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The Paris peace conference

Jan 17, 2017

The Paris peace conference

Update from AIJAC

January 17, 2017

Update  01/17 #04

This Update looks at the outcome of the French-organised conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace that took placed in Paris on Sunday. The dozens of states participating in the conference issued a declaration urging the parties resume negotiations, but making a number of other points, which you can read here. The Israeli government, which had been opposed to the conference (see Israeli PM Netanyahu’s statement about it here), appears to be relieved that the outcome was relatively innocuous compared to the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334, while both Britain and Australia distanced themselves from the final declaration. Below is some analysis of the conference and its significance.

We lead with the views of a former senior US official dealing with Middle East policy Elliott Abrams. He argues the conference was largely useless and was convened because it was convenient for various foreign ministers. Abrams further argues its key ostensible message – on the need for both sides to resume talks – was biased because it is the Palestinians who are actually refusing – yet the real message was about settlements and possibly US President-elect Trump’s plans to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. For his longer explanation of why these messages are destructive, CLICK HERE

Next up is American Jewish Committee head David Harris, who, with his usual eloquence, explains five reasons why the conference was irrelevant at best, harmful at worst. These are: it was the sort of international event that encourages the Palestinians to continue avoiding direct negotiations; it ignored Israeli concerns; it was held in defiance of the incoming Trump Administration in the US; France cannot claim to be an “honest broker” in the conflict; finally, the conference again demonstrated exaggerated international concern over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite much worse crises elsewhere, such as Syria. The end result, Harris argues, is we still see an “empty Palestinian seat at the negotiating table.” For all the details of his argument, CLICK HERE

Finally, Dr. Tsilla Hershco, an Israeli academic expert on Israel-European relations, offers a more detailed exploration of the French motivation for convening this conference. She says France appears to be obsessed with seeking a diplomatic role as a mediator and reviews the history of French efforts to intervene in Israeli-Palestinian issues. Dr. Hershco says that history shows France’s claims to be neutral are wrong and Paris has a clear pro-Palestinian bias, and also again argues that the current French efforts are counter-productive, hardening the Palestinian negotiating position. For this valuable background to France’s current efforts in the Middle East, CLICK HERE. More discussion of why the region largely sees the French efforts as irrelevant comes from fellow Israeli academic Eyal Zisser.

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Article 1

The Paris peace conference


Elliot Abrams

Council on Foreign Relations, “Pressure Points”, Jan. 16, 2017

Once upon a time, the term “Paris Peace Conference” was a serious one, referring to the historic Versailles Conference held after World War I. It began on Jan. 18, 1919, and it is striking that the French would wish to make a mockery of their own history by convening a useless conference on almost exactly the same date, Jan. 15.

Nearly 70 countries, and nearly 40 foreign ministers including from the United States, gathered in Paris for this week’s conference. Why? Well, why not, at least from the point of view of the foreign ministers. They did have to sit through an entire day of boring speeches, of course, but they had the whole weekend in Paris. I’ll bet most arrived on Friday in time for a good dinner, then had Saturday free for shopping and dining before Sunday’s event. Who would say no to that, merely because the event would be useless or harmful to the cause of peace?

US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Paris conference – this was his swan song in office

For U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this was his swan song. He arrived fresh from Vietnam, where he walked down memory lane yet again, at God knows what cost to American taxpayers. As well as Kerry, who will be unemployed after this week, there was French President Francois Hollande, who has announced he will not run for re-election in May. There was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, elected in 2005 for a four-year term and now in his 12th year. Abbas was not even actually at the conference, just nearby in some gorgeous hotel suite. Israel boycotted the conference. No one represented the new American administration.

What was the point of this endeavor? According to the French, it was to show support for the two-state solution and urge both parties, meaning Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, to negotiate. That was a demonstration of bias, because it is the PLO, not Israel, that has been refusing negotiations and rejecting peace plans again and again for years, indeed decades. To treat the government of Israel and the PLO as if their desires for peace are identical is wrong and unfair. If the participants at the conference truly wished to advance peace, they would be pressuring the Palestinians to stop rewarding and inciting terrorism by glorifying terrorists, and pressuring them to start negotiating seriously. But that will not happen. There is every reason to believe Abbas will leave Paris satisfied with the circus and feeling zero real pressure to do anything at all.

The other point, perhaps the real point, of the conference was to pressure Israel to stop all settlement growth. In this sense, it was a follow-up to U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 in December, and shared its conclusion that the real barrier to peace is the increasingly rapid, uncontrollable, endless, limitless growth of Israeli settlements. But this is false, as the statistics show. Settlement populations are growing at about 4% per year, but the notion that they are rapidly gobbling up the West Bank and making peace impossible is a fiction.

There may have been a third objective for the conference: to press President-elect Donald Trump not to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But if you believe the president-elect will be dissuaded by a declaration to this effect from a conference such as this, well, I don’t agree.

This conference will soon be nearly forgotten, and will go down as yet another feeble effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. The French, of course, will angrily deny that this was their purpose. I agree it was not the purpose, but it predictably will be the effect. Like Resolution 2334, it was another diplomatic blow against the Jewish state, trying to isolate it and criticize it and undermine its ideological and diplomatic defenses.

Meanwhile, at the same time, we see the PLO paying more money to prisoners convicted of terrorist acts and naming more schools or parks or squares after murderers and would-be murderers. But there will be no Paris conference about all that.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.


Article 2

Five reasons the Paris Conference failed


David Harris

Times of Israel, January 16, 2017

As we said repeatedly in the build-up to Sunday’s gathering in Paris of representatives of 70 countries to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue, AJC has long supported the search for an enduring peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state accord.

It is precisely in that spirit that we voiced our concerns about this conference, believing it would be irrelevant at best, harmful at worst, to the pursuit of a deal.

Our concerns, following the conference’s conclusions, can be summed up in five points.

First, as should have been crystal-clear by now, the Palestinians have avoided the only place where an agreement can be reached – the bargaining table with the Israelis. Therefore, every such diplomatic end-run only emboldens the Palestinians to believe, mistakenly of course, that they can achieve their goals without the tough negotiating required of face-to-face talks.

Second, Israel rightly felt that its own concerns were ignored in convening the conference, which the Israeli prime minister called “futile” and “rigged.” Antagonizing and isolating one of the two principal parties to the conflict from the get-go is not a strategy for success.

Third, it was not lost on the incoming U.S. Administration that this conference took place exactly five days before the transfer of power in Washington. President-elect Trump and his team didn’t hide their objections to the gathering. It is very possible that there will be some form of “payback” after January 20th, when the international community has to come to grips with the fact that the U.S. is the one indispensable player in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and may have a long memory about what occurred on January 15th.

Fourth, France didn’t help its own quest to be an “honest broker” in the conflict. Indeed, one nation, the United Kingdom, laudably demonstrated why. To the credit of London, it adopted a hands-off approach, saying in an official statement: “We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them – indeed which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis – and which is taking place just days before the transition to a new American President when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement. There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace. That’s why we have attended in an observer status and have not signed up to the communique.”

And last but by no means least, this conference sought to mobilize the globe, and not for the first time, on this one issue, and only days after the UN Security Council did the same thing. Meanwhile, other, pressing issues cry out for attention and resolution, but to no avail. Syria, above all, represents by far the greatest human tragedy of the 21st century, shattering the country, killing hundreds of thousands, and driving millions into exile, with profound ramifications for both neighboring countries and all of Europe as well. Yet all the time, effort, and investment of the Paris gathering went into the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and not to Syria (a topic, by the way, on which France claims special historical understanding and political savoir-faire) – or, for that matter, to the other failing and disintegrating states in North Africa and the Middle East, or to the brazen Russian attempt to divide Europe against itself while continuing its occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, or to the profound threats to Europe deriving from terrorism, failed integration models, and the surge of populist, xenophobic political parties.

This conference is now behind us and, thankfully, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has offered assurances that it will not be followed by still more UN Security Council action in the coming days.

But what lies ahead remains the empty Palestinian seat at the negotiating table. When it will be filled, then, perhaps, we can look forward to the proper framework for seeking the ultimate goal – two states for two peoples living side-by-side in peace.

David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).


Article 3

France’s Counterproductive “Peace Initiative”

By Dr. Tsilla Hershco

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 394, January 13, 2017


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Francois Hollande’s desire to leave office with a foreign policy accomplishment under his belt notwithstanding, the French “peace initiative” will not achieve a rapprochement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. On the contrary: it is dangerous to both Israeli and Palestinian security, and conveys the harmful message that obstructionism, violence and incitement are effective policy tools.

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech at the Mideast peace conference in Paris – but the conference did little more than allow Hollande to leave office with a diplomatic accomplishment under his belt

The “peace initiative” launched in Paris on June 3, 2016 was accompanied by an impressive display of French diplomatic fanfare, but the final statement did not match its originators’ stated aspirations to formulate parameters for the conflict’s core issues (borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees) and to set a rigid timetable for the attainment of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

France remains committed to the initiative nonetheless. It has created working groups to discuss the core issues and devised economic incentives intended to bring the sides to the table and ultimately to an agreement. The follow-up conference is to be convened on January 15, 2017, with about seventy states in attendance.

Paris appears to be obsessed with its diplomatic role as mediator in this conflict. It is similarly fixated on sticking to what it considers to be the only possible formula for resolution: two states, living side-by-side in peace within the 1967 borders. This formula allows for slight territorial exchanges, and labels East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital.

The French are not shy about flaunting their supposed success in promoting international diplomatic support for the two-state solution, claiming that its peace initiative can potentially restart the peace process and contribute to the security of Israel, the Palestinians, and even the whole region.

The Palestinian Authority, but not Hamas, has warmly endorsed the initiative. It hopes it will pursue the line set forth in UNSC Resolution 2334 and the December 2016 speech of US Secretary of State John Kerry, which condemned the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria. Israel opposes the initiative, claiming that direct dialogue between the two sides in the conflict, with no preconditions, is the only way to reach an agreement. Jerusalem also maintains that it and only it can or should be charged with ensuring Israel’s security. Israel does not appear to trust the French initiative.

In a nine-point document presenting its position on the conflict, the French foreign ministry (the Quai d’Orsay) underlines that “France is a friend to both Israel and Palestine.” This phrase reflects the French ambition to play an influential role by serving as an impartial intermediary. However, during the almost fifty years that have followed the 1967 war, France has demonstrated time and again its pro-Palestinian bias.

In 1967, for example, France had already adopted its own, albeit incorrect version of UNSC Resolution 242. This resolution calls for Israel’s withdrawal “from territories occupied in the recent conflict,”, not from “the territories”, as it appears in the French translation of the resolution. During the debate that preceded the passing of the resolution, it was clarified that the called-for withdrawal did not include all of the territories. In addition, the called-for withdrawal is linked to another clause that calls for the end of belligerency, and for the recognition that every state in the area has the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” (Interestingly, the Palestinians were not mentioned in the resolution, which contains a clause calling for a just settlement of the refugee problem, which includes Jewish refugees who fled the Arab states.)

Throughout the following years and up to the present, Paris has initiated diplomatic moves or voted in favor of the Palestinians, despite their perpetual acts of terror against Israelis and repeated calls for Israel’s destruction. . By way of example, in November 1974, two years after the Munich massacre of 11 Israeli athletes, France voted in favor of recognizing the PLO as an observer at the UN.

In March 1982, French president Francois Mitterrand was the first foreign leader to declare during his Knesset address in Jerusalem that the Palestinians had the right to a homeland of their own. He emphasized his friendship with Israel and its right to security, and offered France’s “good offices” in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

In October 2000, shortly after the launch of the Palestinian war of terror (euphemized as the “al-Aqsa Intifada”), President Jacques Chirac encouraged Yasser Arafat not to sign a US-mediated agreement to end the violence and to insist instead on an international enquiry commission to investigate Israel’s reactions to Palestinian acts of terror. In the subsequent years, Paris directed its criticism mainly toward Israel’s defensive measures rather than the Palestinian terror attacks.

In 2010, France upgraded the diplomatic status of the Palestinian delegation in Paris to a diplomatic mission headed by an ambassador who presents his credentials to the French president. Two years later, Pairs voted in support of the unilateral Palestinian initiative at the UN General Assembly to be recognized as a UN state observer. This move contradicted numerous declarations regarding French support for direct Israeli-Palestinian dialogue rather than unilateral moves.

In 2014, during the summer war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Paris declared that Israel had the right to defend its citizens from Hamas rockets, only to reverse its position following large-scale violent demonstrations by French Muslims. Foreign Minister Fabius even went so far as to label Israel’s military operations, aimed at protecting Israeli citizens from Hamas massive rocket attacks, as a massacre and called for an imposed international solution.

Fabius also proposed a deadline for the restart of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, at the end of which France would unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. This removed any incentive the Palestinians might have had to maintain a dialogue that would require concessions, particularly on the issue of refugees.

In October 2015, in reaction to a wave of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli citizens, Fabius called for the stationing of international inspectors in Jerusalem. This could be interpreted as support for the false Palestinian allegation that Israel aspires to retain control of the al-Aqsa mosque. It was reminiscent of the historic French call (before the creation of Israel and some years afterwards) to designate Jerusalem as a “Corpus Seperatum” to be placed under international administration.

In addition, in October 2016, France voted in favor of a UNESCO resolution denying the historical link between Israel and Jerusalem. Following numerous protests, the government apologized and described the vote as a mistake. Yet it continued to pursue its anti-Israeli line and voted in favor of a scandalous resolution at the World Health Organization that singled out Israel for alleged abuses of health rights in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.

As mentioned, in December 2016, Paris voted in favor of UNSC resolution 2334, which condemns Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria as illegal under international law, in contrast to French declarations in favor of a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Paris explains its diplomatic activism for the creation of a Palestinian state as being motivated by the growing instability in the Middle East, which, according to French popular opinion, is caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also maintains that the problems arising from that conflict are later imported into France in the form of deteriorating relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities.

Both these conclusions are erroneous. Instability in the Middle East is caused by complex social, economic, political, religious and ethnic factors that have no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, the violence of Muslims against French Jews is triggered essentially the process of Islamic radicalization as well as by social and ecomonic problems. It is that factor that has produced increasing support for IS and, ultimately, the horrible terror attacks that have been carried out in France.

French support for the Palestinians can be more accurately attributed to the traditional importance that Paris attaches to its relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds. In addition, France’s diplomatic activism reflects certain domestic electoral considerations.

President Holland, whose popularity has declined precipitously, has announced that he will not run in the upcoming presidential elections. It is likely that before he leaves office in May 2017, Hollande will want to present some kind of achievement to contrast with his failures in domestic policy and lack of significant successes in foreign policy. Additionally, in view of the uncertainty regarding the future policy of the American president-elect, the French government would like to seize an opportunity in the last few days before Obama leaves office. Paris has consistently pushed in the last years for an international initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In light of Kerry’s December speech, the French might see a chance to push for some sort of international decision that might impact the way the Trump administration deals with the issue.

At the end of the day, the French peace initiative is counterproductive, since it hardens the Palestinian negotiating position. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared after the June conference that the PA was now demanding full Israeli withdrawal, including from East Jerusalem. The French initiative also hardens the position of the Arab states regarding Israel’s request to introduce changes in the Saudi initiative as a possible basis for resolution.

The French initiative endangers the security of Israel. No international force or guarantees can ensure Israel’s security, as has been proven time and again, most recently in the case of UNIFIL in south Lebanon. But the initiative is also dangerous for the Palestinian Authority, since Israel acts as a buffer that mitigates the threat of its takeover by Hamas. Not least, the initiative undermines France’s own fight against domestic and international terrorism, as it conveys the message that violence and terror incitement are effective.

Hopefully, Israel will be successful in convincing the US, the EU, and other reasonable states attending the conference that the French “peace initiative” and the internationalization of the peace process are counterproductive. There are better ways of addressing this issue.

Dr. Tsilla Hershco, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, specializes in Franco-Israeli and EU-Israeli relations.




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