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Unofficial Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan to be Signed Monday - 2003-11-30

Hundreds of Israeli, Palestinian and international supporters of an unofficial Middle East peace initiative known as the Geneva Accords, are expected to attend a signing ceremony on Monday.

Between 300 and 400 Israeli and Palestinian supporters of the Geneva Accords were flying into Geneva on so-called peace flights. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will be one of several distinguished guests scheduled to speak at the signing ceremony.

The Geneva Accords, which were negotiated in secret over the past two years, have generated bitter debate. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejects the initiative as freelance diplomacy that is damaging to Israel. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat welcomes it, as do Secretary of State Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Palestinian-American Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab History at Columbia University in New York. He says the Geneva Accords have broken the logjam in Israeli politics and, to a lesser extent, among Palestinians.

However, Mr. Khalidi says the informal pact has no realistic future because its terms were negotiated by people who have no government seal of approval.

"It is impossible to conceive that representatives who do not have the full authority of their peoples could negotiate these kinds of questions of destiny," he said. "Questions like the refugee question, [and] questions like Jerusalem are vitally important for both peoples."

The Geneva Accords deal with so-called taboo issues. Like the internationally supported "road map" to peace, this initiative envisages a two-state solution; but it goes further in calling for the dismantling of most Israeli settlements, and it would split Jerusalem into two capitals.

The Palestinian side agreed to waive the right of return to Israel by millions of Palestinian refugees. In exchange, the Israeli side says it would grant sovereignty to the Palestinians over a Jewish holy site, the Temple Mount.

A former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, agreed that the initiative will not succeed without official government backing. But she said public opinion is important and can have a political momentum of its own.

"I think that real people power, plus international support, could influence those who have to do the actual negotiations, those who hold power on both the Israeli and Palestinian side, and the quartet on the road map," she said. "But it has been very bleak up until now, and it seems to me that this does have potential."

Both supporters and opponents of the Geneva Accords agree that time is running out for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They say dramatic action is needed to end the cycle of violence.