France’s Mideast initiative is only available option as Americans disengage

Sunday 01/05/2016
French President François Hollande (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talk after a meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris, on April 15th.

Amman - Palestinians are embracing a French initiative to jump-start peace negotiations with Israel as the United States, the traditional sponsor of Middle East peacemak­ing, disengages as US presidential elections draw near.
Palestinians see the French ini­tiative is the only option that might stop Israeli seizure of Palestinian land, improve deteriorating condi­tions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and revive hopes of Palestinian statehood.
With their Arab supporters inun­dated by the fallout of “Arab spring” revolutions and the militant vio­lence gripping Iraq and Syria, Pal­estinians feel a deep sense of aban­donment and despair as they face hard-line Israeli policies.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told French President Fran­çois Hollande during an April 15th meeting in Paris that the Palestin­ians fully back France’s new initia­tive to advance the peace process.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the Palestinian lead­er updated Hollande on “the diffi­cult and suffocating circumstances in which the Palestinian people live, due to Israel’s occupation and set­tlement expansion and the shadow of a diplomatic impasse”.
Hollande later went on a trip that took him to Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, where he heard complaints about the burdens of hosting Syrian refugees and threats posed by the Syrian and Iraqi wars and Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
So far, little has emerged on the French initiative.
When Paris announced the initia­tive in January, French officials said the effort would entail hosting an in­ternational conference in the sum­mer to establish a framework for a final Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. The two warring sides can stay away from the initial ceremonial meeting but must get into tough negotia­tions right afterward, the initiative envisioned.
Initially, France said it would rec­ognise a Palestinian state if the talks failed but French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault later said the rec­ognition would not come so soon.
Abbas, who set out for talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, later arrived in New York for UN meetings.
Travelling with Abbas, Abu Rudeineh said the Palestinian lead­er told Hollande that “he hoped the French initiative would see the light”.
“France plays an important role in efforts to establish a fair, com­prehensive and durable peace in ac­cordance with international resolu­tions,” Abu Rudeineh said.
Israel and the Palestinians are locked in renewed violence that has killed at least 200 Palestinians and 28 Israelis since October. Tensions peaked then over what Palestinians saw as Israeli attempts to annex the revered al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusa­lem.
Palestinians complain of humili­ating living conditions under Israel’s military occupation, such as closure of West Bank cities, the siege on the Gaza Strip, Israeli harassment at checkpoints, home demolitions and land grabs to expand Jewish settle­ments in Palestinian lands in vio­lation of international law and UN resolutions.
Ahead of his foreign tour, Abbas called for a UN resolution condemn­ing Israeli settlements and accused the United States of insufficient ac­tion on the issue.
The draft resolution, which was submitted in March, defines Israeli settlements as illegal and calls for a one-year timetable to reach a final-status agreement, according to a copy of the text posted online.
The resolution was written in con­sultation with UN Security Council members but will likely be stymied by a US veto.
Washington has repeatedly ve­toed Security Council resolutions opposed by Israel but there has been speculation that US President Barack Obama could change course in the waning days of his presiden­cy.
Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have been stalled since a US initia­tive collapsed in 2014.
Both Abbas and Israeli Prime Min­ister Binyamin Netanyahu openly expressed interest in meeting each other in the last several weeks but neither side has made a public move to get negotiations going.