Palestinians cling to French peace initiative
RAMALLAH - A proposed French peace initiative is neither one of a kind, nor a breakthrough in the long series of attempts to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or resume peace talks, which came to a halt in April 2014, but Palestinians have welcomed the move.
It was proposed by French President François Hollande to jump-start negotiations with Israel as the United States, the traditional sponsor of talks between Palestinians and Israelis, stepped back as US presidential elections draw closer.
To the Palestinians, peacemaking is not new.
For decades, they have been part of unilateral and bilateral plans to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is viewed as one of the most complicated political issues in modern history.
Starting with the UN Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967, all the way to Annapolis in 2007 and Washington in 2010, no peacemaking initiative or plan has brought an end to the conflict.
While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed appreciation for French efforts during a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in mid-May, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the initiative.
Netanyahu said in a statement: “Israel remains steadfast in its position that the best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is by direct and bilateral negotiations.”
Many Palestinians say the initiative offers what they have been looking for in a peace plan.
Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of the state of Palestine to the United Nations, said in a telephone interview that the French initiative won Palestinians’ support because it is European, multilateral and offers new terms.
He said the initiative marked a shift in the European mindset regarding who takes the initiative in political affairs. “The US no longer leads while Europe applauds. It now leads and invites the US to join,” he noted.
This is significant because Palestinians are losing faith in peace talks because of the US monopoly, which to many is seen as only for Israel’s advantage. The United States is regarded as Israel’s closest ally and could not be a neutral broker in peace, the thinking goes.
Palestinian political analyst Jihad Harab said Palestinians support the French initiative because they want to see an end to US domination over peace talks and engage the wider international community in the debate, an idea Israel rejects.
But underlining the fact that the United States is still an important player in the process, the meeting was set for May 30th but then rescheduled to June 3rd to ensure that US Secretary of State John Kerry could attend.
While the French initiative did not necessarily bring new ideas and has been described as vague and general, it revolves around an international peace conference and debate similar to the Iran and Syria talks.
Palestinians say the conflict could be solved through international intervention, which would pressure Israel as it insists on unconditional and unilateral negotiations.
Paris planned to host a ministerial meeting of 20 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as a first step to discussing the peace process. The meeting is expected to proceed without participation by Israeli and Palestinian representatives, ahead of the main international peace conference to be held in Paris soon after.
For these reasons, and because the initiative is the only option available on the table, the Palestinian side is on board.
While Palestinians are optimistic that the French initiative is offering hope, experts and officials admit they do not expect the initiative to help reach a final solution.
Ramallah-based Palestinian political analyst Abdul Majid Sweilem said the initiative must not be considered a breakthrough, especially with Israel’s ongoing policies.
Even though it is not certain whether the initiative will accomplish the goals set by France, Mansour said Palestinians should support the plan because it is a sign that the world is not silent and the effort could end the political deadlock.
But what if Israel foils the initiative by refusing to be part of the peace conference?
Sweilem said the initiative has cornered Israel in the sense that, if it objects to participating in the process, the decision would increase its international isolation and make it appear responsible for the impasse and violence in the region.