'Doomed' Middle East peace efforts get underway in Paris

'Doomed' Middle East peace efforts get underway in Paris
6 min read
03 June, 2016
Video: Foreign ministers of 25 nations meet in the latest attempt to get Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table.
The foreign ministers of 25 nations assembled in Paris on Friday as fresh efforts get underway to restore stalled peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel.

In welcoming the delegates, which include Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the United States' John Kerry, French President Francois Hollande urged the two nations – neither of whom will be present at the talks – to make a "courageous choice for peace."

"Violence is growing and hope is fading – that's why we want to try and revive the peace process. We must work to realise that in the regional context and diplomatic vacuum will be filled by extremism and terror," he said.

By carrying out the international talks without the Palestinian Authority or the Israeli government, it is hoped that greater clarity can be achieved before bringing the two sides to the table.

By carrying out the international talks without the Palestinian Authority or the Israeli government, it is hoped that greater clarity can be achieved before bringing the two sides to the table

Trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
A rundown of past efforts

Oslo to Camp David

- OSLO ACCORDS: September 13, 1993: After six months of secret talks in Oslo, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation sign in Washington a mutual recognition agreement that allows for five years of Palestinian autonomy aimed at striking a final deal no later than May 1999.
Under the deal, Israel is to withdraw from 70 percent of territory it occupies in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and in July 1994, PLO leader Yasser Arafat returns from 27 years in exile.

- OSLO II: September 28, 1995: A new interim accord is negotiated in Taba, Egypt and signed in Washington. It foresees a gradual Israeli West Bank withdrawal. But before that happens, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated on November 4 by a Jewish extremist.

- WYE PLANTATION: October 23, 1998: A deal signed at Wye Plantation in the US calls for a gradual Israeli withdrawal from 13 percent of the land it still occupies in the West Bank, which would leave the Palestinians controlling 40 percent. Two months later, Israel freezes the deal after pulling back from two percent of occupied territory.
An accord signed on September 5, 1999 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, gives the initiative fresh momentum, and targets September 13, 2000 for a final agreement.

- CAMP DAVID: July 11-25, 2000: At a summit at Camp David in the US, Palestinians and Israelis remain deadlocked over the questions of a final status for Jerusalem and compensation for Palestinian refugees from 1948. Two months later, the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, breaks out, lasting until 2005. The Israeli army temporarily reoccupies almost the entire West Bank.

String of failures

- ARAB INITIATIVE of March 28, 2002: After the failure in January 2001 of a summit in Taba, an Arab summit in Beirut adopts a Saudi initiative offering diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab countries in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.

- ROAD MAP of April 30, 2003: A diplomatic quartet comprised of the European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States publishes a document dubbed a "road map" towards a Palestinian state in 2005 once Palestinian attacks and Jewish settler activity cease. Israel and the Palestinians commit to its application on June 4, 2003 in Aqaba, Jordan in the presence of US president George W. Bush.

- ANNAPOLIS SUMMIT of November 27, 2007: Israelis and Palestinians commit to negotiating an agreement by the end of 2008 during a conference that includes Israel and 15 Arab countries for the first time. The Palestinian group Hamas, which now controls the Gaza Strip following Israel's withdrawal in 2005, rejects the agreement. Palestinian Authority envoys pull out of talks after Israel launches an offensive in Gaza in late 2008.

Fresh efforts

- ABORTED DIALOGUE: September 2, 2010: After a 20-month hiatus, direct talks briefly resume in Washington with a meeting between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who accepted the principle of a Palestinian state in June 2009. The talks break down when Israeli resumes construction of West Bank settlements on September 26.

- NINE MONTHS from July 29, 2013: US Secretary of State John Kerry announces the launch of nine months of direct talks, the first in three years. They are suspended by Israel on April 23, 2014, a week before term, after the announcement of a reconciliation deal between the PLO's Fatah and Hamas.

- FRENCH INITIATIVE of June 3, 2016: Paris hosts a ministerial-level meeting, without Israel or the Palestinians, to prepare an international conference on the Middle East.

Prevailing pessimism

The prevailing consensus among diplomats, however, seems to be one of scepticism that anything will be achieved by this latest round of discussions.

While the Palestinian Authority has expressed its support for the initiative, with its chief negotiator Saeb Erekat describing it on Friday as a "glimmer of hope", Israel's actions have drawn accusations of aloofness and even trying to derail the effort

Dore Gold, the director of Israel's Foreign Ministry, told reporters on Thursday that the conference will "completely fail," as the "only way to make peace" would be through direct talks with the Palestinians without preconditions.

The President of the Palestinian Authority has rebuffed proposals of direct talks, which have not taken place since 2014 due to the continued construction of settlements in the West Bank.

Israel has cautiously avoided the prospect of international peace talks, with Netanyahu having repeatedly called for bilateral talks with Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas.

The fear within Tel Aviv is that multilateral talks may favour Abbas, with the latter being able to exert greater pressure through international partners.

Competing voices

On Friday, Hamas – who control Palestine's western territory of the Gaza Strip – condemned the new French initiative along with three other Palestinian factions.

"The ideas presented by France in the form of an initiative represent a serious infringement on the shared national principles of Palestinians, especially the right of return," read a joint statement from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

"The only ones to benefit from the continuation of the status quo are the extremists who oppose peace. A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include the countries of the region. Things have changed in recent years. Nowadays there's war in Syria and in Iraq and terror in the regions," the statement continued.

Lukewarm optimism

According to sources, European diplomats have expressed some optimism about the talks, with an attitude seeming to prevail that the renewed effort is simply better than nothing.

"In a way, the French initiative has already had an impact, as it has forced Netanyahu to propose an alternative in the Arab Peace Initiative," a European diplomat in Israel told AFP.

"If the international community comes together and says the two-state solution is the only option that is important in itself – after years of people talking about the two-state solution being dead."

Across the Atlantic, however, the US has expressed less enthusiasm.

"We're not bringing any specific proposals to this meeting," a senior State Department official said, emphasising that they had no "real firm ideas" on what they expected the conference's outcome to be.

"We haven't made any decisions about what, if any, our role would be in that initiative going forward," spokesman continued.

While Washington has traditionally played a central role in Middle East peace talks, a recent lack of initiative from the White House has meant that the baton has effectively been passed to the European nations.

"The fear in France is that there is no credible perspective of solving this issue, diplomatically or politically," a source in Paris told AFP.

"We risk heading towards even more violence in an international context where there is no visible American effort on the case."