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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 December, 2003, 03:32 GMT
Geneva Accord steals limelight

By Jon Leyne
BBC State Department correspondent

The Washington talks between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and the authors of an unofficial Middle East peace plan known as the Geneva Accord on Friday came despite objections from the Israeli Government.
The authors of the Geneva Accord Israeli Yossi Beilin (left) and Palestinian Yasser Abed Rabbo speak to reporters after their talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell
The authors say their plan is complimentary to the roadmap

Securing the meeting with former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo was a bonus for the project.

Their reception in Washington has added credibility to their campaign, as they were able to show Mr Powell some of the detailed work they've done on a possible future peace deal.

"We were today (Friday) encouraged by the words of Secretary Powell," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, "as we were yesterday (Thursday) encouraged by the words of the President."

His Israeli counterpart, Yossi Beilin, said they had explained to Mr Powell their motivation.

It was necessary right now to discuss the "endgame" - not to put it off until the end of the negotiations, he explained.

Opposite approaches

Certainly the two peace activists have tackled the tough issues head on.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Powell says he has the right to listen to fresh ideas

Their plan has ideas on how to share Jerusalem, what to do about settlements, and the right of return of the Palestinians.

All incendiary issues that have been carefully avoided in most peace talks.

Mr Abed Rabbo insisted those ideas were complementary to the roadmap. But they could also be seen as antithetical.

The roadmap is a process, the Geneva Accord a destination. In some ways they represent opposite approaches.

But no-one can claim the roadmap is in great shape.

Israeli withdrawal from almost all West Bank and Gaza
Shared sovereignty over Jerusalem
Palestinian renunciation of "right of return"

Its ambitious goal is the setting up of a Palestinian state in the year 2005.

Without any sign even of the start of negotiations that looks so completely impossible, it's seems just a matter of time before the timetable is officially abandoned.

Although Mr Powell once again reaffirmed what he described as the "primacy of the roadmap."

Washington's annoyance

As so often in the Middle East, there are a lot of conflicting currents at the moment.

Palestinian demonstrators in Nablus burn an American flag behind effigies of Geneva Accord signatories Yasser Abed Rabbo (left) and Yossi Beilin
Palestinians have been burning effigies of the authors of the new plan

The Geneva Accord is one of a series of unofficial initiatives to emerge at a time when official Israeli-Palestinian contacts are still stalled.

On the Israeli side, the public is growing impatient with the unbending approach of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Government.

Members of his own party are beginning to look to the succession.

In the Palestinian camp, Yasser Arafat is regaining confidence and popularity.

He has been more subtle in his response to the Geneva process - giving some support, while not endorsing the outcome.

Hence Mr Sharon's frustration at being outmanoeuvred in the battle for public opinion.

Meanwhile, Washington is annoyed with the Sharon Government for pressing ahead with settlements and the building of a barrier in the West Bank.

The Israeli actions threaten to distract President Bush from his twin preoccupations, the conflict in Iraq, and his re-election bid next year.

So nobody expects the radical vision of the Geneva Accord to be put into practice anytime soon. But this is a good moment for it reach a ready audience, both in the Middle East and in Washington.

The BBC's Jon Leyne
"For once the Americans acted in defiance of the Israelis"

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