Revived French peace process


The French government’s repeated attempts to thaw the frozen Palestinian-Israeli peace process do not seem to have ceased despite lack of enthusiasm for the endeavour from almost all those supposedly concerned.

Apart form the Palestinian Authority, the two other key partners, the Israelis and the Americans, sound sceptical.

The reason the PA would welcome any resuscitation of an almost dead process is simply because any movement, however sterile, may offer Abbas’ authority a temporary respite from the corner it has landed in due to its failure to come up with a negotiating strategy over the past two decades.

Despite all odds, the French government is planning to convene a summit in Paris on May 30, aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Israel, according to a report in Haaretz on April 21, was recently updated on the said meeting, meant to be attended by dozens of participating foreign ministers. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are required to send representatives.

The goal of the foreign ministers’ conference is to prepare for an international peace conference to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the summer, Haaretz said, adding that while a French envoy, Pierre Vimont, has been holding consultations with all other parties — the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Arab world, the EU, the US and Russia — to sound their views regarding the intended summer conference, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will visit Israel in mid-May to discuss the same matter with the highly sceptical Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Can anyone explain what this initiative is about? Even the French don’t know,” Netanyahu was quoted telling reporters recently.

It is unlikely that the Palestinians are naïve enough to expect the French to succeed where the US did not; and yet, their position is described in the Haaretz report as more than enthusiastic, to the point where they would be willing to forego their own Security Council bid for a resolution condemning the construction of the illegal settlements on their land in favour of the French move.

“The opportunity to go to the Security Council will always be there and we want to give a chance to the French initiative because, in the end, this is an initiative that serves us and not one that hurts us,” said a Palestinian figure quoted by Haaretz.

Former French foreign minister Laurent Fabius tried to do the exact same thing before, but his plan was blocked by Israel’s intransigence, although he was also keen on not proposing anything that Israelis might have considered incompatible with their interests.

The problem is that Israel’s interests, as understood by the French, the EU or even the Americans, are barely similar to how Israelis see them.

While many of Israel’s most loyal friends and supporters believe that continued building on occupied Palestinian land will harm Israel’s long-term interests, as well as block any possibility of peace based on the two-state formula, the Israeli government continues to oppose any UN involvement, particularly when it condemns its ongoing colonisation schemes on occupied Palestinian territories.

The worries of the Israeli right-wing government may have to be more serious this time when projected against previous reports from Washington that President Barack Obama himself was contemplating a similar move before leaving office, to at least consolidate his ideas on how to resolve the century-old conflict even if as a mere legacy.

For Israel, that may raise specific doubts about the certainty of an American veto if the French end up tabling an unfavourable resolution on the so-called peace process, from its view point.

Contrary to the above Palestinian figure’s conviction that the French initiative serves Palestinians and does not hurt them, the PA should not take that eventuality for granted.

UN language is often dangerous. The possibility of a new Security Council resolution watering down previous, and already weak and vague, resolutions in defining Palestinian rights should not be discounted.

The dispute on how to interpret the 51-year-old Security Council Resolution 242 continues until today, simply because the article “the” was deliberately dropped from the English text when defining the occupied Arab land that Israel was required to leave, precisely to appease the then Israeli government.

While “the land” would have meant all the land, “land”, on the other hand, meant some land. This has been Israel’s argument against total withdrawal from all the land its forces occupied in the 1967 war.

Neither the French, nor the previously contemplated American, initiatives are likely to exit the circle of the many failed formulas repeatedly tried in the last two decades since the initiation of the Madrid Peace process.

While serious statesmen agree that the two-state formula has long been overcome by the extent to which Israel’s colonisation programme has so far reached, the slogan continues to surface.

For uncommitted politics, empty talk serves a convenient purpose, and it is also trouble free.

While Israel would tolerate any amount of emphasis on the two-state solution, on resumption of talks without preconditions and on vaguely promoting a peace settlement, its leaders would raise hell at any hint that refers to ending the occupation from all the lands it occupied in 1967 or to halting construction of colonies.

Israel opposed before and is now opposing the well-intentioned French effort.

To overcome this adamant stance, Israel must be offered something. Here lies the fear of further watering down an already depleted peace process to appease Israel.

That may indeed happen, but it will hardly lead to any progress.

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