THE MOST IMPORTANT MESSAGE
“The first and most important message that the Paris Conference delivered to Israel and the new U.S. administration is that the entire world backs the so-called ‘two-state solution,’ and that this solution is now threatened with collapse, which would have dire consequences,” writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Therefore, the message says, action must be taken to salvage this solution and prevent U.S. President-elect Donald Trump from fulfilling his promises to Israel, since transforming this into a U.S. policy would constitute the final nail in the coffin of the so-called ‘two-state solution.’
The second message from the conference, which is its fatal weak point, is that of upholding the two-state solution by reiterating the call for a resumption of bilateral [Palestinian-Israeli] negotiations. This renders the French move – as President Hollande said – a mere launching pad for a return to direct negotiations. In other words, the conference offers no alternative path to negotiations; the most it aspires to is to provide merely formal international sponsorship with no power to intervene. But even such international sponsorship, which can only come about with the two sides’ consent, is rejected by Israel and some of its protectors, including the British government, which expressed its reservations to the statement and took part in the Paris Conference only as an observer so as to ensure that it would not be held responsible for what it may produce.
The French, American, and international concern to ensure that the main aim behind all this activity is to return to direct negotiations went so far that certain ideas – such as expanding the International Quartet by adding other European, Arab, and international parties to follow up on the negotiations, and specifying a timetable for reaching an agreement, as well as a timetable for implementing any agreement reached – were withdrawn from circulation some time ago.
This is only natural. Even before the conference was held, John Kerry announced – via the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson – that he would attend so as to defend Israel’s interests. He also phoned Netanyahu to stress that the conference’s resolutions would not be followed up at the UN Security Council. And he stated that the U.S. made sure that the final statement was balanced and fair to Israel.
This may explain Israel’s relative satisfaction with the results of a conference it had boycotted, dismissing it as futile and as a Palestinian trick sponsored by France. The final statement was continuously amended so as to ensure that Israel would accept it, or at least greatly reduce its opposition to it. Nor was the Palestinian side invited to participate in the French initiative, even though it had been eager to do so from the very start, and in a very exaggerated manner, and had been enthusiastically in favor of holding the conference and its results. And this despite the fact that the final statement was subjected to many amendments until the moment it was issued, and that took many of the Israeli demands into consideration. In other words, though absent from the conference, Israel was the party most present without having to make any undertakings. Thus, despite its satisfaction with its results, Israel did not commit itself to the conference’s statement.
As for the Palestinians, they welcomed the statement, even though the phrase that said that the international community would not recognize any unilateral changes was eliminated from the final statement. Moreover, the final statement equated victim with executioner in numerous paragraphs. It hinted that resorting to internationalization of the conflict, the UN, and the International Criminal Court were unilateral steps, treating them as equal to Israel’s actions in creating occupation and racist facts on the ground that totally undermine any possibility of reaching an agreement.
Furthermore, one sentence draws a distinction between settlements on the one hand, and violence and terrorism on the other, because Israel and its protectors will not accept equating the two. As a result, equating the victim with the executioner, who succeeded in greatly lowering the ceiling of the international position via numerous international occasions and resolutions, is to be replaced with expressions that come down on the side of the executioner.
As for the third message, it was delivered in French President Francois Hollande’s statement that ‘we shall not impose the criteria of a settlement on the Palestinian and Israeli sides.’ But if that is the case, what is the point of the statement’s references to international law, international humanitarian law, and the UN resolutions? It seems that these are mere pieces of advice that cannot alter the deteriorating reality that is rushing towards further deterioration with growing speed. Meanwhile, Israel’s response, like the response of the Trump administration, is that such advice is unacceptable, because Trump adopts the view that reaching a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis must be via negotiations between the two sides without any third party intervention and without any advice – and, he may add afterwards, without any unwanted advice.
One of the most worrisome aspects of the conference’s statement is something that has become a requirement in all American, European, and international initiatives and moves – namely, the very notable concern for Israel’s security but with no concern worth mentioning for the Palestinians’ security despite the fact that it is Israel that is the powerful, racist, and occupying state that is armed with nuclear fangs, and with the support and organic and strategic relations linking it to the strongest state in the world,.
In this regard, we must not commit the mistake of misreading Barack Obama’s administration’s abstention from the vote on the UNSCR 2334 against settlements. This administration has been more supportive of Israel than any other. What Kerry said in his speech and was then portrayed as evidence of his hostility to Israel, is untrue. In fact, it is the exact opposite: What the Obama administration has been doing in its last days is an attempt to save Israel from its own government’s extremism.
Anyone taking a close look at the policy pursued by the outgoing U.S. administration would note its sharp bias in Israel’s favor. On the one hand, it seeks the establishment of a Palestinian state, while on the other hand it complies with most of Israel’s rejections. It therefore seems that this Palestinian state that the U.S. wants is supposed to contain most of the settlements and the settlers, provided that an agreement on its borders be reached via negotiations. The aim is to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It is to prevent the emergence of a single state in which the Palestinians become the majority. Moreover, the Obama administration has rejected the refugees’ right of return, leaving Jerusalem for negotiations on the basis of annexing of East Jerusalem’s ‘Jewish neighborhoods’ to Israel, or deeming the city the capital of two states, with the Palestinian part based on a number of neighborhoods, not on the whole of East Jerusalem.
In this context, we may understand why President Mahmoud ‘Abbas’ visit that was scheduled immediately after the Conference, was postponed for two more weeks at least, which is the period needed if the draft resolution is to be presented to the UN Security Council. Instead, all that will happen now is to inform the Security Council of what happened at the Paris Conference.
Now, the obsession that had preoccupied the Palestinian leadership for two full years, during which it behaved like a drowning man clinging to a straw, has come to an end. The main title of that obsession was the French move. At first – in late 2014 – this took the form of a draft resolution that was supposed to be presented to the UN Security Council. But that was withdrawn after Arab objections since it included numerous unacceptable points, the most important of which was recognition of Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Attention then turned to an international conference that France called for, whose failure would lead to French recognition of a Palestinian state; but the undertaking to recognize the state was then withdrawn. Then that conference changed from being an international conference to the Paris Conference that we saw this weekend.
The postponement of ‘Abbas’s visit to Paris may have to do with an attempt to gain time so as to convince Netanyahu of the three-way summit called for by the French president to be held immediately after the conference. Netanyahu refused to take part unless it was a substitute for the conference. Now that the idea of proposing a new draft UN Security Council resolution has been withdrawn from circulation, Netanyahu will consider the possibility of accepting either the French or the Russian invitation.
At any rate, the Palestinian leadership’s desperate behavior means that it will always seek the resumption of negotiations, or preparations for their resumption, on the assumption that this is the only available option. And in fact, if the three-way summit were to be held, we would be on the threshold of resuming, or would have already resumed, the bilateral negotiations without arming ourselves with the elements of power and the international authority that protects Palestinian national rights. In that case, we would be heading to the negotiations completely naked, which means that their outcome would be even worse than preceding negotiations, especially after Trump is sworn in as president.
“We need another completely different track; one that we have often called for. The latest developments, and likely future developments, indicate that we are now in greater need of this track than at any time before,” concludes Masri.