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Israelis, Palestinians Gather to Launch Unofficial 'Geneva Accord' - 2003-12-01

Hundreds of Israeli, Palestinian and international supporters of an unofficial Mideast peace plan, known as the Geneva Accord, gathered to launch it Monday. The authors of the pact say they hope it will create momentum to persuade Israeli and Palestinian government officials to restart the stalled international road map to peace.

A parade of distinguished guests expressed their gratitude and admiration for the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators who decided that war between their two peoples was no longer an option. And, that a viable and just peace between them was possible.

Former President Jimmy Carter told the overflow audience that the initiative offered a guide for a permanent peace in the holy land.

"This agreement would resolve the conflict's most critical issues including border deliniations, Israeli settlements, the excessive occupation of Palestinian lands, the future of Jerusalem and its holy places, the extremely troubling question of Palestinian refugees," he said. "It is unlikely that we shall ever see a more promising foundation for peace."

Mr. Carter said the Geneva Accord is compatible with the international road map to peace and should be used to revive those faltering negotiations.

The Geneva initiative was drawn up by leading Palestinian and Israeli politicians and intellectuals in secret talks over the past three years. It calls for Israel to withdraw from much of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the creation of a Palestinian State and shared control of Jerusalem. The deal requires Palestinian refugees to waive their right to return to Israel.

The Swiss government provided important financial support and helped to ensure that the talks could take place. It was with some emotion that Switzerland's Foreign Minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey said that she was proud to see the project came to light in her country.

"My dream is that the Geneva initiative will receive very broad support both here and in the Middle East and that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority will seize it as an opportunity," she said.

Leading international figures, including Nobel Peace laureates John Hume, the Northern Ireland peace negotiator and former Polish President Lech Walesa, were in Geneva for the ceremony to lend support to the accord. South Africa's Nelson Mandela sent a video message. Other messages of goodwill came from the presidents of France and Egypt, the King of Morocco and Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Former Palestinian Minister and co-author of the Geneva Accord, Yasser Abed Rabbo, ended the ceremony with an emotional appeal for peace. "Today, we are extending our hands in peace for peace, The Palestinian people want peace," he said. "The Israeli people want peace. The world wants peace. Will we allow a few of the enemies of peace to destroy our dreams?"

Participants noted that after three years of violence and suffering, a citizens' push for peace was not only possible, but necessary.