Peace between Israel and the Palestinians: It Is Time to Revive the ‘Geneva Initiative’

Raymond Saner | A six-point roadmap to find a solution to the conflict, help the region escape the vicious cycle of recurring bloodshed, and reconstruct Gaza, building on the Geneva Initiative's network of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.

by Raymond Saner*

A little over 20 years ago, prominent Israeli and Palestinian negotiators launched an unofficial peace effort called the Geneva Initiative (GI), also known as the Geneva Accord. A draft Permanent Status Agreement, it drew on previous official negotiations, international resolutions, the Oslo Accords I & II, the Quartet Roadmap, the Clinton Parameters, and the Arab Peace Initiative. The main backer of the GI, the Swiss Government, ended its funding in 2023. It should be revived, argues Raymond Saner, who evaluated the Geneva Initiative for the Swiss Foreign Ministry. Inspired by the Geneva Initiative, the author proposes a six-point roadmap to find a solution to the conflict, help the region escape the vicious cycle of recurring bloodshed, and reconstruct Gaza, building on the Geneva Initiative's network of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.

After 76 years of war and violent conflict in the land of Palestine and in light of today’s horrific and brutal war in Gaza, it is high time to find solutions that could lead to a sustained peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. War-making in the Gaza prison is regressing to primitive levels of trying to win at all costs, no matter how many children, mothers, elderly and sick people are killed on the way to victory—which is not victory, but rather a mindless killing, and a medieval form of hatred.

As bilateral and multilateral high-level diplomatic talks continue about implementing a ceasefire between the parties to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza and a release of the remaining hostages, the international community is also involved in devising a long-term solution for the region. I believe that the Geneva Initiative still represents a sound blueprint for a long-lasting, sustainable peace.

The Geneva Initiative served as a detailed, comprehensive proposal for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, addressing core issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, and security:

  • Borders: The initiative proposes the establishment of borders based roughly on the 1967 lines (the Green Line), with land swaps to accommodate some Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
  • Jerusalem: It suggests that Jerusalem should serve as the capital of both Israel and Palestine, with Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty. Additionally, it proposes special arrangements for the Old City, including joint control over holy sites.
  • Refugees: The Geneva Initiative suggests a compromise on the issue of Palestinian refugees, with most refugees to be resettled in the future Palestinian state, compensation for refugees, and a limited number allowed to return to Israel under family reunification schemes.
  • Security: The initiative addresses security concerns for both Israelis and Palestinians, including demilitarization of the future Palestinian state, security arrangements along the border, and international monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance.

It is crucial that parties in conflict continue to talk, and to explore, with their respective communities, what can be done to lead to peace rather than more war—and they must be supported in this. Restarting the Geneva Initiative and focusing on the six-point plan outline below, even if it may sound utopian, could provide the framework for such discussions.

  • Point 1. Exchange the hostages taken by Hamas in return for Palestinians kept in Israeli prisons. Which and how many hostages and prisoners are released can be established through negotiations.
  • Point 2. Let Hamas (both the fighters and party officials) leave Gaza and move to a country willing to shelter them—for instance Turkey or Qatar, both of which support Hamas; all three are close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Such an exit would be similar to what happened when Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership were allowed to evacuate by sea from Beirut to Tunis.
  • Point 3. Invite Palestinian factions to nominate a joint Palestinian authority for the ensuing negotiations and reconstruction of war-torn Gaza and the parts of the West Bank that have been destroyed by settlers and IDF military forces. Invite the newly constituted Palestinian Authority to re-establish itself in Gaza to start the reconstruction process, led by Palestinians for Palestinians. Financial and technical support by third parties should be welcomed but conditionalities should not be accepted—for instance, reconstruction based on the Washington Consensus requirements.
  • Point 4. Negotiations for a two-state solution or a confederation (of Israel and Palestine) should be started, but all settlements in occupied land must be stopped without exceptions. Several current leaders should not be retained in any function or position for all of the preceding points, particularly not Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu or Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, both of whom have committed multiple war crimes and should be sent for trial—an accountability measure—to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Also not be retained is Mahmoud Abbas, who has blocked elections since 2009 and is seen as unable to stand up to Israeli pressures.
  • Point 5. Creation of a constitution, either for two states or for a confederation. If seen as useful, an international peace force could ensure a green line and the many walls should be dismantled. A select group of guarantor countries should also be selected, without individual intervention rights, e.g., Qatar, Saudi Arabia (KSA), USA, China, Egypt, Iran and Turkey.
  • Point 6. Invitation for China to mediate a deal between Iran-Hezbollah-Syria with USA and the four western nuclear powers, in exchange for an agreement by Iran to stop support of groups involved in armed violence and actions in the Palestinian territory.

*Raymond Saner is the co-founder of the Geneva-based Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND). As an evaluator and consultant, he has been involved in monitoring the impacts of the Oslo Accords. He first launched his six-point proposal in October 2023.

This Op-ED is largely excerpted from a longer paper, available below.

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