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Amid Hugs and Kisses, Peace Plan Presented with Fanfare in Geneva

December 2, 2003
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If only it were as easy as the hugs and kisses made it seem.

Israelis and Palestinians who helped negotiate the “Geneva accord” dispensed embraces and kisses left and right as they launched their unofficial peace proposal Monday with some significant international support mobilizing behind it.

From Nobel laureates to international leaders and former U.S. presidents, speakers at the launch here paid homage to the proposal, negotiated over two years in secret talks between Israeli opposition figures and Palestinians close to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Speakers welcomed the grass-roots nature of the proposal but called on the international community to give it backing as a way to end Israeli-Palestinian violence, which has claimed almost 4,000 lives since the Palestinian intifada was launched in September 2000.

Monday’s launch of the peace proposal was hosted by actor Richard Dreyfuss.

At the event, speakers said the Geneva accord would be different from other failed peace plans because it would cut through slow, step-by-step procedures and instead move to immediate settlement of all the main issues dividing the sides.

“Geneva is the first time there has been an agreement on final status, and this time nobody has tried to leave the difficult things for later,” said Amram Mitzna, the former leader of Israel’s Labor Party and one of the initiative’s major supporters.

As if to personify how far they had come in attempting to reach difficult compromises, two former combatants chose to highlight the pain created by years of conflict.

A former Israeli army chief of staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, described how “hate had poisoned the two societies.” He said, “The more this hate continues, the more likely that we will end up denying each other the right to existence.”

Shahak’s speech — the only one delivered in Hebrew at the ceremony — was immediately followed by one from P.A. Gen. Suheir al-Manasrah, who told the audience that Shahak personally had signed an order banning him from the Palestinian territories some years earlier.

But if both Shahak and al-Manasrah spoke in their native languages in clear appeals to their own people, other speakers directed their remarks to outsiders who could bring their influence to bear on leaders in the region.

Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli Cabinet minister who was the principal Israeli proponent of the proposal, said peace was not just for Israelis and Palestinians, “but for the whole world.”

“All of you suffer from the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Beilin said, arguing that it causes much of the Arab world’s opposition to the West.

His remarks were echoed by Jimmy Carter, the former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Carter said it was vital that the United States be seen as an honest broker between the two sides and not be perceived to favor Israel.

“The present administration always supports Israel,” Carter said. “The lack of real effort in the cause of peace leads to anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East.”

Moreover, he added, the alternative to the Geneva peace plan was “only sustained and permanent violence, and it is unlikely we shall ever see a more promising initiative for peace.”

Like other speakers, Carter had harsh criticism for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Jerusalem Post, in fact, described Monday’s ceremony as a “festival of anti-Israel bashing.”

Carter publicly criticized the official “road map” peace plan, which other contributors — including envoys representing British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac — described as complementary to the Geneva accord.

But such nuances did little to dampen the enthusiasm of international Jewish activists, who said that a viable peace plan finally was on the horizon.

“There’s momentum here and now. Even the naysayers are desperately seeking a solution, and Sharon is leaking out initiatives as well,” said Mark Rosenblum, founder and political director of Americans for Peace Now.

Supporters said that even if it takes time before Israel’s government is overcome and the initiative can be adopted as an official peace plan, there is no reason why Diaspora Jews and the international community can’t start pushing the plan now.

The supporters did not address the Palestinian Authority’s ambivalence about the plan.

A European group headed by French pro-Israel activists Bernard Kouchner, Patrick Klugman and Bernard-Henri Levy plans to meet next month in Paris to start urging Jewish and Palestinian communities around the world to support the plan.

“We’ve waited three years for something to happen to return to talking about peace,” said June Jacobs, a former president of Britain’s Board of Deputies, the main umbrella organization of British Jewry.

“Finally things have started moving in Israel. Maybe support for this plan will also mobilize in the Diaspora,” she said. “It’s just so tragic that people have had to die in between.”

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