France proposal rebuffed
A French peace initiative aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been roundly rejected by Israel, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem
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Hamas riot policemen scuffle with Palestinian protesters on the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 war near Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel on Sunday
Israel has rejected a seminal French peace initiative aimed at reviving the stalled and manifestly moribund peace process with the Palestinians.
The initiative, proposed by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, called for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with the more difficult issues such as Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees postponed until a later date.
The French proposals also called for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to meet this month or by early July in an effort to revive talks that broke off last year over the continued expansion of Jewish settlements.
Following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Juppé remarked that "I would be lying if I said I was very optimistic. I am slightly optimistic."
Juppé told reporters that "the French ideas" were very much in harmony with ideas contained in US President Barack Obama's speech on the subject in Washington two weeks ago.
Obama initially proposed the creation of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders. However, under Israeli pressure he somewhat retreated from his initial stance, adding that the 1967 borders would only be the starting point of the talks.
Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas cautiously accepted the French initiative even though it was doubtful from the beginning that it would have any chance of success, given the Israeli rejection and American reservations about it.
Palestinian commentators suggested that Abbas would be prone to accept "anything" to show the international community that the Palestinian side had exhausted all chances for peace and had no choice other than to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September.
Palestinian factions, including Hamas, dismissed the French initiative as "another futile effort added to the long list of failed initiatives."
"I think the Palestinian leadership shouldn't create false hopes by giving the impression that some serious efforts are being made to end the occupation. Such efforts don't exist, and our people are fed up with this deception," said Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The initiative was also rejected by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, with its acting secretary-general Abdel-Rahim Mallouh calling it a "a tried and useless medicine" and "a waste of time".
A Fatah leader in the Hebron region said the apparent absence of personal attacks on Abbas for accepting the initiative could be mainly attributed to a widespread conviction that the initiative would soon die a natural death.
"Why beat an already dead horse," asked the Palestinian activist.
Netanyahu, in his characteristic style, refused to comment directly on the French proposals, opting instead to evoke the Hamas mantra.
He told reporters that Hamas, which has nothing to do with the peace negotiations, would have to recognise Israel.
He also urged the PA leadership in Ramallah to pressure Hamas to release an Israeli occupation soldier taken prisoner by Islamist resistance fighters near Gaza a few years ago.
Netanyahu, a man who has been described as a spin master but a failed statesman, ignored the fact that Israel was in no position to demand Palestinian recognition when the Jewish state still refuses to recognise a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
This fact is prompting Fatah leaders to threaten to withdraw the group's recognition of Israel if Israel does not reciprocate.
"Any Palestinian recognition of Israel will remain invalid and lack permanency as long as Israel fails to recognise the state of Palestine," said Azzam Al-Ahmed, one of Fatah's prominent leaders in the West Bank.
"Fatah is not the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and Fatah never recognised Israel and never will as long as Israel refuses to recognise a Palestinian state."
More to the point, Netanyahu in his call for the release of the Israeli soldier imprisoned in Gaza ignored the fact that Israel continues to hold in its detention camps and dungeons as many as 6,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are political prisoners held without charge or trial.
The Obama administration also stopped short of rejecting the new French ideas.
Commenting on the proposals, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she did not think the French initiative would lead anywhere.
"We strongly support a return to negotiations," Clinton said in a joint press conference with her French counterpart. "But we don't think that it would be productive for there to be a conference about returning to negotiations. There has to be a return to negotiation, which will take a lot of persuasion, a lot of preliminary work, in order to set up a productive meeting between the parties."
She added that the Obama administration was adopting a wait- and-see attitude because "we don't have any assurance from either party that they are willing to return to negotiations."
Affronted by the Israeli rejection and American reservations about their initiative, the French seemed to be in no mood to save a diplomatic initiative that has a very low chance of success.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials have voiced anger and frustration at the international community's failure to hold Israel accountable for aborting "every conceivable peace effort."
"Rather than urging the parties to negotiate, the international community should address the reasons for the failure of past talks, namely Israel's decision to choose settlement expansion over peace," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereikat.
Commenting on Netanyahu's demands vis-à-vis Hamas, Ereikat said that "when the Palestinians were divided, Israel used our division as an excuse not to negotiate. Now that we are united, Israel is using our unity as a reason not to negotiate."
"We will not allow our aspirations to be held hostage to Israeli intransigence."