A former Israeli justice minister and co-author of the so-called Geneva Accord, Yossi Beilin, warned on Monday that time for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict peacefully was running out.

"The opportunity to have pragmatic partners belonging to the mainstream of our two societies is not open-ended," said Beilin before he shook hands with Yasir Abd Rabbu, his Palestinian counterpart in the peace effort.

It has been rejected outright by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and has won only half-hearted support from the Palestinian Authority.

The initiative has also been rejected by the main Palestinian factions with groups such as Hamas particularly angered by its implicit renunciation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Hamas, one of the leading resistance movements spearheading the intifada, considers the plan "a stab in the back of the Palestinians and relinquishment of all their rights".

Hamas representative Sayyid Siyam told Aljazeera that "the initiative renounces the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees, who have been scattered in refugee camps for a long time". 

The plan does not address the fate of nearly 3.8 million Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the world.

Thousands of Palestinians staged protests in Gaza and the West Bank against the plan on Monday, also branding it as "treason" and a "black day in the history of the Palestinian people".

A Gaza demonstration against the Geneva Accord

The initiative, drawn up by leading Palestinian and Israeli politicians and intellectuals, envisages a Palestinian state encompassing 97.5% of the West Bank with shared sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem.

Rabbis' ruling

Meanwhile, about 250 right-wing rabbis issued a religious ruling on Monday branding the Israeli negotiators involved in drafting the peace deal as traitors who should be shunned by the world.

The Jewish ruling drew calls for a police inquiry from leftists, who described it as incitement of the kind that led to the 1995 assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Israeli rabbinical committee, which has no official status, declared the peace pact an "act of treason" whose negotiators should be "brought to justice and declared outside the brotherhood of humanity".

But Former US President Jimmy Carter at the accord's unveiling in Switzerland echoed Beilin's comments. "It's unlikely that we shall ever see a more promising foundation for peace," he said.