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