The Swiss Accord And Peace Forces In The Region

by Mamdouh Nofal on 11/11/2003

Members of the “Beilin-Abed Rabbo group for Palestinian-Israeli peace” are expected to head to Geneva early December to sign the Swiss Accord, during a special celebration in presence of a group of Palestinian personalities from inside and outside the territories, as well as Israeli and international high-ranking officials in favor of peace and a settlement for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as well as former South African Prime Minister De Clercq. The Beilin-Abed Rabbo Group reached a detailed agreement regarding the main points for a final settlement (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, water, security cooperation and future relations), which would put an end to the struggle. This accord was been dubbed the Swiss Accord because Switzerland encouraged and financed the dialogue.

I don’t know if Switzerland was chosen coincidentally to announce the conclusion of the Accords, or if it was chosen to create a certain balance between the past, present and future of the Middle East, and to make Switzerland the starting point for the creation of the Palestinian state, as it was 100 years ago for the creation of the Israeli state, when the Zionist movement held its first conference in the Swiss Town Basel in 1897.

Regardless of the intentions of Beilin, Abed Rabbo and the Swiss government, the main question remains whether this agreement will be constructive and come to represent a watershed in the search for peace, or if it will change nothing to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Will the agreement turn into tangible facts or will its fate be no better than the fate of previous official and unofficial initiatives and agreements, and will be buried in the grave of initiatives to settle the Palestinian-Israeli struggle along with the many initiatives that preceded it?

Despite the fact that the Beilin-Abed Rabbo agreement is just a sample, and not an official accord suggested for implementation, it sparked an eruption of responses in Israel and on the regional and international political scene, ranging between fierce opposition to supportive positions and reservation. This agreement also came under Palestinian and Israeli attack, confirming therefore that it managed to impose itself in one way or another as an initiative among many others presented in the Middle East political bazaar. Beilin and Abed Rabbo were subject to harsh criticisms to the point that forces within the Israeli rightist wing accused Beilin and his partners of higher treason. Sharon and his Foreign Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom waged a violent attack against the document and its authors; the attack reached the Swiss representative in Israel, who was condemned because his country supported and financed the agreement.

Instead of supporting Beilin and his partners, and considering the document complementary to the Roadmap related to the final settlement, the Labor party hesitated in supporting the document. Its leader Shimon Peres voiced his reservation and fabricated a fictive paradox between them. While in Paris, he said he would rather latch on to the Roadmap instead of seeking a new agreement; some Israelis considered his position as a message addressed to Sharon to the effect that he would be returning to the Foreign Ministry some day.

In Palestine, Abed Rabbo fares no better. No Palestinian party officially adopted the document. Apparently, the participation of members from Fatah, the Legislative Council and the Fada Party at the Dead Sea meeting doesn’t mean that these parties will support the document.

Instead of waiting for Israeli responses, Palestinian writers, leaders, journalists and party members criticized the document to the point of obliterating the official PLO Executive Committee’s stance, which in fact welcomed the group’s efforts and results, while considering the document as unofficial. Instead of analyzing the consequences of Sharon’s reaction and the Israeli right’s attack on the document, Palestinian opposition forces, including members of the Authority and the PLO, published communiqu?s similar to those published by the Israeli right wing, harshly criticizing the signatories.

National and Islamic forces rapidly published on 19/10/2003 a violent communiqu? dubbed “Call for holding on to National constants,” which slammed the document and its signatories. Leaders of the Fatah and Fada parties disclaimed the document and said it only expressed the point of view of its signatories and is not binding to the Palestinian people nor does it express its will. It can be considered as the basis of a solution for its national cause. It also described the negotiations conducted in the Dead Sea and their results embodied in the so-called Swiss Accord as a dangerous means to weaken the Palestinian stance. But the communiqu? failed to define the measuring criteria for determining the national constants and criticizing the document, and also failed to explain how and where it caused prejudice to the national source of reference! National and Islamic powers invited the organization and Authority’s leaders to voice a clear and decisive position regarding the document. It is more likely that critics against the document will be continued, provoking a wage of discussions from time to time, especially if holders decided not to be limited to signing the agreement, rather if they succeeded in forming popular frame supporting and defending the accord.

Undoubtedly, claiming that the agreement harms the national cause is the right of all Palestinians. Moreover, no one can claim that it is perfect and that it guarantees all rights. Everyone knows that any agreement between two parties is determined by the balance of power, and that the skills of the negotiator and the power of the argument do not compensate for mistakes. If unanimity as far as the document’s clauses doesn’t express an intellectual and political situation, it is the right of signatories to be treated as is treated any interpreter of Islam, who in case he was right will receive two wages, and in case he was wrong will receive one wage. Whoever agrees on clauses related to settling the security and territorial issues has the right to disagree on the solution suggested for the refugees and Jerusalem.

Moreover, it is useless to say that the Swiss Accord is a sample and not an official agreement, assessing a sample can only be made in as far as it serves the national cause within the set time framework. National interest imposes the official negotiator to deal with it when returning to the negotiations table considering it as a non-binding document. Sometimes, the acceptance of the Israeli part can be used to exert pressure in order to gain another concession.

Regardless of the opposition’s position, I believe that the flaws of the Swiss Accord should not overshadow the various positive points, which include: the reconsideration of peace forces within the two parties, the reconsideration of the Palestinian peace plan, lost with the armed Intifada and suicide attacks. It also provided a new realistic project around which international forces can find a grounds of concurrence. It limited the polarization in Israel based on pursuing the occupation of the Palestinian people and the escalation of the attacks and stealing its land. The document proved that there is a Palestinian partner in establishing real peace and that the two parties can reach an accord as far as a final settlement. It also confirmed that Sharon’s claim according to which there is no political solution to the struggle is wrong and that Palestinians refused a generous offer suggested by Barak at Camp David, and that Arafat wants to destroy Israel.

If some Palestinians fear that the document will come to represent the binding framework for the Palestinian position, then it is the best solution reached so far. It is better for the Palestinians than Clinton’s initiative proposed before the latter left the White House, which guaranteed new Israeli recommendations that were not proposed in Camp David and in Taba, namely, accepting to evacuate all the Ariel settlements and putting Arab Jerusalem and its holy places under the sovereignty of the Palestinians, making it the capital of the Palestinian state.

It is true that this document cannot be turned into an official document during Sharon’s tenure and as long as the Israeli right wing is in power. But the two parties can use it to salvage the peace process and no one can deny that such an agreement helps the peace forces in Israel face radical positions. Palestinians and Arabs can adopt it as a basis to wage a peace attack against the Israeli community on the international scene.

In all cases, the split among Palestinian forces over the Swiss agreement is wrong, and the higher national interest imposes on everyone to deal with it in a way that serves the cause. I believe that it wouldn’t be falling into illusions to do so, and it deserves the support of peace advocates. The Palestinians should postpone their disagreements over the details until a change is brought about, allowing to seek its implementation and form a large coalition of Palestinian parties and non-governmental organizations that is defended on the Palestinian scene and taken to the regional and international political scene. If Beilin, Lipkin-Shahak, David Kimche and Michlav wanted the Swiss accord as an introduction to the battle to topple Sharon and his government, than this battle is of interest to the Palestinians and to the peace advocates in the region, especially since everybody agrees that there can be no prospects for peace during Sharon’s tenure and his staying in power will only bring further disaster to both peoples.