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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 23:34 GMT
Moderates launch Middle East plan
Former Palestinian minister and delegation chief Yasser Abed Rabbo, left, with ex-Israeli Justice Minister and Israeli delegation chief Yossi Beilin
Beilin [right] said both men were committing themselves to fight for peace
An alternative, unofficial peace plan for the Middle East has been launched at a ceremony in Geneva.

Drafted by left-wing Israelis and Palestinians, the accord goes much further than the US-backed roadmap.

Former US President Jimmy Carter said at the ceremony it was "unlikely that we will ever see a more promising foundation for peace".

The plan has already been rejected by the Israeli Government and main Palestinian factions.

Shared Jerusalem sovereignty and the waiving of the Palestinian right of return are the key points of the plan.

Israel rejection

An audience of Nobel peace prize-winners - including former US President Jimmy Carter and ex-Polish President Lech Walesa - attended the ceremony, organised by the Swiss Government.

Dignitaries from around the world, including former US President Bill Clinton, also sent messages of support to those present at the ceremony.

We are saying to the world don't listen to those who say the conflict is unsolvable
Former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin

Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians were in Geneva to support the launch.

But thousands of Palestinians held protests against the plan in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The demonstrators said the plan was a "sell-out" and called its Palestinian supporters "traitors".

Violence continued in the region on Monday, as Israeli troops - backed by more than 60 tanks - carried out a raid in the West Bank town of Ramallah. They arrested at least 30 suspects and killed four Palestinians, including a nine-year-old boy.

EU, UN support

The 50-page accord 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.

We cannot wait while the future of our two nations slides deeper into catastrophe
Former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo
"We are committing ourselves to fight for peace despite opposition both of us face," Mr Beilin said at the ceremony.

"We are saying to the world don't listen to those who say the conflict is unsolvable, don't help us to manage the conflict, help us to end it.

"Every issue can be solved. Don't give up on us, peace is right around the corner."

Mr Rabbo said "we have all been touched by the conflict, by the occupation [and] by the oppressions and we are all yearning for a peaceful solution.

"We cannot wait while the future of our two nations slides deeper into catastrophe."

The initiative has European backing and also verbal support from United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, but no official status.

Israel has rejected the plan outright, calling it an attempt to undermine its government, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has refused to give it public support, despite sending his top security advisor to attend the Geneva ceremony.

Controversial aspects

The accord - which calls for a two-state solution - envisages an almost complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and the recognition of Israel by the Palestinians.

GENEVA ACCORD: MAIN POINTS
Israeli withdrawal from almost all West Bank and Gaza
Shared sovereignty over Jerusalem
Palestinian renunciation of 'right of return'

In addition, Palestinians would effectively give up the right of return for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who left or were driven out during previous wars, and their descendants, although some may be permitted to return with Israeli agreement."

While the roadmap seeks to create secure conditions under which a political agreement could take place, the Geneva accord envisages a settlement first, which should then lead to peace.

Supporters of the new plan now say they want to build a groundswell of public opinion for the accord among ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva.

However the question of where the peace plan will go from here still remains, our correspondent adds.


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The BBC's James Reynolds
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