Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A French initiative, or just ideas?

Paris’s proposal to organise an international conference to kick-start the Middle East peace process has been met with silence in Israel and some scepticism among analysts, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

In recent months, France has redoubled efforts to organise an international conference for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks based on the two-state solution, even as the peace process appears comatose following the failure of the nine-month round of talks sponsored by the US from 30 July 2013 to 29 April 2014.

Pierre Vimont, the French special envoy for the international peace conference in the Middle East, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories 13 March to flesh out conditions for holding the conference and jumpstarting the moribund negotiations.

Over the weekend, French President Francois Hollande said in a meeting with former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Paris that France was in contact with Arab states who had agreed to renewed peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Hollande said the French initiative aims to bring the two sides back to the bargaining table.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki announced that his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, would visit the Palestinian territories in April to assess Arab and international responses to the French initiative.

France launched its renewed push to resuscitate the peace process in May of last year. While the Palestinian Authority (PA) welcomed the move, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected it. France failed to persuade the US to support a UN Security Council resolution laying the foundations for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and setting a concrete timetable for an agreement.

In late January, former French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that his country would promote an initiative for an international conference for the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, warning that if the talks were obstructed, France might officially recognise the State of Palestine.

But new Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault backtracked on Fabius’ announcement. He told the press that Paris would not “automatically” recognise the Palestinian state if the initiative for renewed talks failed.

The outlines of the French proposal have still not been fully disclosed, but according to politicians, it revolves around the idea of creating an international support team for the Palestinian issue, followed by a series of preparatory meetings between international parties but without Israel or Palestine. A conference with both sides would be held in the summer.

Palestinians say there is no French initiative, but rather simply ideas about a peace conference, stressing that the resumption of negotiations requires a complete end to Israeli colonisation, the setting of a timetable for the end of the occupation, and the realisation of two states within the 1967 borders based on international resolutions.

Saeb Erekat, the head of negotiation affairs in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said after a meeting with French envoy Pierre Vimont, “We informed Mr Vimont that no one would benefit from the French idea for an international peace conference to end the occupation, work for the establishment of two states side by side within the 1967 borders, and end field executions, more than the Palestinian people. No one stands more to lose from the failure of these French ideas and the suspension of the peace process than the people of Palestine.”

Erekat added that the Palestinian leadership had expressed its full willingness to engage with the French ideas, an initiative that requires partners to succeed. He stressed that Palestinians are ready to work and cooperate with the international community to make the ideas succeed and bring an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Erekat said Palestinians are open to French ideas, which are now in a preliminary phase and are based on discussions with France. PA President Mahmoud Abbas was in contact with several Arab states, the EU, China, and Russia to garner support for the French ideas and to turn them into an initiative to end the occupation.

Palestinian factions say that the Israeli government, led by Likud Party leader Netanyahu, is a far-right, settlers’ government that is working systematically to destroy any chance for a two-state solution by thwarting all forms of negotiations, whether through Israeli preconditions or by taking steps on the ground that preclude the existence of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state.

They say that Netanyahu’s ongoing attempts to find any Israeli role or position in the global war on terrorism is aimed primarily at concealing the truth of and prolonging Israel’s occupation of Palestine, as well as thwarting current international efforts and pressure to create new instruments that could lead to serious, productive negotiations with a concrete timetable to end the occupation.

“Netanyahu’s government, which represents extremism and colonisation, is not serious about reaching a peaceful resolution on the basis of legitimate international resolutions and does not represent a partner for peace,” said Fayez Abu Eita, the spokesman for Fatah, led by President Abbas. “We have no hope of reaching a resolution through negotiations with this government.”

He added: “Netanyahu insists on cutting off any political efforts to resume negotiations on the basis of clear references … The shortest and best path to stability and security is an end to the occupation and the recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Abu Eita’s comments came in response to a statement made by Netanyahu during the annual meeting of the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby group in Washington, 22 March. Netanyahu said he was prepared to begin “immediately and without any preconditions” negotiations for a two-state solution to end the conflict, but he claimed that the Palestinian president did not support the idea.

Netanyahu, who spoke to the conference by video feed from Israel, added: “Peace will not be achieved with Security Council resolutions, but by direct negotiations between the two sides. The two-state solution is still the best model for achieving peace. The Palestinian state that will result from the agreement must recognise Israel as a Jewish state.”

In the same context, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said, “Peace negotiations with the Palestinians are not on Israel’s agenda in this stage.” She added that her government “is fighting to stop Palestinian attacks and to strengthen its political position in the world”.

The Fatah spokesman welcomed the French initiative, saying, “We welcome any political efforts to restart negotiations on clear foundations and references.” He added: “The French step is a start, but it needs international support from the US and EU to succeed and yield fruit and force Israel to comply with the terms of the peace process.”

Abu Eita said he hoped France would persist in its pro-Palestinian position and its promise to recognise the State of Palestine if Israel refuses to respond to efforts to hold the international conference.

Speaking of the pro-Israel US position, Abu Eita said, “The US must realise that any negotiations in the previous manner will lead to nothing and in turn will be rejected by the Palestinian leadership.”

He continued: “We want a clear American role that pressures Israel to comply with the terms of the resolution process, first and foremost recognising the legitimate basis of the peace process, which are legitimate international resolutions, including the recognition of the State of Palestine and an immediate end to the colonisation of Palestinian territory.”

Palestinian-Israeli negotiations sponsored by US Secretary of State John Kerry were suspended in April 2014 after Israel refused to stop settlements, accept the two-state solution according to the 1967 borders, and release long-time Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.

Palestinian politicians dismiss the seriousness of talk about an international peace conference to revive the moribund negotiations, saying regional and international conditions does not permit such a conference, especially as US presidential elections approach later this year.

“The Palestinian leadership has three choices,” said Mutasim Hamada, a member of the politburo of the Democratic Front for the Liberation for Palestine (DFLP). “The first is to wait, perhaps for the next two years, until the US administration may again be ready to work on a resumption of the political process. The second is to bet on the French initiative. The last is to adopt a new programme and strategy based principally on the current youth uprising against the occupation and the resolutions of the Central Council [of the PLO].”

In an article published on the DFLP website (Yasar) Hamada said, “The French initiative is vague and Paris is negotiating with Washington. Simple logic says that the negotiations will only work to the benefit of the stronger party, Washington. In turn, assuming that the French initiative will one day see the light, it will bear the marks of American pressure and influence.”

He continued: “There are no guarantees in the French initiative. It’s a gamble, and the fate of peoples, nations, and legitimate national rights should not be gambled with.”

Hamada said that two more years of negotiations without international rules will do less to produce a solution that satisfies Palestinian rights than to provide political cover for the continuation of the Israeli settlement project, deepen the Palestinian crisis, and further fragment Palestinians from within.

The only option, for Hamada, is a new, alternative programme and strategy based on consensual decisions in the PLO’s Central Council and on the youth uprising, now entering its sixth month. Hamada said the youth intifada is not a passing political gesture but a new phase of the struggle built on firm foundations and an ascendant nationalist mood.

On 5 March 2015, the PLO’s Central Council resolved to shoulder the Israeli occupation authority with all responsibilities for the Palestinian people in occupied Palestine, as the occupying power under international law.

The council also suspended all types of security coordination with the Israeli occupation authority in light of its failure to comply with signed agreements. The council said that any new resolution from the UN Security Council must renew its commitment to legitimate international resolutions relevant to the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This entails setting a timetable for the end of the occupation, enabling the State of Palestine to exercise sovereignty on lands occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and a resolution of the refugee issue on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

On the Israeli side, Netanyahu holds Palestinians responsible for the failure of negotiations, claiming they do not want a state next to Israel, but on top of it. Netanyahu accuses the PA of “continuing incitement to murder,” adding that, “the only way to peace is a disarmed Palestinian state that recognises the Jewish state.”

According to analysts, Netanyahu has showed little enthusiasm for the French initiative and avoids discussing it. He rejected it since it was first posed in 2015 because he wants no sponsor for negotiations with the PA other than the US, analysts say.

But the Netanyahu government is also trying to sugar coat its objections to the initiative, fearing that France may be forced to turn to the UN Security Council as previously planned. Israel also fears that if France does not propose its plan, the Palestinians will submit their own proposed resolution to Egypt, the Arab states’ representative in the Security Council.

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