French escalate efforts to revive Palestinian-Israeli peace
The French government’s attempt to bring peace to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is moving into high gear in the weeks before the end of the year and before the change of leadership in the US.
What makes the French plan interesting is that it is committed to dismantle the various knots that are complicating the peace process rather than confronting them or complaining about them.
French Ambassador to Jordan David Bertolotti says that the European effort in support for the two-state solution is based on creating working groups that attempt to deal with the nuts and bolts of what is necessary to make Palestinian statehood possible.
While the French are leading the current effort, they are working with others to make it happen.
The Germans have been given the lead in helping build the capacity of the future Palestinian state, the Swedes are working with Palestinian civil society, while the EU Brussels headquarters is commissioned with handling the overall economic challenges that the Palestinian state needs to address.
The big issue continues to be the political stalemate that Israel has imposed by choosing direct talks as the only means it agrees to.
A European diplomat said that the French are flexible in trying to accommodate the Israeli demands without compromising the conference.
A possible way to finesse the problem is that once the December 21st conference is over, Paris will invite Palestinian and Israeli leaders for a meeting in which they will debrief them on the results of the meeting.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the US.
The outgoing administration of Barack Obama has been sending conflicting signals as to what it can do in the lame-duck period since the November elections.
Ideas including the US supporting a UN Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood or on settlements have been circulated, but it is not clear if they will see the light of day before January 20, when the new president walks into the White House.
A major speech by Obama, in which he would outline the parameters for peace just like Bill Clinton did in his last days in office does not seem to be in the offering.
Senior Palestinian officials, including PLO secretary and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat as well as the head of the Palestinian intelligence service Majd Faraj, and international affairs adviser and recently elected Fateh member of the Revolutionary Council Husam Zomlot are all in Washington DC to work whatever needs to be agreed to in the final days of the Obama administration.
The US Congress wants to cut the current $70 million earmarked for the Palestinians security by half, and the Palestinian officials are arguing that this will have negative implications on the ground.
US Secretary of State John Kerry gave a hint of what he thinks needs to happen when he recently addressed the Saban Forum, and there is talk that he might make a major speech to a Jewish American organisations before leaving office, detailing exactly what he and Obama think needs to happen on the Palestinian-Israeli front.
Donald Trump’s transitional team has also been in contact with the French, but mostly to ensure that the French (and others) do not make any major decisions that will complicate their efforts once they take office.
The transition team is also being briefed on what is happening, and has indicated that it is not opposed to the upcoming Paris event in late December but is opposed to any moves at the UN Security Council.
What everyone seems to agree to is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too sensitive to leave alone.
A vacuum in which no one is regularly and continuously advocating the two-state solution will have disastrous effects, the French and other Europeans believe.
It is not yet clear how important the upcoming Paris meeting will be for the overall trajectory of the peace process.
Many Palestinians are losing hope in the two-state solution and the absence of any progress in the peace talks will certainly erode whatever interest there is among Palestinians in the viability of this process while Israel continues to build settlements and show no sign of ever ending the half-a-century-long occupation.