Feinstein Leads Charge in Senate for Geneva Initiative

By Ori Nir

Published November 28, 2003, issue of November 28, 2003.

WASHINGTON — Five U.S. senators introduced a resolution Tuesday applauding private Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives and calling on President Bush and Israeli and Palestinian leaders to embrace them.

A similar resolution is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives early next month, following the symbolic signing ceremony in Geneva of a “virtual” peace accord negotiated recently by a group of Israeli opposition leaders and senior Palestinian politicians.

The architects of the Geneva Understandings, former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, will visit Washington next week. According to unconfirmed press reports, they are scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who recently sent a letter to Beilin and Abed Rabbo congratulating them on their initiative.

In recent weeks Jewish groups have been criticizing American officials, including Powell, who voiced support for Beilin and Abed Rabbo’s work and other similar efforts.

On Monday, Powell told a delegation representing the Israel Policy Forum that he supports the Beilin-Abed Rabbo initiative because he believes it represents the voice of the Israeli and Palestinian publics, IPF executive committee chairman Marvin Lender told the Forward.

The Israeli government strongly opposes the Geneva plan on both substantive and procedural grounds. It opposes the plan’s call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders and the division of Jerusalem into two capitals. Israel also opposes the plan’s complex proposal on the issue of Palestinian refugees, which calls for refugees to be resettled mainly outside Israel but does not explicitly reject their so-called “right of return” to Israel proper.

Israeli government officials have also objected to the fact that the agreement was negotiated by Israeli opposition leaders, purportedly acting on Israel’s behalf, and Palestinian figures, some of whom hold official positions in the Palestinian Authority.

The Senate resolution praising alternative plans, such as the Geneva document, was initiated by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Four others, Democrats Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida and Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, joined Feinstein in introducing the resolution, which is intended to express the sentiment of the chamber.

The resolution “applauds the courage and vision of Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to conceive pragmatic, serious plans for achieving peace,” according to a press release issued by Feinstein’s office. It calls on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “capitalize on the opportunity offered by these peace initiatives” and urges Bush “to encourage and embrace all serious efforts to move away from violent military stalemate toward achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Explaining her motivation in introducing the measure, Feinstein said: “Over the past several months, I have become increasingly concerned that the chances of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East are becoming more remote and another generation of Israelis and Palestinians may be condemned to a life of conflict and devastation.”

She added: “It is critical that President Bush and Israeli and Palestinian leaders not let this happen. This is why I believe that every effort to achieve a peace agreement between Israelis and the Palestinians should be encouraged.”

In the House of Representatives, California Democrat Lois Capps and New York Republican Amo Houghton are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter urging members to co-sponsor a similar resolution.



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