Geneva Accord: Analysis of the Bankruptcy

Paul Burrows speaking on Palestine after returning from the International Solidarity Movement’s olive harvest campaign in 2002.

It’s hard to talk about the provisions of the recent Geneva Accord, and offer some kind of analysis without reference to the facts on the ground — right now — inside Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It’s hard to talk about the accord without also talking about the 120 Palestinians, including over twenty children, who have been killed since October 4th, when the last suicide attack inside Israel occurred.

It’s hard to weigh the pros and cons of the Geneva Accord without mentioning the new “settlement” that is being built outside Israel’s borders — begun since the accord was first unveiled in mid-October — which is helping to complete a ring of Jewish-only colonies around Arab East Jerusalem, cutting the centre of Palestinian economic, political, religious, and cultural life off from the rest of the population, and making the whole concept of a viable Palestinian state into an increasingly bad joke.

And it’s hard to calmly and carefully talk about the accord, without talking about other “facts on the ground” — like the proposed 600-kilometer “apartheid wall” that is being built as we speak, which will turn the West Bank into the world’s largest prison. But without understanding this context of repression and violence, without recognizing this ongoing process of colonization and military occupation, we will never understand the Geneva Accord itself, nor comprehend the real reasons for its inevitable and predictable failure.

The opening preamble of the Geneva Accord affirms the lofty goal of “[living] in peaceful coexistence, mutual dignity and security based on a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.” Leaving aside the many reasons for having a healthy skepticism (including, but not limited to the histories and intentions of the agreement’s authors), and leaving aside the fact that rhetoric and reality almost never match, we should want such professed goals to be true. We should at least look into it, and find out the facts, read the document on its own terms, and if it seems plausible and genuine, we should lend our support.

Unfortunately, it seems clear from reading the text of the Geneva Accord that Yossi Beilin, Yasser Abed Rabbo, and the other authors of the agreement, are being praised precisely for getting the Palestinians to abandon the historical pillars of their national liberation struggle, and for abandoning the very clear affirmations of Palestinian collective and individual rights spelled out in international law.

Rabbo is actually willing to sign his name to a document that forfeits the Palestinian Right of Return (affirmed in UN Resolution 194), and according to former Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna this was the key point: “They gave up the right of return to the state of Israel, and a solid, stable Jewish majority was guaranteed” (Ha’aretz, October 16, 2003). As we will see, Right of Return is not the only thing Rabbo and similar PA cronies (including Arafat) are willing to concede “on behalf” of their people.

This brings us to the actual content of the accord itself. Many progressive people seem to think that the Geneva Accord is different from past efforts. They seem to think that it’s the best that can be achieved. We have to be “realistic.” And they think that Sharon’s opposition to the Geneva Accord proves that there must be something good about it — even though the Labor Party has actually been worse than Likud in terms of expanding settlements in the Occupied Territories, and in terms of solidifying what Israeli activist Jeff Halper calls the “Matrix of Control.”

There’s a lot of lofty rhetoric in the preamble, and a stated assumption that a two-state solution is the “only viable option.” The preamble also asserts that the signatories (Israel and the PLO) will “conduct themselves in conformity with the norms of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.” It further claims to base itself on UN resolutions 242 and 338, and suggests that the G.A. “will constitute the full implementation of these resolutions.”

As we will see, however, the actual provisions of the accord stand the rhetoric of the preamble on its head, make a mockery of the notion of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, and undermine a series of UN resolutions related to Israel-Palestine, not to mention “the norms of international law and the Charter of the United Nations” which the Geneva Accord claims to “re-affirm.”

Article 1 insists that the accord’s implementation “will settle all the claims of the Parties.” It’s an ‘end to conflict’ provision, which means, explicitly stated, that “no further claims related to events prior to this Agreement may be raised by either Party.”

By signing this accord, the entire history of Palestinian dispossession, the theft of land, the lives lost, the claims for reparations arising out of al-Nakba, the claims based on the right of return of refugees, the Palestinian demand for an acknowledgement of responsibility — it’s all void. It’s considered “resolved” by the provisions of the accord. In essence, the individual and collective rights of an entire people are considered forfeit, signed away by Palestinian elites who have lost touch with the street.

Article 2 pledges the Parties “not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs,” and vows to establish “robust modalities for security cooperation” in order “to end terrorism and violence” against both peoples. But only the hypothetical state of Palestine is bound by the Geneva Accord “not to interfere” in the internal affairs of Israel — not the other way around — and the “robust modalities for security cooperation” revolve primarily around Palestinian obligations to protect Israelis and guarantee Israeli security. Obligations are one-way, extending from “the State of Palestine” to Israel, not vice versa.

Article 3 establishes an Implementation & Verification Group (IVG) possibly made up of the U.S., Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, and other parties, to enforce the Geneva Accord, monitor the two sides, and resolve possible disputes. It also refers to a Multinational Force (MF) to help the IVG with enforcement, though the composition, structure, size, and control of the MF is left undefined, and like many critical components of the accord, only dealt with in a yet-to-be-drafted section of the agreement called “Annex X.”

One is left with the distinct impression that the United States will play a prominent and determining role in both the IVG and the MF, and may even use such an agreement to establish an independent military presence (including new bases) inside the proposed Palestinian “state.”

The ambiguity of the Geneva Accord, and the fact that most major issues are defined in, or deferred to Annex X, means that the role of the United States is downplayed and not explicit. But the possibility of a decisive U.S. role compromises the Geneva Accord’s pretense of “even-handedness,” and doesn’t bode well for stability and peace and justice in the region.

Territory and borders between Palestine and Israel are discussed in Article 4, which claims to base all borders and adjustments on international law, in accordance with UN resolutions 242 and 338. The article begins by affirming that borders will be based on the June 4th, 1967 lines, with the possibility of “reciprocal modifications on a 1:1 basis.”

At first reading, this sounds lovely and reasonable, a vast improvement over past proposals. But the Accord does not talk about land quality when it talks about “reciprocal modifications.” It only talks about quantity. It is clear from the preliminary maps (published in Ha’aretz along with the initial draft of the accord), that Israel will annex to itself vast portions of the central West Bank, and other areas that happen to be the most “developed” in terms of illegal Israeli colonies, and which not coincidentally, are situated over top of the region’s major water aquifers. In return for annexing this coveted land to Israel, the Palestinians will be offered an additional line of desert alongside the Gaza Strip, and similar “real estate” — of course, “generously” exchanged on a 1:1 basis.

The Geneva Accord claims that the proposed states of Israel and Palestine will “recognize and respect each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence, as well as the inviolability of each other’s territory, including territorial waters and airspace” (Article 4/2). The accord is full of such assertions of respect and mutual self-determination, followed immediately by provisions that undermine them, and cast doubt on the intentions and sincerity of its authors.

Article 4/5 details settlements and settlement withdrawal, stating that Israel is “responsible for resettling the Israelis residing in Palestinian sovereign territory outside this territory.” But considering that the Geneva Accord leaves most of the central West Bank settlements, in and around East Jerusalem, intact — the vast majority of all settlers — and redraws the borders to reflect this illegal occupation, it is not exactly clear which “settlements” and which Israelis will actually be uprooted from their colonies and “resettled” elsewhere. The document is deliberately ambiguous.

Not one single, specific “settlement” is named and slated for withdrawal, or transfer to the jurisdiction of the new state of Palestine. The document refers to “immovable property” and “infrastructure” within such vacated colonies that will allegedly be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. But even this seemingly positive provision is negated by the fact that no colonies are named, most are annexed, and the fact that the accord proposes to deduct the value of such property from any reparations and claims Israel might be forced to pay out to Palestinian refugees.

Article 4/6 outlines the creation of a “corridor linking the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” which would be an essential component of any viable Palestinian state, allowing free movement of goods and people between two parts of the same country. But the first thing the Geneva Accord says about this corridor is that it will be “under Israeli sovereignty.”

It further states that such a corridor will “not disrupt Israeli transportation,” and will be built with “defensive barriers” along its entire length to ensure that no one can enter Israel or Palestine from the corridor. It does not say whether Palestinian transportation will be protected or disrupted, nor does it spell out what “Israeli sovereignty” and control over the corridor means for the movement of Palestinians.

Article 5/1 refers to wonderful things like “mutual understanding and cooperation,” and states that Israel and Palestine will “recognize and respect each other’s right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from the threat or acts of war, terrorism and violence.” It also states that they will “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of the other.”

The Geneva Accord does not say what “territorial integrity” and “political independence” means in the context of Israeli control over Palestinian borders, and Israeli sovereignty over the corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, let alone the many other provisions of the agreement which undermine access to the Palestinians’ historic capital, circumscribe Palestinian control over its own airspace, prevent it from having its own army, prevent it from importing or manufacturing certain kinds of weapons, and which allow for a continuing Israeli military presence inside the new Palestinian “state.”

Under the Geneva Accord, Israel will be able to maintain troops in the Jordan Valley, and military bases (called “early warning stations”) in northern and central West Bank, for an ambiguous and possibly indefinite period of time, subject to perpetual renewal by “the parties’ consent,” but deferred long enough in any case, to allow the “facts on the ground” to change dramatically over the next six years (Articles 5/7 and 5/8). The Israeli air force is “entitled to use the Palestinian sovereign airspace” for training purposes “subject to review every ten years” (article 5/9). In other words, in perpetuity, and calling into question the meaning and intention of the earlier professed commitment to “the inviolability of each other’s territory,” specifically including waters and airspace.

All Palestinian border crossings will have joint Palestinian Security Force (PSF) and MF monitoring teams, to “prevent the entry into Palestine of any weapons, materials or equipment that are in contravention” of the Geneva Accord (Article 5/12). No corresponding provision relates to Israel. Furthermore, “Israel may maintain an unseen presence” in “passenger terminals” and “cargo terminals” at Palestinian “controlled” borders, and possibly inside the Palestinian state itself, in order to monitor and inspect the movement of goods and people into and out of the Palestinian state (Article 5/12). No corresponding provision relates to Palestinian supervision of Israeli borders, customs and security procedures, let alone mail and cargo facilities.

Article 6 relates to the critical issue of Jerusalem, long recognized by the world community as the shared capital of any Jewish and Palestinian states, going back to the UN Partition Plan of 1947. This section of the accord begins positively, as most do, by stating that Israel and Palestine will “recognize the universal historic, religious, spiritual, and cultural significance of Jerusalem and its holiness enshrined in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,” and will furthermore “safeguard the character, holiness, and freedom of worship in the city.” It also implies that the city will be shared in some way: Israel and Palestine “shall have their mutually recognized capitals in the areas of Jerusalem under their respective sovereignty.” But like all parts of the accord, the initial proclamations are undermined by subsequent provisions, ambiguous language, and by deferral of discussion of critical elements to Annex X.

Article 6/1 states that the two Parties will “respect the existing division of administrative functions” in Jerusalem. One cannot be sure, but the word “existing” suggests that the two sides must recognize, in advance, Israel’s illegal occupation of Arab East Jerusalem, forcibly annexed in the 1967 war. Regarding the professed goal of a shared capital “in the areas of Jerusalem under their respective sovereignty,” one ought to remember Yossi Beilin’s previous commitment to a “shared Jerusalem,” and his record of word-play and manipulation on precisely this issue, as reflected in the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan of 1995.

In the Beilin-Abu Mazen proposal, and again at Camp David, much was made of the supposed Israeli “concession” which would “divide” Jerusalem, and “allow” the Palestinians to have East Jerusalem as their national capital. But as Israeli scholar Tanya Reinhart has noted, this whole framework, and the mythology of “painful” Israeli concessions that has arisen from it, rests on a “verbal trick.” The Beilin-Abu Mazen plan stated that: “Israel will recognize that the [portion of the] area defined as ‘Al-Quds’ prior to the six days war which exceeds the area annexed to Israel in 1967 will be the capital of the Palestinian state.”

If you can actually get your head around this formulation, what this ends up meaning is that a small, neighboring village called Abu Dis, east of East Jerusalem, would be called “Al-Quds” (the Arab name for Jerusalem), and would serve as the capital of the Palestinian state. It’s a monumental farce, that concedes and legitimizes the Israeli occupation and control of East Jerusalem proper — but one which has apparently been accepted by Arafat and other PA officials.

There is nothing in the Geneva Accord that makes one think Beilin has turned his back on this rhetorical larceny, apart from allowing a limited Palestinian presence in a section of the Old City. Article 6/5 talks about the Temple Mount compound in particular, and highlights the “unique religious and cultural significance of the site to the Jewish people” — but this time, strangely, not to Muslims as well. It goes on to say that the new quasi-state of Palestine “shall be responsible for maintaining the security of the Compound and for ensuring that it will not be used for any hostile acts against Israelis.” In other words, the first and primary task listed for the PSF in the al-Haram al-Sharif compound is to protect Israelis!

Ultimately, Article 6 amounts to a legitimization of Israel’s illegal 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem. After talking exclusively about “security” in the Old City, we come to Article 6/11, which talks about two undefined Jerusalem “municipalities” (one Palestinian and one Israeli) forming a joint Jerusalem Coordination and Development Committee (JCDC). In other words, the rest of Arab East Jerusalem is pre-supposed to be Israeli. Only the Old City is now being “negotiated” in the Geneva Accord, and a portion of it will “generously” be offered to the new Palestinian state, with the restrictions and multinational policing outlined!

Article 6/12 strips Palestinian citizens of Israel living in certain parts of Jerusalem of their citizenship, and implicitly assigns them to the new Palestinian state. It does not give them an option. There is no corresponding mention of Jewish Israelis residing in these same areas, no indication that they might be forced to do anything (including vacate homes or property, or choose between citizenships — let alone get stripped of existing rights they might enjoy) in order to facilitate the “separation” of peoples which such a depressing “two-state solution” entails. Instead, the long-held, and deeply racist view of Palestinian citizens of Israel as a “demographic threat” or “fifth column” becomes, in the Geneva Accord, a provision to purge Israel of unwanted citizens. Maximize the land; minimize the number of Palestinians on it — a long and illustrious Zionist goal. Nothing here to make a “reasonable” person blink …

One of the longest sections of the Geneva Accord is Article 7, detailing provisions for resolving what it calls “the refugee problem.” The article begins by affirming UN resolution 194 as “the basis for resolving the refugee issue,” and proclaims that this resolution will be “fulfilled” by implementation of the agreement. Individual “freedom” and “choice” for Palestinian refugees is professed and affirmed throughout Article 7, but within the constraints outlined in the Geneva Accord itself (what it calls “the options and modalities set forth…”).

But when you actually read the “options and modalities set forth,” you find that the range of options available to Palestinian refugees is negligible, and entirely dependent on the “sovereign discretion” of Israel, or “third countries” to which they might apply. Israel is granted complete veto over Palestinian refugees seeking to return to their homes inside Israel proper (Article 7/4).

Thus, the Geneva Accord is in direct violation of UN resolution 194, which it claims forms the very basis of its provisions, and which it claims would be “fulfilled” by virtue of implementing the agreement! But for anyone interested in the facts, Resolution 194 (December 1948) is unequivocal. It states that: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.” The right of Palestinians to return to their actual homeland is affirmed, and articulated as an inalienable individual and human right — not subject to Israeli “discretion,” nor “concession” by Palestinian negotiators.

But the Geneva Accord puts an end to all future refugee claims (Article 7/7), and heavily proscribes the methods and terms and options available to those refugees who might actually avail themselves of its application process. The accord does not speculate about the difficulties of informing Palestinian refugees of their many “options,” nor does it worry about aiding them in the process of filing claims and applications, as many refugees eke out an existence in situations of dire poverty in refugee camps from Gaza and the West Bank, to Lebanon and Jordan. The burden of filing claims is upon them, the burden of “proving” title to lost lands is upon them, the burden of “proving” values of lost property is upon them, and after all this, refugees have two years to file their claims, or else even the limited options outlined in the accord are forfeit.

Article 7 establishes “international funds” to handle refugee claims, compensation, and reparations. In essence, the accord proposes to internationalize the fund-raising to pay for Israel’s own war crimes, as outlined in Articles 7/8 and 7/10 — a clear indication that Israel does not accept responsibility for the refugee crisis in the first place. Not only is there no acceptance of responsibility, but the Geneva Accord talks about Israel contributing to such funds as if it’s some great humanitarian gesture.

Later on, however, the accord allows Israel to deduct from this same fund the value of any property it leaves behind in vacated colonies in the new Palestinian state (Article 7/9)! One is left wondering if the combined “value” of Palestinian refugee claims (not just in terms of property lost, but also in terms of lives affected) will match Israel’s own estimate of property values left behind in abandoned colonies. One is left wondering who will have the power to influence the criteria by which such values are determined. And one is not left with a sense of hope about the prospect of Palestinian refugees receiving a fair settlement.

The Geneva Accord proposes to dismantle the United Nations refugee service for Palestine (UNRWA) — the single largest humanitarian organization operating in the Occupied Territories and refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan — within 5 years. The Geneva Accord considers the “refugee problem” solved, by definition, through the implementation of the provisions of Article 7. Whether Palestinian refugees actually file claims, whether they even hear about the “options and modalities set forth,” whether they actually receive reparations or are repatriated to their lost homes, villages, or cities, and whether the worst off actually get help to rise above the squalor and hardship of life in the camps, is irrelevant.

There is no mention whatsoever in the Geneva Accord of the “apartheid wall” being built right now. Not one foot of this proposed 600 kilometer wall is being built on Israeli land, along the actual recognized 1967 border. It’s being used to annex even more Palestinian land, way beyond the “reciprocal modifications” alluded to in the Geneva Accord.

The fact that the accord’s authors are silent about the wall, about its impact, about its proposed route, and about its consequences for a viable Palestinian state, speaks volumes about their awareness of present realities.

It speaks volumes about their recognition of the importance of halting measures designed to impose new realities, which can only prejudice future negotiations, and jeopardize any just and meaningful settlement between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. One can only assume that the accord’s authors are either oblivious to the dangers of ongoing colonization, or they accept it as “inevitable” — making the entire Geneva Accord seem less like a genuine proposal for two sovereign states, and more like “smoke and mirrors” designed to obscure the consolidation of Israel’s hold on Palestinian lands, and the steady march towards formal apartheid.

Finally, the explanation of procedures related to every substantive issue in the Geneva Accord is deferred to a later (unreleased) document called “Annex X.” This means that it’s hard to pass judgment on what we do have, because knowing how the agreement handles borders, settlement withdrawal, refugees, Jerusalem, and so on, is ultimately contingent upon what is outlined in Annex X.

There is the illusion in the Geneva Accord of putting the hard, contentious points front and center. Much has been made of this supposed improvement over Oslo, where contentious issues were left to “final status” talks, leaving Israel to continue building settlements, to continue consolidation of its occupation in the interim. But the Geneva Accord is hardly better.

Many of these “hard issues” are given sections of their own, overflowing with warm and fuzzy assertions of mutual respect and cooperation. But apart from the provisions which consistently undermine the Geneva Accord’s own rhetoric, key explanations of methodology, criteria, and application are deferred to Annex X, and the accord’s authors say nothing about stopping “facts on the ground” from undermining the whole process — making the attention paid to this entire “peace proposal” seem to be in inverse proportion to its actual relevance.

In conclusion, the Geneva Accord recycles every old and bankrupt proposal that Israel and the United States have tried to impose upon Palestinians for the last ten years. It does not even use the word “Occupation” to describe Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It pretends that East Jerusalem is simply another “neighborhood” of Israel’s capitol, and posits that the new area that Israelis must negotiate and make “painful concessions” around is only the Old City. Nor does the Geneva Accord acknowledge Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinian Nakba (or “catastrophe”), unleashed in 1947-48, which resulted in the complete destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, a series of brutal massacres, and much of the current refugee crisis.

Instead, the accord makes a vague reference (Article 7/14/d) to educational and reconciliation programs for “developing appropriate ways of commemorating those villages and communities that existed prior to 1949.” Think about that for a second; “that existed.” What, they just disappeared like the dinosaurs? No one knows why? No one’s to blame? What an outrageous insult to those who lost their homes, to those killed, and to those who survived the Haganah’s, and Irgun’s, and Stern Gang’s policy of ethnic cleansing! How nice that Palestinians might be able to put up a plaque at the site of Deir Yassin, where hundreds of Palestinian civilians were massacred in April 1948, and where there now sits a quiet, Jewish suburb of Jerusalem re-named Givat Shaul. Quite the “reconciliation” program!

The Geneva Accord claims that a “sovereign” Palestinian state will be created in the West Bank and Gaza, but it will have no army, no control of borders and airspace, will be a patchwork of barely contiguous cantons, will have no real access to its historic capitol, and will still have an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, and military outposts in northern and central West Bank.

The “victory” that PA sellout figures like Arafat and Rabbo are supposed to sell to their own people is that Palestinians will now have some control over access and policing of the Al-Haram Al-Sharif religious compound, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock. That’s the “victory?”

Palestinian negotiators can no longer hide the fact that the core demands of the liberation movement have been signed away in principle, by elites with zero popular support, and Palestinians from a range of backgrounds and perspectives are threatening revolt against the PA. I think it would be foolish to under-estimate the possibility of a real civil war within Palestine. Increasing numbers of Palestinians consider the PA an obstacle to real self-determination and national liberation.

Many are beginning to refer to officials like Rabbo as “traitors.” Dissent, ultimatums, and threats against the PA for selling out the right of return and other popular demands, are on the rise. Insofar as Arafat and the PA actually endorse the Geneva Accord, and similar “solutions,” we may soon witness their challenge or eclipse by new forces or movements within Palestinian society. The Right of Return is an individual and human right, not negotiable by anyone other than the refugees themselves.

Any Palestinian leader and organization which fails to acknowledge this, and advocate on its behalf — and any “peace proposal” which fails to gain the support of ordinary Palestinians, not just marginal elites willing to repress dissent and disarm “irregular forces” — has little chance of success.

The Geneva Accord describes “terrorism” solely as a military and security issue, not as a political and diplomatic issue. Throughout the document it is apparent that the primary task of the Palestinians is to “guarantee” the security and well-being of Israelis. Not the other way around.

The Palestinian victims of Israeli occupation are assumed to be the criminals: it is they alone who require monitoring, it is they alone who are to be disarmed, and who are expected to allow Israeli inspectors at Palestinian “controlled” borders, at civilian bus and airport terminals, at mail and cargo depots - in their “sovereign and inviolable” state. The primary task of the Palestinian police force is the same as that under Oslo: disarm, and put an end to all “irregular forces.”

In other words, repress your own people, and make sure none of them get crazy ideas about attacking Israel. Not just Hamas and Islamic Jihad, not just individuals and organizations that might carry out attacks on Israeli civilians, but anyone who resists, anyone who might take seriously the right to resist foreign occupation, a right guaranteed under international law.

The Geneva Accord is the same recipe for bankruptcy, the same utter capitulation expected from the Palestinians, that doomed the Oslo process, and guaranteed only one thing with certainty — namely, continued Palestinian resistance to Occupation, continued violence on both sides, continued suicide attacks on Israeli military and civilian targets, continued Israeli state terrorism, and sadly, continued international silence. Silence … as the prospects for a meaningful peace and viable Palestinian state are ground into dust by Israeli tanks and bulldozers, making room for Israeli walls, and by-pass roads, and settlements, settlements, settlements.

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    Paul Burrows is a member of the Canada Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg), and International Solidarity Movement-Canada ( For a fuller treatment of the “facts on the ground” inside Israel and the Occupied Territories, a longer variation of this article can be found here on Znet.