The Paris meeting about Palestine-Israel ended as expected, with bad results, some of which were worse than those expected by the Palestinian leadership. They were so bad that the majority of the Palestinian leaders criticised them, although they were not as bad as what was trying to be achieved. Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki referred to “the hijacking of the meeting and the distortion of the results by major countries, as well as a joint statement that did not include firm positions regarding the peace process, especially with regards to a timeframe and the teams monitoring settlements.” So what did these statements include?
As for Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative at the UN, he held anonymous countries responsible for issuing a statement without any mechanism for implementation or timeframes. According to veteran PLO spokesperson Dr Hanan Ashrawi, the statement is “a generalisation and lacking true measures, goals and a tangible work plan, as well as a settlement or compromise between the two sides.” While Nabil Abu Rudeineh ignored the statement in his comments, Nabil El-Araby, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, said, “The American role is not equal or fair and the Americans also hindered the issuance of a statement that has an executive content.”
After all of this, the Palestinian leadership is waiting for an explanation from the French for what happened.
The meeting had the potential to reach much worse conclusions, as evidenced by the draft of the closing statement that Kerry tried to impose in collusion with the host country: “Those participating in the meeting welcomed the initiative that aims to give a push to the peace process and to develop a series of motives that may be offered by the international parties, countries and organisations based on their visions to rebuild trust and create an environment conducive to the resumption of direct successful negotiations. Such work can cover a number of fields and matters, such as economic partnership, regional and security coordination, building the features of the state, a truce and the resumption of the transitional phase, as outlined by previous agreements.”
This clearly and simply means the extension of the transitional phase and the resumption of direct negotiations under international auspices in tandem with Arab normalisation with Israel by means of trust building measures, economic partnership, regional and security cooperation, and state-building (ergo, going back to the maze of creating “state institutions” under occupation).
As for the international conference to be held at the end of the year, it is now only a possibility. If it does go ahead, then its role will be whatever was outlined by the aforementioned draft, “to approve this contribution in the name of the international community and present it to the concerned parties in order to resume talks.”
In this context, a Palestinian expert suggested that the first statement was most likely written by Isaac Molho, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s adviser.
This does not mean that the French document that was presented to the participants before they attended the meeting was acceptable; it was, in fact, also bad, with an ambiguous conclusion. However, it spoke strongly of the importance of establishing a Palestinian state, the dangers of settlements and a time frame for negotiations, but not for their implementation. This is despite the fact that long experience has proven the truth behind Yitzhak Rabin’s statement about there being “no sacred appointments”. The timeframe outlined by the Oslo Accords to reach a final agreement in May 1999 and 2005 passed without a conclusion; the latter was the year set out in the Road Map by which a state was supposed to be established.
The Arab parties in Paris refused to amend the “Arab initiative” and agree to normalisation with Israel in advance. While they insisted on establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, though, normalisation is in fact continuing around the illusion of an Arab-Israeli convergence to confront Iran and in the hope of the pro-Israel lobby in America helping to make the US position favour the Arab countries.
According to the news agencies, a Palestinian official remembered that France made concessions to Israel despite the fact that Israel rejected its initiative and offered it a friendship token from the Palestinian pocket. This means that the Israeli rejection aims to tame the French initiative by demanding that the Arabs recognise Israel and normalise relations. Israel also plans to back down from its promise of recognising a Palestinian state if the French efforts fail. France apologised to Israel for its vote at UNESCO and vowed to withdraw it on the next possible occasion. Moreover, Paris regards boycotts of Israel as anti-Semitic and anti-humanitarian and demanded that the presentation of the Palestinian draft Security Council resolution on illegal settlements be put on hold so that it doesn’t have a negative impact on the French initiative.
It was a mistake to support the French initiative and promote it around the world this early in the proceedings, before the details were revealed, especially before the main reference point was revealed. Any initiative should be judged on the extent of its adherence to international law and United Nations resolutions, especially the latter on recognition of Palestine as a “non-Member Observer State” at the UN. The Arabs should not agree to attend a meeting to discuss the reference point for an initiative and then leave the meeting without a reference. This is why Israel welcomes the result.
It was also a mistake to agree to hold an international meeting focusing on the Palestinian cause without Palestinians in attendance. The Palestinians fought long and hard for this and made serious sacrifices to attend, especially as the current situation regionally, internationally and in Palestine is so bad. And putting the fate of the Palestinian cause in the hands of the so-called Arab Quartet — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and UAE — without this being preceded by Palestinian unity and strategy and a comprehensive national institution was an error of judgement. This is especially true since the Arabs are in their worst situation and are seeking American and Israeli approval at any cost.
Things don’t always go well. Even if the draft statement is not passed it reflects a real agenda that is going ahead. Those who do not believe this need only to observe the words of Tony Blair about holding Arab-Israeli negotiations without Israel approving the Arab Peace Initiative. This means that there needs to be a radical change in the text, since it is based on the Arabs’ willingness to recognise Israel and normalise relations in exchange for Israel’s agreement to withdraw completely from the Palestinian and Arab territories occupied in 1967.
It is strange that Israel’s stubborn and manipulative position was met with Saudi appreciation in the form of Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir’s statement that the Israeli position is improving. This matches the statements of Anwar Eshki, the godfather of normalised relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the Chairman of the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies. In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, he said, “The Arab Peace Initiative now has a real chance to be implemented and the regional changes that are occurring in the area allow this.” He added that Saudi Arabia has changed and it has a new king who is signalling to Israel his insistence on achieving peace. “We have mutual interests and can easily pinpoint our mutual enemies… Saudi Arabia today, unlike in the past, is willing to discuss Israel’s demands to change some of the Arab Peace Initiative’s clauses; achieving peace with Israel is a strategic interests for Riyadh.” Eshki made this statement after Netanyahu had said that there are positive elements in the initiative, despite the fact that he added that there is a need to change some main aspects of it regarding Jerusalem and the refugees’ right to return. In short, this means that he wants to eliminate them.
“The initiatives and contact being made are more than mere hints in the media,” said Moshe Kahlon, Israel’s Minister of Finance. “There is a real chance for a qualitative shift in the region.”
All of the above suggests that there is a danger in the establishment of an Arab-Israeli-American alliance under the banner of the Palestinian cause. However, if such a coalition is established, it will only come about at the expense of the Palestinians, as we would be facing Arab-Israeli negotiations to reach a regional solution that the extreme right-wing, led by Netanyahu, has always called for. If this is achieved, it will liquidate the Palestinian cause; if not, then it will lead to it being closed off, as such “third party” negotiations will continue to muddy the waters indefinitely. Furthermore, underlying all of this, Israeli-Arab relations will be completely normalised, thus eliminating one of the remaining cards to be played.