Can France help bring peace to Middle East?
A big question is looming regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: How serious is the French initiative that aims at leading an international effort to help kick start negotiations on the two-state solution?
Equally important is to figure out where exactly Washington stands on this proposal.
When the Obama administration said publicly that it did not expect the two-state solution to happen under President Barack Obama’s watch, was that a hint and a wink to Europe to take a lead role?
While second term US presidents are usually free of pressure from pro-Israel lobbyists, some believe that Obama spent all his political capital on the Iran nuclear deal and is not interested in dealing with a case with questionable potential for success.
The French initiative announced by former prime minister Laurent Fabius appears to have gained (rather than lose) steam after his departure and replacement with Jean-Marc Ayrault.
The difference is that Fabius had warned Israel that if it rejects the initiative, France would recognise the state of Palestine, as the French public wants, while Ayrault preferred to keep Plan B under cover rather than make it public.
France, as well as the rest of the international community, would certainly be happy to participate in some sort of process that could produce tangible results in a conflict that continues to poison the region.
Special American assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, Robert Malley, had publicly said that the Palestine issue was a constant recruiter to extremism and highlighted the need to resolve it.
France, with clear and strong support from the Obama administration, would be perfect to begin a process that can include all international parties as well as the two protagonists.
Europe, the US, Russia and the Arab world are all needed to help Palestinians and Israelis find a solution.
Many believe that a solution exists (based on the Clinton parameters, more or less), but to implement it requires strong and unbreakable political will.
The only party that can stop such an international process would be the US and, specifically, various elements of the pro-Israel lobby who have tremendous power over the Republican and to a lesser degree the Democratic Party.
An incentive to encourage all parties to negotiate seriously is necessary.
Strengthening sanctions, as Hillary Clinton keeps reminding us, was a key element in convincing the Iranians to make serious concessions during talks.
But what would make the Israelis under Netanyahu do the same?
Fabius may be right when he believes that recognition of Palestine might be the stick that needs to be waived to the Israelis to encourage them to come to Paris next July determined to negotiate the two-state solution or else face Western recognition of Palestine.
If France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, takes its public’s desire and recognises Palestine formally, the UK and all of Europe would come on board, thus leaving the US as the possible only world power holding out.
If the talks in the summer and fall fail, and Europe recognises Palestine, an intriguing issue might ensue.
What if Clinton wins the November US elections and is privately consulted about the issue? Her head might tell her that this is the right decision to make, but the donors and lobbyists that she is beholden to might tell her otherwise.
But then, Obama, who will still have a little more in office, can present a solution that Clinton can accept after inauguration as part of reality, without having to take a position either way.
The US Supreme Court ruled last year on a case regarding the city of Jerusalem, deciding that the executive branch, i.e., the president, has the sole and absolute right to recognise countries.
The possibility of a US parallel to the Balfour Declaration, this time in favour of the Palestinians, might seem far-fetched, but should appeal to a president of African and Muslim ancestry who cares about how history will view his presidency.
For the above idea to take shape, Israel will have to show total obstructionism (which will not be hard) and France and the UK will have to have the courage to recognise Palestine and push for a Security Council resolution on which the Obama administration, if all the stars are aligned, might choose to abstain.