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Jimmy Carter backs Geneva peace plan

Former US President Jimmy Carter has endorsed the peace plan Keystone

Former United States President Jimmy Carter is to be present at the formal signing in Geneva next month of an unofficial peace plan for the Middle East.

This content was published on October 30, 2003 - 09:57

The Bush administration has chosen to remain on the sidelines, while the Israeli government says it is unhappy with Switzerland’s role in the affair.

Professor Alexis Keller, a Geneva-based academic and architect of the 60-page document, announced Carter’s support for the plan on Monday.

The “Geneva Accord” covers many divisive issues between Israelis and Palestinians: Jerusalem, a Palestinian state, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements.

It was signed in Jordan on October 12 by a former Israeli cabinet minister, Yossi Beilin and his Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Abed Rabbo, following two years of secret negotiations.

The Swiss government has provided financial support and logistical help.

Nobel prizewinner

The Swiss authorities have warmly welcomed Carter’s presence in Geneva on November 20.

The former US president received the Nobel Peace Prize for successfully brokering one of the few breakthroughs in the Middle East conflict.

In 1978 he persuaded Israel’s Menahem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat to sign the Camp David Accords.

“This is a very positive and encouraging sign,” said Alex Biscaro, a spokesman for the Swiss embassy in Washington.

“A personality like Jimmy Carter has a certain aura because the former American president is seen as a symbol of hope – proof, especially for people in the Middle East, that it is possible to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Israel displeased

The embassy has denied that the signing of the accord – originally scheduled for November 4 – had been put back because of Israel’s “displeasure” at Switzerland’s actions.

Israel has made it clear that it is interested only in the US-backed “road map” for peace, viewing the Swiss-backed initiative as counterproductive.

“The reasons for this postponement are purely logistical,” Biscaro told swissinfo.

“Many people are involved and it has been difficult trying to find a date that suits everybody.”

Former US President Bill Clinton, who helped engineer the failed Oslo accords, has also been invited to attend the Geneva ceremony.

Dressing-down

On Monday the Israeli government summoned Claude Altermatt, the Swiss ambassador to Israel, telling him it had “serious reservations” about Switzerland’s role.

Israel is also unhappy that the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, presented the peace plan to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York at the weekend.

The document was also discussed with the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, David Satterfield.

Urs Ziswiler, an aide to Calmy-Rey, said Satterfield had taken note of the accord but “cannot and does not want to take a position on it”.

“But, for us, it is very important that the United States is not opposed to it,” he added.

This was echoed by Biscaro at the Washington embassy, who said that without Washington’s support any hope of resolving the conflict was dead in the water.

“It is important in the short term to establish an impetus [for peace], with the support of civil society in the region, which could eventually attract the support of the international community,” he said.

swissinfo, Marie-Christine Bonzom, Washington

carter

The “Geneva Accord” is the result of two years of unofficial talks between Palestinians and members of the Israeli opposition.

The talks have the support and financial backing of the Swiss government.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey presented the Geneva Accord to the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, in New York at the weekend.

Israel says the only viable plan for peace in the Middle East is the US-backed “road map”, and has accused Bern of meddling in its affairs.

The 60-page document is due to be formally signed in Geneva on November 20.

The European Commission has described the initiative as a "very positive contribution" to peace efforts.

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