon, when I was in position, and eventually with the support of the public opinion, it was possible to convince the government. And, in that respect I’m a recidivist. I believe that it will be possible again to convince the pragmatic people of Israel that there is a hope and they might convince the government.

JIM LEHRER: And, both of you are hopeful as you sit here?

YASSER ABED RABBO: We are. We are because we believe in the power of public opinion.

YOSSI BEILIN: We are so pessimistic we know there’s no better way than to take such a courageous move towards the future and this is why our optimism stems from our pessimism.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.

YASSER ABED RABBO: Thank you.

YOSSI BEILIN: Thank you.