They’re at it again — an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference is taking place in Paris on May 30.
But there’s a catch: neither Israelis nor Palestinians will be there. They weren’t invited, and this was not France’s attempt to be “evenhanded.” In fact, French President François Hollande’s Socialist government has the exact opposite intentions.
Hollande knows that the Palestinian Authority wants the conference to occur, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly opposes it. Inviting neither party is France’s tactic for sidestepping Israel’s decided lack of eagerness.
Not hiding Israel’s disgust, Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon says that Israel is in “a state of emergency,” and that:
… each country that Israel succeeds in preventing from attending the conference will be considered an achievement.
Uri Savir, a veteran Israeli “peacenik” who sees only goodwill in diplomatic machinations, reports approvingly on France’s move:
The French are inviting the Middle East Quartet representatives (United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations), the Arab League and approximately 20 foreign ministers.
The EU, Russia, the UN, the Arab League … and the Obama administration.
Each of the invitees tilt against Israel’s current position. The Hollande government, by the way, received overwhelming Muslim support in France’s 2012 election and is dependent on that demographic. Secretary of State John Kerry has not yet announced if either he or a lower-level U.S. diplomat will be attending.
Going forward with such a conference at such a time represents a triumph of cynicism over experience, especially considering recent Mideast events:
— Islamic governments have been imploding, especially in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. There is additional violent instability in many others. The old saw that the region’s agitations all stem from the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been exposed as nonsense. There is no rational basis for believing the proverbial “Palestinian state living beside Israel in peace and security” is possible now.
— The Palestinians are divided into two political entities: Hamas-run Gaza, and Fatah-run Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. They’re at each other’s throats; by all accounts, the only thing preventing a Hamas takeover of the PA is Israel’s military presence. What sort of unified, coherent, or constructive Palestinian state could be fashioned from these two bitterly antagonistic entities — one of them run by a group the U.S. officially designates a terror organization?
— Whether or not it would actually constitute a “solution,” the Palestinians have rejected every offer of a two-state solution going back almost eight decades: from the 1937 Peel Commission plan to the 1947 UN partition resolution to the 2000-2001 Barak-Clinton offers, the 2008 Olmert offer, and John Kerry’s 2014 framework document. What could possibly get them to accept an offer now besides one so weighted against Israel that it would jeopardize its existence?
— Late in 2015, a comprehensive overview of 330 Palestinian public opinion surveys found that Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, overwhelmingly regard Israel as an illegitimate entity that needs to be violently attacked. What sort of compromise is possible?
So why the push for a “peace” conference? Correctly, Israel does not see this French initiative — nor the support it may gain from other quarters — as benign, or even as rationally motivated. Instead, Israel sees France acting out of a growing need to appease Muslim populations in France and elsewhere in Europe. Additionally Israel sees the mounting tide of anti-Israel sentiment that often starkly reveals itself as simple anti-Semitism: for example, it currently appears within the British Labour Party.
Traditionally, the counterforce to such initiatives has been the U.S., which at least takes Israeli interests into account. Most crucially, the U.S. has historically defended Israel at the UN Security Council, which is the end-goal of the current French/Palestinian effort.
This time around, however, Washington is a frail reed to lean on.