France's initiative for Israel-Palestine: the conditions of success

France's initiative for Israel-Palestine: the conditions of success

5 min read
17 Jun, 2016
Comment: If Paris wants to facilitate the "peace process", it must recognise that the Israeli government is the stumbling block, and act accordingly, writes Alain Gresh
Representatives of Palestine and Israel were not present at the talks [Getty]

The meeting of ministers intending to revive the Middle East peace process in Paris on 3 June, brought together 28 foreign delegations, including that of the United States, led by Secretary of State John Kerry. Representatives of Palestine and Israel however, were not present. The meeting concluded with an insipid communiqué that restricted itself to "welcom[ing] the prospect of convening before the end of the year at an international conference."

So what are the initiative's chances of success, when even the Israeli government has rejected it?

The conditions required for peace in the Middle East - as understood by the international community - withdrawal from the territories that have been occupied since 1967, the creation of a Palestinian state neighbouring Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital of the two states and a "just" solution to the problem of refugees.

This perspective was already endorsed by the United Nations Security Council in November 2003, in resolution 1515, and reiterated in December 2008 in resolution 1850.

In his speech of 3 June at the ministerial meeting for the revival of the peace process in the Middle East, French President François Hollande noted that "some use the chaos that has taken hold in the region as a reason for losing interest in the Israeli-Palestinian question, judging that the conflict has become peripheral and that it is, in a sense, under control. Contrary to this, I think that these changes make the need to resolve the conflict all the more pressing, and that regional instability creates new duties for the international community and in the search for peace."

While it may not be explicit, this is a way of putting Palestine back at the heart of the conflicts in the Middle East. Hollande went on to reiterate what has remained the assumption of all negotiations since the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000: "The parties - the Israelis and the Palestinians - and the parties alone, will be responsible for making a courageous choice in favour of peace. We cannot substitute the main parties involved."

Taking care not to single out anyone as "guilty", and referring back to a form of bilateral negotiation – sharing the position of Benyamin Netanahou – French diplomacy returns to the simple, if not simplistic notion that the conflict is being fought between two protagonists, equal in powers and rights, who are both in favour of peace, and who should show themselves to be "reasonable".

France could enact the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) advisory opinion of 2004, which declared the building of the wall in Palestine illegal

Yet, this is not the case at all. Israel has been pursuing a policy of all-out colonisation of the West Bank and of "Judaization" of Jerusalem. The retreat from Gaza in 2005 was recognised for what it really was – a continued occupation under a different form. The jailers, rather than patrolling the prison, are at its doors, with the active help – as it's only right to point out – of the Egyptian government.

The only remaining vestige of the 1993 Oslo accords is the "security cooperation" that discredits Mahmoud Abbas and his team a little further on a daily basis. Israel quite simply refuses the idea of withdrawing from the territories that were occupied in 1967.

Were the international community and France consistent with the two-state idea, they would have understood long ago that the only way of bringing Israel to negotiate would be through putting pressure on its government.

The country's cabinet is dominated by the extreme right, as illustrated by the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as the new defense minister. A real negotiation requires a power balance between the two parties, one that today is tipped strongly in favour of Israel, which remains supported by the United States as well as France. 

Bilateral relations between Paris and Tel Aviv have not been this close since the Suez Canal crisis in 1956. Lest we forget there was a time in the 1980s, when France was alone, at the forefront of calls for recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and self-determination for Palestinians, despite virulent criticism from Washington and Tel-Aviv.

Were the international community and France consistent with the two-state idea, they would have understood long ago that the only way of bringing Israel to negotiate would be through putting pressure on its government

If Paris wants to facilitate the "peace process", it must recognise that the Israeli government is the stumbling block, and that it must therefore lead it to agree to concessions. But is exerting pressure possible?

Of course there is a broad range of actions that could be taken. These vary from refusing to import products from illegal settlements, to commercial sanctions – remembering that the EU is Israel's main commercial partner – as well as the refusal to subsidise military research in universities.

France, which constantly invokes international law, could enact the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) advisory opinion of 2004, which declared the building of the wall in Palestine illegal. It could also investigate the case of those holders of dual nationality who carry out their military service in the occupied territories: The assassination of a Palestinian immobilised by a French-Palestinian solider on 24 March this year is a reminder that citizens with French passports are participating in operations that France considers illegal. If this reasoning is valid in Syria, why not in Palestine, too?

These actions could be carried out by civil society, mobilised around the democratic and non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). This, however, is the very movement the French authorities seek to ban, confirming in reality, their refusal to put any pressure on the extreme right Israeli government, and casting serious doubts over their commitment to reaching a solution in the Middle East.

This is an edited translation of an article originally published by our partners at Orient XXI. 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.