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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November, 2003, 18:13 GMT
Q&A: The Geneva accord
The "Geneva accord", an alternative peace plan for the Middle East, has not been endorsed by the Israeli Government or the Palestinian Legislative Council. It has, however, been received with broad support by Israelis and Palestinians. Now, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is meeting the authors of the accord. BBC News Online looks at the issues surrounding it.

Q: What is the Geneva accord?

It is a detailed, "unofficial" blueprint for peace sponsored by what is left of the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps. It is the result of two and a half years of secret negotiations led by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. Both are former official peace negotiators.

The accord has no support from the Israeli Government
The accord was sent to every home in Israel
It is called the Geneva accord because the negotiations were supported by Swiss diplomats.

The initiative, which is being officially launched in Geneva on 1 December, has European backing, as well as verbal support from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Q: What does it propose?

The basic framework looks like this:

  • Palestinians would, in effect, give up the right of return for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who left or were driven out during previous wars. A few might go back, but only with Israeli agreement, while others would be able to come back to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza or settle for good in their present host countries, mainly Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Some would get some form of compensation.

  • In exchange, the Palestinians would recognise the Israeli state and get 97.5% of all the land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.

  • Most of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza would be dismantled but Israel would annex two big settlements south and east of Jerusalem, plus another 12 in East Jerusalem.

  • Jerusalem would be divided administratively though not physically. The most sensitive site, the Temple Mount as Jews call it, or the Noble Sanctuary as Muslims know it, would be under Palestinian sovereignty. An international force would guarantee access for visitors. Israelis would retain the Western Wall (the so-called Wailing Wall) below and the old Jewish quarter. Jerusalem would become the capital of two states.

The key compromises are over the right of return and the division of Jerusalem.

By giving up their cherished "right of return", Palestinians would abandon hopes of establishing a unitary state of Palestine.

By formally giving up the Temple Mount, Israelis would accept the division of Jerusalem which they have always opposed.

Q: How does the accord differ from the US-backed plan widely known as the roadmap?

The accord goes considerably further than the roadmap.

While the roadmap seeks to create secure conditions under which a settlement could take place, the Geneva accord reverses that, by agreeing on a settlement first. This should then lead to peace.

The roadmap provides for a ceasefire and a settlement freeze, then the creation of a Palestinian state with "provisional borders". After this is what appears to be a vague process for negotiation on final agreements.

The Geneva accord, however, settles outstanding issues and is much more specific in its detail.

Q: How have Israeli and Palestinian leaders reacted to it?

Neither the Israeli Government nor the Palestinian legislative Council have backed the accord.

In fact, the Israeli Government and hardline Palestinians have poured scorn on it. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced Mr Beilin and his fellow Israeli negotiators as "traitors". He recently said the initiative "does Israel damage and is a mistake".

Radical Palestinian groups including Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Resistance Movement, have also denounced the Palestinian negotiators as traitors for giving up the right of return.

Q: What about popular support?

A few weeks ago, a copy of the agreement was sent to every home in Israel. It was also printed in Palestinian newspapers.

A poll published shortly after suggested that 55.6% of Palestinians and 53% of Israelis backed the principles of the Geneva accord.

A Washington think-tank, the Baker Institute, commissioned the survey, which asked 1,241 Israelis and Palestinians for their views on the peace plan's terms without mentioning it by name.

In Israeli, the plan's originators are hoping that public support will put pressure on Israel's prime minister to, in their words, demonstrate a greater willingness to compromise.

Analysts say that in Israel, the initiative has been bolstered by a drop in public confidence in Mr Sharon's ability to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Q: How successful is it likely to be?

BBC News Online's world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says the Geneva accord is more idealistic than realistic. He says it is not irrelevant, although its impact is mixed.

He says that on the one hand it shows that the roadmap is not the only way forward as was claimed. The Palestinians and moderate Israelis argue that it demonstrates that an agreement is possible after the failure at Camp David in 2000. On the other hand Mr Beilin has no constituency in Israel, and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has not clearly endorsed it.

Our correspondent says it remains a sideshow, though one which has caused Mr Sharon some problems, hence his talk recently of taking unilateral measures towards a settlement.

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