What kind of “peace conference” takes place without the antagonists involved? The kind interested in delivering lectures rather than solutions, the British decided, and washed their hands of it today. Attending as an observer to the Paris forum, the United Kingdom refused to sign its final declaration, and instead rebuked the participants for attempting to not just bypass Israel and the Palestinians, but also the incoming Trump administration in the US:
Dramatically breaking ranks with participants from 70 other countries, the United Kingdom criticized Sunday’s Middle East peace conference in Paris, arguing that it might harden Palestinian negotiating positions and refusing to sign a joint statement issued after the summit that called for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A Foreign Office spokesman said London had “particular reservations” about the Paris meeting taking place without Israeli or Palestinian representatives, especially since a new US administration is being sworn in later this week.
Indeed, the spokesman’s statement noted that the confab took place against Israel’s expressed wishes and “just days before the transition to a new American president when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement.”
“There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace.”
Benjamin Netanyahu had already said much the same thing. Earlier in the day, the Israeli prime minister told his Cabinet that he didn’t feel bound by anything coming out of a peace conference that he said was concocted by a French-Palestinian effort to isolate Israel. Netanyahu promised that the circumstances for negotiations was about to improve, and that this is just the soon-to-be past making one last bid in the present:
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that the conference was coordinated by the French and the Palestinians and sought to “force terms on Israel that conflict with our national needs.”
He seemed to welcome the inauguration of American President-elect Donald Trump later this week, saying, “This conference is among the last twitches of yesterday’s world. Tomorrow’s world will be different — and it is very near.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon also slammed the conference, saying it “is so detached from reality that it has extended a hand towards Palestinian obstructionism instead of towards peace.”
Echoing Netanyahu’s sentiments on working with Trump, he added, “In the next few weeks we will enter a new era and work with the incoming US administration to undo the damage caused by the Security Council resolution and these other one-sided initiatives.”
Surprisingly, this position gets agreement (of sorts) in Al-Jazeera, of all places. Mouin Rabbani, an analyst who writes for AJ, called the peace conference “a damp squib,” but for other reasons:
The conference’s draft communique would, in this respect, be laughable, were it not so tragic. Its preamble, for example, lauds Secretary of State John Kerry’s 28 December 2016 speech on the Middle East, which in significant respects seeks to water down not only key provisions of UNSC 2334, but also the prevailing international consensus on the question of Palestine.
More importantly, it specifically and exclusively references Kerry’s statement that, 23 years after Oslo, there is no role for the international community in ending the occupation and consummating a two-state settlement beyond coaxing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
If the French hosts indeed endorse the trope that “we cannot want peace more than the parties themselves”, and, in view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s furious denunciation of the conference, and clear preference of creeping annexation over Palestinian statehood, one wonders why Paris has gone to the trouble of convening this meeting at all.
Even French president François Hollande seemed to put the entire idea — his idea — into the “damp squib” category last week:
Thursday, French President François Hollande, who proposed the conference last year, downplayed the prospects of reaching a landmark announcement by the end of Sunday’s meeting. The conference aims to ensure international support for the two-state solution outlined in the Oslo Accords, he said.
“Peace will be achieved by Israelis and Palestinians, and nobody else. Only bilateral negotiations can succeed,” Hollande said.
So why bother with it at all? Clearly the intent was to push Israel into a corner, and perhaps to create a pretext for more state action along BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement lines. Instead, they’ve alienated the incoming American administration, as has the outgoing Obama administration with its abstention on UNSC Resolution 2334, and pushed Trump farther into Israel’s corner. At the same time, the conference will stoke the anti-UN forces among American conservatives and right-leaning populists, who wonder why these multilateral forums focus so heavily on Israel, a functioning democratic republic, while failing to note that everyone else in the region has much worse human-rights records.
This pointless conference and its final lecture fuels all those suspicions. Hollande should have called this off weeks ago if the conference didn’t include the Israelis and the Palestinians together. When the Palestinians see that the international community isn’t going to keep intervening on their behalf, then maybe they’ll start producing leadership that’s willing to do the hard work for a real two-state solution rather than pursue the PLO policy of annihilationism that it continues to teach in Palestinian schools. This conference isn’t just posturing for posturing’s sake — it’s posturing that actually impedes progress, and the British at least finally had enough of it.