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Israeli Opposition Group Drafts Peace Agreement with Palestinian Activists - 2003-10-13

A group of Israeli opposition and Palestinian politicians, human-rights activists and intellectuals has drafted an agreement aimed at ending the conflict between their peoples. The draft is the result of more than two years of secret talks financed by the Swiss government.

Israeli opposition politicians and Palestinians have produced what they say is a model to resolve the most divisive issues between them. A ceremony marking completion of the accord was attended by about 40 Israelis and Palestinians on Sunday in Jordan.

Former Justice Minister, Yossi Beilin, headed the Israeli team and former Palestinian Minister for Information, Yasser Abed Rabbo, lead the Palestinian delegation to the talks.

The plan, dubbed the Geneva Accord, is an unofficial peace agreement, which is to be signed in Switzerland in the coming weeks.

The move has greatly angered Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who accused the Israeli left of attempting to undermine his government, which he says is the only body with the authority to negotiate peace.

Mr. Sharon told a conference of visiting Christians in Jerusalem that the conflict will only end when the Arab world recognizes Israel's right to exist. "For the past three years we have been facing a war that has been imposed on us by the Palestinians. But the war did not start three years ago. It is a struggle that started over 120 years ago. Its root causes are the refusal of the Arab world to accept and reconcile with the birthright of the Jewish people to a democratic Jewish state in our ancestral homeland, in the cradle of the Jewish people," he said.

Mr. Sharon added that Israel has a right to defend itself against acts of terrorism and he would never make concessions that endangered Israeli security.

In separate remarks, he expressed anger that Israelis, who are not part of his ruling coalition, had dared to negotiate with Palestinians without his consent. And he says that his government will not be bound in any way by the Swiss sponsored accord.

But some Israeli commentators said Mr. Sharon's remarks are overly negative. Analysts said that the accord offered some hope of overcoming obstacles that caused the breakdown of previous negotiations between the two sides.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians at the Camp David peace summit in July 2000 foundered on such critical issues as the status of religious sites and Palestinian refugees.

Under the so-called Geneva agreement, the Palestinians would forgo their demand for the right to return to areas that are now part of Israel. Jerusalem would be a shared city and Palestinians would be granted sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

The site is the most holy place in the world for Jews and is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, the third most sacred shrine in the Islamic world.