Paris peace conference has produced nothing new

Hollande deserves credit for keeping issue of Israeli-Pales­tinian peace alive, for it risks being forgotten.

2016/06/05 Issue: 59 Page: 5

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

French President François Hollande’s attempt at reviving the moribund Israeli-Pales­tinian peace process with an international conference — absent Israel and the Palestinian Authority — pro­duced a bland communiqué reaffirming that “a negotiated two-state solution” is the only answer and that “the status quo is not sustainable”.

Most reasonable people in the world had already agreed to the validity of such declarations.

Hollande’s gathering in Paris nevertheless caused consternation in Israel. Dore Gold, director-gener­al of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, likened the conference to a latter-day Sykes-Picot — an attempt by the great powers to draw bor­ders in the Middle East and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanya­hu reiterated that only face-to-face talks with the Palestinians without preconditions were the only way forward.

Israel can thank US Secretary of State John Kerry for ensuring that the Paris communiqué did not include any onerous items, such as a deadline for reaching an agree­ment or a demand that Israel halt settlement-building. In the end, Israel’s pre-conference anxiety turned out to be unwarranted.

Palestinian frustration with the communiqué must be as great as Israeli relief. The outcome could be particularly damaging to Palestin­ian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who supported the initia­tive; Abbas’s arch-enemy, Hamas, shared the Netanyahu govern­ment’s disdain for the conference. It will be difficult for Abbas to spin the Paris gathering as progress.

If one insists on finding glimmers of hope in the communiqué, there are two items that may qualify: The first is that the document twice referred to the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, which offered Is­rael full peace with the Arab world in exchange for an agreement that was acceptable to the Palestinians. The second flicker of hope is that the statement called for a follow-up international conference before the end of 2016 — one that would include Israel and the Palestinians.

The fundamental flaw in the French initiative — as well as with the Arab League plan and all of the various peace proposals developed by think-tanks and other diplomat­ic efforts — is that Israel has no real incentive to pursue any of them. Israel controls, directly or indi­rectly, the lives of all of the nearly 13 million people who live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It controls all of the area’s resources, including water. It has continued to tighten the noose around Arab Jerusalem and expands settlements at will. It has a near-monopoly over coercive power.

Is it any wonder Israel insists on bilateral talks without outside involvement? Israel wants to dic­tate — not negotiate — an outcome and it certainly does not want the international community to have a voice in the process.

Hollande deserves credit for keeping the issue of Israeli-Pales­tinian peace alive, for it risks being forgotten in a region dominated by failing states and jihadist terror, but it is a sad state of affairs if keeping the issue on life support is the best that can be hoped for.

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

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