Amman - The news emanating from Paris on Friday 3 June was dominated by reports about the Seine River flooding and closure of the Louvre Museum rather than the international meeting convened by the French government to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Even without this competition, it is doubtful this latest “Middle East Peace Initiative” could have generated significant coverage. Primarily because, apart from the fact of the meeting itself, nothing of interest emerged from it.
The French initiative, as it has come to be known, was first proposed by the Hollande government last year. In its original form, it consisted of a draft United Nations Security Council resolution that would set forth clear parameters for Israeli-Palestinian peace, along with mechanisms and a timeline for achieving them.
Faced with concerted US opposition and Israeli hostility , the Quai d’Orsay repeatedly watered down its terms and, concluding that US support for any such resolution would not be forthcoming as a matter of principle, ultimately chose to capitulate rather than stand its ground.
It became clear that the Obama administration would not resume its own attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations after Secretary of State John Kerry threw in the towel in 2014 following nine months of talks that ended in failure.
European governments became increasingly concerned that a dangerous diplomatic vacuum that was brewing would lead to a renewed outbreak of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories, and consequently undermine the position of the Palestinian Authority and further complicate - if not eliminate- the prospects for a two-state settlement.
As Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people continues to play a role in radicalising European Muslim youth, Europeans were persuaded that the Palestine Question cannot be left indefinitely unattended.
In its new iteration, the French initiative took the form of a proposed international conference at which Paris’s key international and regional partners would reach consensus on parameters, an agenda and deadlines, and then task Israel and the Palestinians with their negotiation and implementation.
As with the aborted Security Council resolution, the French began preparing ideas and presenting them to the various parties for consideration and endorsement. And once again, they almost immediately began to backtrack in the face of American disinterest and Israeli rejection.
Initially, for example, France committed to Abbas that it would recognise Palestinian statehood if Israel had not done so within the agreed timeframe. A few sessions with Netanyahu later, this commitment, and indeed one for a timeline as well, vanished into thin air.
France, which from the late 1960s until the assumption of the presidency by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, had been considered among the European powers least aligned with Israel, is today among its most stalwart allies. Faced with incessant Israeli hostility to any formula other than bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “without preconditions” under exclusive American sponsorship, Paris effectively emptied its initiative of all substance.
According to Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group, “US participation in the Paris meeting demonstrates that, at least for now, Washington no longer sees the French initiative as a threat to its own interests. It would be incorrect to read Kerry’s attendance as an American endorsement of a French alternative, to the extent one can be said to exist.”
The assessment is borne out by the meeting’s final communique . Its five short paragraphs consist of little more than vacuous boilerplate that “the status quo” which has held since 1993 “is not sustainable”; that “a [bilaterally] negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace”; and “the importance of both sides demonstrating, with policies and actions, a genuine commitment” to this objective.
The casual observer could be forgiven for assuming that the PLO is, in word and deed, as implacably opposed to the two-state framework as the Israeli government.
In a further nod to equivalence between occupier and occupied, the communique states that “actions on the ground - in particular, acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity - are dangerously imperilling the prospects for a two-state solution”.
In so doing, it not only gives equal weight to the disease and its symptom, but accords greater prominence to the latter by placing it first. And while it calls for the exploration of “meaningful [international] incentives to the parties to make peace”, it studiously avoids recalling their obligations under existing agreements and international law, or warning of the consequences of systematically violating them.
The communique ends with the “prospect of convening an international conference” before the end of the year. Whether this will indeed transpire is very much open to question.
Contemporary France lacks the determination to flesh out this skeleton, and will, in any case, be easily outmanoeuvred by the US and Israel. Palestinian claims, and expectations, that France has set in motion an international diplomatic process similar to that which resulted in the Iranian nuclear agreement are in this respect woefully naive.
In the meantime, the Obama administration continues debating whether or not to issue parameters of its own prior to the conclusion of its term in January 2017, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to work closely with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to set up a parallel track based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative .
If - Egyptian denials notwithstanding - the latter does materialise, it is likely to enjoy substantial American support and put paid to the French effort.
The more pertinent point is that the international community remains determined to succeed where it has systematically failed in the quarter century since the 1991 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference.
It will be some time yet before the international community is persuaded that the only way to consummate a two-state settlement is to compel Israel to terminate the occupation and accept a just resolution of the refugee question.