The line between tacit support and direct financial assistance for an unofficial Middle East peace plan is a fine one — but a number of European states may be about to cross it, according to Israeli officials.
The two leading advocates of the “Geneva accord” — Israel’s former justice minister, Yossi Beilin, and a former Palestinian Authority information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo — met last week with the French and Belgian foreign ministers in Paris.
The meetings ostensibly were meant to garner European diplomatic support for the peace initiative, but Israeli officials said they also were a chance to gather funds to publicize the deal back home.
The accord envisages Israeli withdrawal from virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the division of Jerusalem and the transfer of Temple Mount sovereignty to the Palestinians.
The plan was devised in a number of secret meetings between Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Geneva, London, Vienna, Pisa and Tokyo, held over more than two years.
The plan’s principal proponents — members of Israel’s Labor and Meretz parties as well as former ministers in the Palestinian Authority — say European states have given substantial logistical and organizational assistance.
Moreover, recent meetings between the project’s Israeli and Palestinian supporters and leaders of major E.U. political groupings — along with European Parliament President Pat Cox — have implied a certain E.U. interest in the project.
The Israeli government has been incensed by European backing of a peace plan that was negotiated by people who were voted out of office, which is contrary to government policy and, in Israeli officials’ eyes, which rewards terrorism by offering the Palestinians greater concessions than were contemplated before the intifada.
Now, if Beilin and Abed Rabbo indeed asked for monetary help at the recent Paris meetings, a line may have been crossed into direct financial assistance.
The reports immediately raised the ire of Israeli officials.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told a Cabinet meeting Sunday that France and Belgium had agreed to provide $7 million to build support for the accord.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Sunday that Israel should “fight to stop the adoption of the Geneva initiative and against the aid given it by European states.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned the acting head of Switzerland’s mission in Israel to express “misgivings” about Swiss patronage of the plan.
The Swiss say a formal signing ceremony will go ahead next month in Geneva, though the original date — Nov. 4, the anniversary of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination — seems likely to be changed.
France denied that it intends to offer financial backing for the plan, though Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin’s said the accord was “welcome” and “complements” the U.S.-sponsored “road map” peace plan.
The question of financial aid “was not raised in meetings which took place in Paris with the project’s two promoters,” a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday. “Such support has never been envisaged.”
A senior source at Israel’s embassy in Paris said Israel accepted the French reassurances.
He pointed out, however, that foreign support for the plan could be construed as “interference in the affairs of a foreign state and, worse, could have damaging effects when we really come together to talk peace.”
The initiative comes as de Villepin has begun to advocate an independent European approach to solving international problems, most notably in the Middle East.
After France, Britain and Germany joined to broker a recent deal with Iran over nuclear weapons inspections, de Villepin suggested that the deal could provide a blueprint for European foreign policy on an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
Whether or not Beilin and Abed Rabbo raised the issue of funding at the meeting with de Villepin, there appears little doubt that the matter was touched upon later that day in Paris.
According to a spokesman for Belgium’s Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Louis Michel is studying “a request for financial aid” from Beilin and Abed Rabbo at a meeting with Michel at the Belgian embassy in Paris.
Michel later said that “no decision has yet been taken,” but Belgian press reports suggested that Brussels might contribute as much as $1 million to the project.
Belgium’s major French-language daily, Le Soir, reported Monday that the sum may still be too little to fund one of the backers’ main projects — sending leaflets describing the plan to every household in Israel and the Palestinian areas.
According to one of the supporters of the plan, Israeli reserve Gen. Giora Inbar, $2 million will be needed to send out three million leaflets.
“Switzerland, Britain and Japan have helped us, but we need a lot of funds and we can’t count on a great deal coming from Israel or the Palestinian Authority,” Inbar said.
Sharon has suggested that the plan is dangerous, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak called it “delusional” and Labor Party leader Shimon Peres has refused to endorse it.
However, the accord appears to have mobilized the Zionist left in Europe around a peace plan that presents a clear alternative to the policies of Israel’s current center-right government.
Reluctant to criticize Israel since the intifada began, some of France’s most prominent left-wing Zionists recently declared their support for the Geneva accord in an appeal published in the French weekly Marianne.
The list included leading pro-Israel advocates Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut; the president of the Jewish community’s Radio Shalom, Robert Assaraf; and former Jewish student leader Patrick Klugman.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.