By Ramzy Baroud
Matthew Duss is right. The Paris Peace Conference is different, and the fact that the United States’ stronghold of supposedly trying to resolve conflicts in the Middle East is being challenged, is a point worth noting. Yet, this is hardly important. “The multilateral nature of the conference is a Palestinian strategic victory, marking another step toward the internationalization of the peace process,” Duss wrote in Tablet magazine.
Some 20 years ago, the Palestinian leadership allocated the responsibility of obtaining justice and human rights for its people to the international community. That was clearly a blunder, one which has been re-enacted from the United Nations to the US.
Since then, the American political establishment has moved from being unconditionally pro-Israel, to adopting Israeli political priorities as US national security imperatives. That shift was certainly more exaggerated during the George W. Bush administration than under that of US President Barack Obama. But despite Obama’s perceptibly sour relations with Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a clearly defined and different US foreign policy is yet to be articulated. If anything, the Obama administration is offering Israel yet more money, and has done everything in its power to thwart Palestinian efforts at achieving any of its political goals, whether at the United Nations or at other international institutions.
But the advent of the French ‘peace-making’ initiative between Israel and Palestine is unlikely to alter this already skewed picture.
Those who are expecting France to bring about a paradigm shift are likely to be disappointed. The French, just like the Americans, are also governed by domestic concerns and by regional and international ambitions. Passing the baton from US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, will not change much. It is merely a further indication of American side-stepping, if not decline in terms of its Middle East leadership. The fact is the French peace initiative-turned-conference in Paris on June 3 is likely to fizzle into the vacuum of a dead “peace process”. So, why the colossal waste of time?
If you have been following the Middle East “peace process” issue in the last quarter of a century, you are certainly aware that the “negotiations table” is nothing but a metaphor for buying time and obtaining political capital. The Israelis require time to finalize their colonial projects in the form of escalating illegal colonies on occupied Palestinian land; and the Palestinian leadership uses the “talks” to acquire political validations from a so-called “peace-broker”, namely the US.
The US, in turn, has used the futile “negotiations” to further assert itself as the “caretaker” of the Middle East. Meanwhile, every other relevant political entity is included or excluded based on its own worth to, or relationship with the US. Thus, the honor of invitation is bestowed upon “friendly regimes”. Others, namely “enemies of peace” are rejected for their failure to accommodate or adhere to US foreign policies in the region.
While the “peace process” has failed to deliver neither peace to the region nor justice to the Palestinians, the “peace process” industry has been an unenviable success, at least until 2014 when Kerry and the US administration decided to tend to more urgent regional affairs, for example, the war on Syria.
By then, Netanyahu was too empowered by the anti-peace sentiment in his own society to even partake in the talks. There was little weight for him to be seen with ageing Mahmoud Abbas, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. His right-wing constituency, which dominates Israeli society, could not have cared less. They were — and still are — busy confiscating Palestinian land, issuing more racist laws in the Knesset and fighting dissent among their own ranks.
Prior to 2014, and since the very first peace conference in Madrid in 1991, the ‘peace process’ has splendidly paid dividends. The Israelis were finally accepted as a peace partner and Israel slowly made its way from the margins of the Middle East to the centre, without having to concede in any way at all.
Even Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has no qualms with this assertion. “In fact, the number of Israeli [colonists] transferred into Occupied Palestine has nearly quadrupled since the beginning of the peace process,” he recently wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz, adding, “yet Israel continues to enjoy impunity and is not held accountable”.
But the Palestinian leadership also enjoyed the perks of the “peace process”. It was, and remains, at the forefront of raking in the benefits of the spurious peace. The “peace process” meant money, and plenty of it; billions of dollars invested in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) — feeding a dead-end political system that existed with no real authority, and almost always remaining on the sidelines as Israel used extreme violence to sustain its colonial enterprise in the West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem.
The French government has its own reasons for taking the lead on reviving the dormant peace talks. Writing in Israel’s Arutz Sheva, Eran Lerman explained the French endeavor in more practical terms: “Broad regional security considerations” are driving the French diplomatic initiatives. In fact, the logic behind this is discernible. French President Francois Hollande’s approval ratings are at an all-time low. As of March, he broke his own record of low approval, sinking to 17 per cent. His country is embattled by violence, massive strikes and non-strategic foreign policy decisions that resulted in French military involvement in Libya, Mali and Syria.
Leading world leaders in another peace gambit that will certainly digress and distract from the US failure on that front is a clever political calculation from the French perspective. It may even help Hollande appear stately perhaps even accord him the position of a leader.
However, and not unsurprisingly, the Israelis rejected the initiative right away, without even bothering with a public diplomacy campaign to defend their position, as they often do. Dora Gold, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry repeated on the eve of the conference what Netanyahu and others have parroted for weeks. The conference will “completely fail”, she said, calling on Abbas to engage in direct talks with no prior conditions instead.
The nonchalant Israeli position can be partly explained by Tel Aviv’s trust in the French government, the very government that is taking the lead in the fight against the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). “French positions and actions on this subject have been more reassuring from an Israeli point of view than those of our American ally,” wrote Lerman.
The conceited and opinionated Israeli response to the French conference was paralleled with euphoria among the embattled Palestinian leadership. The PNA subsists on this sort of international attention, and since the last major meeting between Abbas and the former, now jailed Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, in 2008, Abbas is left on his own, disowned by the Americans and neglected by Arab governments.
“The French Initiative is the flicker of hope Palestine has been waiting for,” wrote Erekat. But since the “peace process” began in the early 1990s, many such flickers of hope appeared and vanished without evolving into a fire delivering peace and justice for Palestinians.
Instead of pursuing yet another peace mirage to regurgitate the centrality of the long-defunct two-state solution, Palestinians need to place their priorities elsewhere, starting with their unity, followed by devising a clearly articulated national project to obtain their freedom, not through frivolous talks but through an anti-Apartheid struggle for freedom and liberation.