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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Geneva Accord: A Strategic Assessment

Filed under: International Law, Israeli Security, Palestinians, Peace Process, The Middle East
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 3, No. 9    December 4, 2003

  •  A self-appointed Israeli negotiating team, claiming to speak in the name of a majority of Israelis, concluded the Geneva Accord with a Palestinian delegation. It conceded almost all the security arrangements for the West Bank and Gaza Strip sought by past Israeli governments.
  • The Geneva Accord leaves Israel with no safety net in the event that the agreement is violated by the Palestinian side. It is as though its architects learned nothing from the collapse of the Oslo Agreement.

  • The Geneva architects agreed to the expulsion of more than 100,000 Israeli Jews from the territories.

  • In the name of the Jewish people, the Israeli Geneva team gave up the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Jewish history. They seem unaware of the long-term implications for the Zionist movement of conceding Zion.

  • According to Geneva, Israelis recognize for the first time a Palestinian “right of return” to pre-1967 Israel. In exchange, the Palestinians agreed that not all the Palestinians will come to Israel. The number that will enter Israeli territory cannot be understood from Geneva’s wording.

  • The Geneva model should not be adopted by anyone concerned for the security and future of the Jewish state.


The Geneva Accord, which perhaps should have been called the Dead Sea Agreement, for that is where it was negotiated, is not an agreement between states. Nevertheless, its Israeli signatories present it as a “model” for a future treaty. In this context, it is fitting to examine what exactly the Geneva model contains and what it lacks, as though it was a real peace treaty, for only in that way can the model it proposes be judged.

Looking at some of the comments about the agreement, it appears to be based on very tangible Israeli concessions in exchange for what is presented as a real Palestinian concession over their claim of a “right of return.” Is this really the case? This requires detailed examination.



The Israeli Concessions


The Temple Mount


What did the Israeli team concede in this model agreement? First, the Israelis took a step that no Israeli government had ever taken before: they transferred sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to the Palestinians, establishing “Zionism without Zion.” This is an ideological concession that is a matter of individual values – something everyone can judge according to his or her own world view.

There will be those who see in this concession a break between Israel and its historical heritage, and therefore an act that negates the very legitimacy of the return of the Jewish people to their land. According to this view, Geneva provides the Palestinians with their ultimate victory on the central question that has been raised since the beginning of the modern return to Zion: have the Jewish people returned to their historic homeland or did they come as foreign occupiers? True, Israel lived without the Temple Mount from 1948 to 1967, but this would be the first time it actually conceded possession.

In contrast, there will be quite a number of Israelis who will see the Temple Mount issue in very practical terms – that formalizing Palestinian sovereignty is only making permanent the present-day arrangements that have existed on an interim basis since 1967, since the Muslim Waqf (originally Jordanian and now Palestinian), and not the State of Israel, really determines what happens on the Temple Mount. From this perspective, “territorial compromise” must necessarily include Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount within, and there is no added significance to this concession except the recognition that, without it, Israel will be forced to live by the sword for eternity. Accordingly, it is worthwhile to make this compromise over symbols in order to reach a better future.

The Geneva model contains the most extreme version of this approach, for it conceded the most important place in Jewish history. Gauging the impact of this kind of concession over a central value tied to the national soul of a people is not easy to measure, but it is probably far more damaging than those who elected to follow this course might ever imagine. Moreover, in Geneva this concession is total. The agreement ironically establishes that the supreme authority over the Temple Mount will include various states, the United Nations, and the European Union, as well as representatives of the Organization of Islamic States – but Jewish representatives will not take part in the proposed international body.

The West Bank and Gaza


The second major Israeli concession is an almost total withdrawal from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip. In the matter of territory, the Israeli Geneva signatories took a major step beyond the concessions offered by the Barak government: of all the settlement blocs, Geneva leaves mainly those surrounding Jerusalem. Its concession of withdrawal from the Ariel area dramatically increases the number of Israeli citizens who will have to be removed or expelled from their homes. Geneva also entails an almost total abandonment of the high ground dominating the metropolitan Tel Aviv region, leaving the central stretch of Israel’s coastal strip, where most of its population and industrial capacity are located, completely exposed, without any real strategic depth.

The transfer of the Jordan Rift Valley to the Palestinians leaves Israel with no ability to defend itself from threats from the east, should they emerge once again in the future (no one knows exactly what will be in Iraq in the long term). The withdrawal from the West Bank also has elements in common with the concessions the Geneva architects made over Jerusalem. The power of its historical significance may be less, but the withdrawal has broad practical significance for both Israeli security and for the vast numbers of Jews who will have to be removed. Moreover, even the tiniest Palestinian territorial concession is fully compensated for with an equivalent amount of empty land inside the State of Israel. Thus, in effect, there isn’t even the slightest territorial concession by the Palestinians to Israel.

Security Arrangements


The third concession in Geneva worth analyzing is the loss of “security arrangements” that had been an essential part of previous Israeli proposals. Looking at the results of this negotiation, the involvement of former Israeli army officers was completely superfluous. The Geneva Accord contains no security safety net whatsoever. There is evidence of the involvement of former Israel Air Force personnel in the drafting of Geneva, for the only arrangement that is related to security is the right reserved for the Israel Air Force to conduct military exercises in the airspace over Palestine.

It is true that there are a few elements that remain of what former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin insisted upon – that Israel will have its military border along the Jordan River. Geneva provides Israel with two isolated, and hence worthless, early-warning stations. But all of Rabin’s other security requirements are dropped in Geneva, either immediately or over the course of three years. The Geneva security arrangements are even scaled back from what appeared in the draft to which the Palestinians gave their agreement during the Barak period.

In essence, almost all of Israel’s security requirements were exchanged for the idea of deploying a foreign military presence that will be supervised by an international committee created to oversee the agreement’s implementation. Israel’s security needs were also conceded in return for basically empty declarations about cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security establishments. According to the logic of Geneva, the Israel Defense Forces can be dismantled, for the IDF has no role in fighting terrorism and in defending the State of Israel. These responsibilities, according to Geneva, will now lay with the proposed international force. The end result is that decisions on matters crucial to Israel’s sovereignty and security are put in the hands of an international committee. Since the end of 1947, such committees have consistently rallied against Israel. In Geneva, the European Union, the United Nations, and others will be responsible for the security of Israel.

For example, there is no provision in the agreement for the deployment of Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley, if a concrete threat from the east evolves. Israel would have no control, or even an Israeli presence, at the borders between Palestine and Egypt or Jordan in order to thwart the infiltration of terrorist elements into Palestinian territory. There would be no Israeli presence at the international entry points, or at Palestinian airports and seaports, in order to prevent the smuggling of illegal weaponry (which was attempted regularly during the Oslo years). Even if the Palestinian regime or the international forces that are deployed fail to take effective measures against persistent terrorism, Israel would have no right to operate against terrorist cells coming from Palestinian territory or to act against terrorists that it knows are planning to strike. Indeed, there is an Israeli responsibility to avoid such actions. The only right Israel has is to complain about the negligence of those who are supposed to protect its security.

Of course, if Palestinian terrorism does not come to a halt, Israel will find itself without the necessary capabilities to prevent such attacks and bring them to an end. Moreover, since an international force will be present, Israel will lose its freedom of action, even if it is forced to ignore its commitments under the agreement. Zeev Schiff, the commentator on national security for Ha’aretz newspaper, has already noted that if a Geneva-like agreement were to collapse for any reason after it was implemented, Israel would find itself in a far more difficult situation. The assessment of the security threat to Israel under such a scenario must include regular Katyusha rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, unrestrained terrorist attacks across all of Israel, and the use of far more sophisticated weaponry than has been used in the past. The qualitative improvement in the weaponry on the Palestinian side will make it much more difficult for the Israel Defense Forces to counter them.

A reader of the Geneva Accord gains the impression that those who drafted it completely forgot that there was already a “peace process” begun in Oslo that collapsed and continued in the form of a brutal terrorist campaign, that was supported by some of the Palestinian signatories to Oslo. The Geneva exercise is not based on any serious attempt to learn any lessons from Oslo’s breakdown: What if the dream of peace is not realized because the intentions and capabilities of the other side were not correctly evaluated? When Israeli intelligence warned that the Oslo agreements could end up with the firing of Katyusha rockets on Ashkelon, this appeared at the time to be illogical to its architects and supporters. Among former Israeli officers, the question must be asked how some people allow themselves to ignore this possibility, even today, after Qassam rockets have already struck Ashkelon and Sderot. It is a sad irony that the language on Israel’s rights in the Geneva Accord leave it only with the option of issuing a complaint, even if it detects the movement of tanks and armored vehicles within the Palestinian corridor it is to create between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This encapsulates the extent to which Israeli security was treated irresponsibly in the Geneva Accord.



The Palestinian Concessions


What are the Palestinians giving in return for the Israeli concession of sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the near total withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and the loss of all meaningful security arrangements? The Israeli Geneva architects say that the Palestinians gave up their claim of a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees to pre-1967 Israel. This point requires very careful examination, because with the exception of Sari Nusseibeh, no leading Palestinian public figure has dared to speak of a concession on the “right of return.” To the contrary, the more negotiations progress, the more it will become clear that the Palestinians still insist on their demand for “the return.”

From the Palestinian viewpoint, the “right of return” contains two elements:

  1. The matter of principle – meaning the recognition of the existence of such a right
  2. The method of implementation – meaning how many Palestinians will actually exercise this right if it is accorded to them.

The Israeli Geneva architects assert that their main achievement is with respect to the second element of the right of return, for they claim to have reached an agreement that will let Israel control the numbers of those returning. Yet the very recognition of the first element, the principle of a “right of return” based on Geneva’s explicit reliance on UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 and on the resolutions of the Beirut Arab Summit of 2002, is nothing less than an historical error of the highest order of magnitude. It connects the very existence of Israel to a Palestinian version of a fundamental injustice whose historical accuracy it can no longer refute after Geneva. In short, it undermines Israel’s very right to exist.

It is clear upon examination of Geneva that its main achievement for Israel – blocking the Palestinian right of return – is far from hermetic. True, the Palestinians concede their unqualified demand to allow all the refugees to immigrate to Israel. Yet the Palestinians obtained Israeli recognition of the “right” to assert it in large numbers. The actual number of “returnees” is supposed to be calculated according to the average number of refugees that will be taken in around the world. On one hand, the agreement stipulates that it is up to the individual Palestinian refugee to decide where he wants to settle (in Palestine, Israel, or a third country). On the other hand, the agreement recognizes Israel’s sovereign right to determine the entry of refugees. This potential contradiction is bound to leave Israel open to continuing international pressure to open its doors. It is not surprising to find the Palestinian legislator who was one of the Palestinian team leaders, Kadura Fares, telling the London Arabic daily al-Hayat, in mid-October 2003, that the Palestinians did not give up the “right of return.” The results of this could be devastating, even leading to a change in the demographic balance inside Israel in a manner that will threaten its character as a Jewish state.

The Geneva proposals on the Palestinian refugees are a trap for Israel, for if an Israeli government were to refuse to fully implement the decisions of the international committee concerning the “return” of tens or hundreds of thousands of refugees to Israeli territory, the Palestinians retain the right, according to the Geneva Accord, to continue the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their struggle as they did before the agreement was signed. This is a formula for future disarray. The section on refugees ends with an Israeli commitment to commemorate the memory of former Palestinian villages that existed before the 1948 invasion by the Arab states. Wouldn’t such a project simply reinforce Palestinian awareness of their refugee status forever? This is a huge Palestinian achievement.



Other Issues Emanating from Geneva


While the above analysis covers the major issues that appear in the Geneva Accord, there are other aspects of the proposed model that need to be critically examined:

Conditionality and Reciprocity


There is no conditionality in the timetable of Geneva’s implementation. According to the agreement, Israel’s complete withdrawal is to take place even if terrorism persists. Of course, Israel has the right to complain to the international committee, but it may not halt its withdrawal, even if Israel has solid confirmation that the Palestinian Authority is not lifting a finger to combat terrorism or if there are intelligence indications that it is actually providing tangible assistance to terrorist groups. Even under these conditions, Israel is required to transfer territories vital to its national defense and to concede its ability to fight terrorism.

The Issue of Water


The Geneva Accord contains no understanding between the parties over the question of water resources. Nonetheless, the Palestinians have achieved a significant advance payment in this area: explicit Israeli recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over water resources in their territory. There is no reference to the fact that these water resources are part of the mountain and coastal aquifers that stretch into Israel and constitute the primary source of water for Israelis residing in central Israel. It is not clear why, even in this unfinished area of negotiation, the Israeli team created a position of clear-cut inferiority for Israel, right from the start.



The Palestinians are to be given a corridor from the Gaza Strip to the Hebron highlands that crosses the State of Israel. By contrast, in cases where such corridors would have been useful for Israelis, such as from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi or along Route 443 connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem through Beit Horon, Israelis have no equivalent rights of passage.

Israel as a Jewish State?


Even what ostensibly should have been a fundamental matter of principle – that the Palestinians recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state – is phrased carelessly and in a manner that is open to diverse interpretations. This allows the Palestinians to give a very different meaning to this clause, so that there is no connection between any claim of an achievement for Israel and the actual language that Geneva adopts. In the agreement, the State of Israel recognizes a Palestinian state, with its national character defined, but “Palestine” only recognizes Israel as a state, with no reference to its character. Indeed, Kadura Fares of the Palestinian negotiating team told al-Hayat that the Palestinians did not recognize Israel as a Jewish state in the Geneva document. Furthermore, given the clauses in Geneva on the “right of return,” the Palestinians can wage a campaign to alter Israel’s demographic make-up and remain true to their signature on the agreement.

In summary, an analysis of the Geneva model indicates that it is completely slanted to the Palestinian side. It is an agreement that contains virtually no Israeli achievement whatsoever in comparison with the tangible concessions it grants to the Palestinians: principally, the abandonment of the Temple Mount and the loss of security arrangements that up until now Israel insisted upon, and whose importance has been demonstrated over the years since the signing of the Oslo Agreements and their crashing failure. Israel loses an important part of its national sovereignty in this agreement to an international committee, and it concedes the ability to defend itself to an international force. In addition, Israel will have to deal with the “right of return” and absorb massive numbers of refugees on its territory within the “green line,” for Israel itself is not to decide how many will come.

Israelis should judge the model put forward in the Geneva Accord according to what it contains and what it lacks. This analysis is far more important than the ceremonies and participation of foreign leaders, for whom the destiny of Israel has never been a top priority.

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Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror is former commander of the IDF’s National Defense College and the IDF Staff and Command College. He is also the former head of the IDF’s research and assessment division, with special responsibility for preparing the National Intelligence Assessment. In addition, he served as the military secretary of the Minister of Defense.