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Israelis, Palestinians to sign unofficial accord

Separate meeting plans Sharon, Qorei talks

From Matthew Chance
CNN

Construction continues on Israel's West Bank barrier.
Construction continues on Israel's West Bank barrier.

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The 'Geneva Accord' has Palestinians and Israelis agreeing; both sides don't support it.
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GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- Israelis and Palestinians arrived Sunday in Geneva for Monday's scheduled signing of the so-called "Geneva Accord," an unofficial agreement aimed at pushing the Mideast peace process forward.

The plan, which calls for significant concessions on both sides of the Mideast conflict, has no official backing from the Palestinian or Israeli administrations.

It is based on behind-the-scenes work by academics from both sides: Israelis who oppose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government and Palestinians, some of whom are close to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Arafat and Sharon have refused to endorse the plan. Internal dissent in Arafat's Fatah Party has prompted four Palestinian officials -- including two negotiators who helped draft the agreement -- to miss the signing ceremony.

Earlier Sunday, about 100 protesters tried to prevent Palestinian delegates from crossing from Gaza into Egypt on their way to Geneva, witnesses said. The protesters carried Palestinian and Fatah flags and the flag of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas.

Few politicians are willing to publicly associate themselves with the plan, which seeks to directly address core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian standoff.

For example, it calls for a divided Jerusalem to be capital of both Israel and a proposed Palestinian state.

Both sides lay claim to the ancient city, which was divided between Israeli and Arab control until 1967, when it was captured by Israeli troops during the Six-Day War.

The Palestinians want the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, and Israelis insist that the city will remain forever undivided and under Israeli control.

The plan also calls on Palestinians to make a difficult concession -- giving up what they call the "right of return" for Palestinians and descendants of refugees who left or were forced to leave Israel when the Jewish state was founded in 1948.

The plan would allow a minimal number of Palestinians, approved by Israel, to return.

Other peace plans, including the so-called "road map" to peace -- backed by the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union -- put such issues on hold until much later in the process.

Israeli barrier may block peace talks

Meanwhile, on the official peace process front, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei said Saturday that "there is no reason for negotiations" with Israel if the Jewish state continues building its West Bank barrier.

He said the Palestinians would be ready to sit down with Sharon's government if it shows a willingness to compromise on the issue.

"The Palestinian Cabinet welcomes a meeting with Sharon but insists that such a meeting will not take place without the necessary preparation," Qorei said at a news conference after a Cabinet meeting.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that Israel "is not in compliance" with the demand of the General Assembly that it "stop and reverse the construction" of what Israel calls a security barrier. The Palestinians consider the barrier a land grab. (Full story)

The barrier's route stretches north to south, much of it inside the so-called Green Line -- the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank, which was part of Jordan at the time of the Six Day War.

It is estimated that it will enclose about 77 square kilometers (about 30 square miles) of occupied land.

At least 11 Palestinian villages will end up on the Israeli side of the barrier, according to globalsecurity.org, a nonpartisan international policy-research group.

Israel has built 150 kilometers (93 miles) of the barrier in the north. When finished, the barrier will stretch 689 kilometers (428 miles) at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion -- a little more than $3.5 million per mile.

Qorei said he will meet with Sharon if the Israeli leader sincerely reviews Palestinian concerns about the barrier.

"Our people are suffering, our land is being stolen, so we will not meet with Sharon just to give him cover for his actions and give him legitimacy," Qorei said. "We need to ask ourselves what we want to achieve from such a meeting. We are serious. We want real negotiations."

Top Palestinian and Israeli officials met Sunday in Jerusalem to lay the groundwork for such a meeting.

A statement from Sharon's office said "the meeting took place in a pleasant atmosphere and the two sides decided to meet again soon."

Qorei is the Palestinian Authority's second prime minister, having taken the helm when Mahmoud Abbas resigned September 6 after a power struggle with Arafat over security issues.


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