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French-Sponsored Paris “Peace Conference”: Little Constructive Result, and No Threat to Israel

by George Baumgarten, January 25, 2017

  The much-vaunted (and much-feared) Conference called by the French in Paris for January 15th was—so it was rumored—a simple, anti-Israel plot. It would convene, produce and pass yet another vicious anti-Israel Resolution similar to the recent one in the U.N. Security Council, and then adjourn. And it was likely to lead to yet another Security Council Resolution on January 17th, when the monthly debate on “The Middle East Including the Palestinian Question” was scheduled. It proved to be nothing of the sort…or at least nothing worthy of the hype, not to mention the fear.


     The January 15th Conference had in fact been in prospect since last June, when a “Middle East Peace Initiative” Conference was held—also in Paris—for a similar purpose. That one, however, was more modest in organization, and certainly lacked the conspicuous promotion—one might well say hype—of its January successor. It “reaffirmed that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace…”. Further, “The participants underscored that the status quo is not sustainable…”.


     The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, had spoken to the U.N. Press Corps, at a press conference during this past Fall’s General Debate in the General Assembly. Reports at that time had it that is was all a French plot against Israel, and—what is more—the Russians were somehow in on it. Ayrault had told us at that time in polite, calm and reasoned tones that they merely wanted to somehow jumpstart the peace process, which had lain moribund for the better part of a decade. His Russian opposite number, Sergey Lavrov, spoke to us just a few hours later, on the very same day. In response to a question from this reporter, he seemed to be saying that he and his country (one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council) had been largely “left out of the loop” by the French in their plans.


     The French Foreign Ministry published an explanatory bulletin, in advance of the January 15 Conference. In it they asserted that “It is our responsibility not to negotiate in place of the two parties, which is neither possible nor desirable, but to act to create political momentum conducive to new negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians themselves”. The bulletin further stated that “…we cannot remain as onlookers of a deadlocked situation that creates despair and insecurity”.


     In furtherance of the Conference’s objectives, Foreign Minister Ayrault published an op-ed on 13 January, two days before the Conference opened. In it, he told of the

urgency of the current situation, as well as the absolute need for a two-state solution, as the only possible way of solving the impasse between the parties. In response to all this, and in anticipation of the expected outcome of he conference, the Jewish Week in New York published an editorial, lambasting the Conference as “French Follies”. In it, the French were roundly criticized for “…focus[ing] their attention this week on creating a Palestinian state”. What is interesting about this editorials and several other parallel articles is that they appear focused not on the Conference outcome document produced, but rather on the anti-Israel condemnations that seem to have been expected. In addition to that editorial, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee wrote an open letter to Foreign Minister Ayrault, urging him to cancel the Conference. He listed several other disastrous situations in the Middle East, asking why this attempt to impose –or at least influence—a solution had priority over them. In addition to Harris, the Trump Transition Office expressed their “strenuous objection” to the holding of the Conference. A January 15 Reuters report, however, was said to have warned Mr. Trump of the importance of the Two-State Solution, and particularly of the dangers of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. 


     The “Outcome Document” of the Paris Peace Conference of 15 January 2017 is a carefully worded one, which ostensibly seeks to encourage the two sides to negotiate with each other. It cites the necessity of a Two-State Solution, and mentions the [ostensible] usefulness of the Arab Peace Initiative. It also cites the Quartet Principles of 1 July 2016, as well as the notorious Security Council Resolution 2334 of 23 December. It cites all of these “antecedents”, in fact, on the assumption that they are statements which would be useful and constructive, in encouraging peace. In “looking ahead”, the document “…call[s] on each side to independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution and refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations…”. In addition, it “…welcome[d] the prospect of closer cooperation between the Quartet (U.S./Russia/U.N./European Union)and Arab League members and other relevant actors…”.


     Reaction to the Paris Outcome Document was mixed, along predictable lines. The Palestinian Authority welcomed it, and called upon France to recognize their “state” of Palestine. The Secretary-General of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Dr. Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen, spoke at the Conference itself, and praised the Outcome Document, as well as the recent Security Council Resolution 2334. He asserted that A-Quds (i.e., Jerusalem) is an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in 1967, the capital of the State of Palestine…”. Thus, he is asserting the centrality of a geography that never before existed, which the Palestinians and/or their Arab brothers decided—some seven decades ago—they did not want, but is still their “capital”. And in noting the connection of all Muslims to the Al-Aqsa


Mosque, he seemed to b speaking to those afraid of supposed Jewish efforts to take  over the Temple Mount. Hamas, on the other hand, condemned the Paris Document, calling it simply “absurd”. And The Elders, a group of senior statesmen headed by Kofi Annan (Former U.N. Secretary-General) welcomed it, calling on the P5 powers to “show leadership”.


     At this point, the British—suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly—announced that they were “downgrading” their participation in the conference: they sent neither the Foreign Minister nor their Ambassador to France to participate. The British delegation was in fact headed by Michael Howells, head of the Middle East Desk at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This was perceived, according to reports, as an effort to “stay close” to the Trump administration, and re-emphasize (according to The Guardian) “…that the special relationship with the U.S. is critical to the U.K.”. Shortly thereafter, the U.K. blocked a European Union effort to endorse the Conference outcome, and this action was roundly condemned by Saeb Erekat, Secretary-General of the P.L.O. The Times of Israel later described a “Brave New Anglosphere”, which as a group supports U.S. policies. So the Paris Peace Conference—far from producing a further useless condemnation—may be pointing the way toward a new alignment on the Middle East. This was acknowledged—perhaps grudgingly—by French President Francois Hollande, when he noted that peace in the Middle East cannot be imposed upon the parties, but rather can be achieved only by direct talks.


                                  © Copyright 2017 George Alan Baumgarten













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