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The Paris Peace Gambit

In their defense, the Israelis seem to have figured out the whole thing and opted out. But the hapless Palestinian leadership, along with their Arab League partners, joined by the French, EU and UN representatives, and even US Secretary of State, John Kerry, decided to play along.

However, the French peace initiative-turned-conference in Paris on June 3 is nothing but a charade, and they all know it, Palestinians included.

So, why the colossal waste of time?

If you have been following the Middle East ‘peace process’ business 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 want time to finalize their colonial projects in building up illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land; and the Palestinian leadership uses the ‘talks’ to acquire political validations from the so-called ‘peace-brokers’, namely the United States.

The US, in turn, uses the futile ‘negotiations’ to further assert itself as the caretaker of the Middle East, overthrowing regimes while simultaneously brokering peace.

Meanwhile, every other relevant political entity is included or excluded based on its own worth to, or relationship with the United States. 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, Israel’s rightwing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was too empowered by the anti-peace sentiment in his own society to even partake in the charade. There was little capital for him to be seen with aging Mahmoud Abbas, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. His rightwing constituency, which dominates Israeli society, could not have cared less. They were – and are – still busy confiscating Palestinian land, issuing more racist laws in the Knesset and fighting dissent among their own ranks.

Prior to that date, 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 center, without having to concede an inch.

Even Saeb Erekat, the Chief Palestinian Negotiator, has no qualms with this assertion. “In fact, the number of Israeli settlers transferred into Occupied Palestine has nearly quadrupled since the beginning of the ‘peace process,’” he recently wrote in the Israeli daily ‘Haaretz’; “yet Israel continues to enjoy impunity and is not held accountable.”

Considering his ‘chief’ position in the travesty, why did Erekat agree to help maintain the misapprehension of peace considering the price that was paid in lost land, time and lives?

Well, because the Palestinian leadership itself was 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 Authority – feeding a dead-end political system that existed with no real authority, and almost always remained on the sidelines as Israel used extreme violence to sustain its colonial enterprise in the West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem.

The PA even stayed aside as Israel battled the Resistance in Gaza, killing thousands of civilians and besieging an already highly-populated and economically-devastated region. Alas, in the last ten years, it seems that Palestinian leadership and factions invested more energy to nurse their own internal strife than to confront the Israeli Occupation.

The French government has its own reasons for taking the lead on reviving the dormant peace talks and, no, those reasons have nothing to do with French desire to create a more equitable platform for talks, as Palestinian officials conveniently allege.

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, he contented.

In fact, the logic behind this is discernable. 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 percent. (In October of last year it stood at 18 percent). His country is embattled by violence, massive strikes, terrible foreign policy decisions that resulted in French military involvement in Libya, Mali and Syria.

Leading world leaders in another peace gambit that is helping distract from the US failure on that front is a clever political calculation from the French perspective. It might even help Hollande appear stately and in charge.

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 in 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).

“On more than one occasion, 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. “For example, France served as the hardline anchor of the P5+1 [in the Iran nuclear talks]. It was France that raised questions about reliability and implementation (even as it was French business interests that were among the first to bang on Tehran’s doors).”

The conceited Israeli response to the French conference was paralleled with euphoria among the embattled Palestinian leadership. That, too, is understandable. The PA 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. “We are confident that it will provide a clear framework with defined parameters for the resumption of negotiations.”

Even if – and when – the long-awaited ‘resumption of negotiations’ arrive, nothing good is likely to come out from it, except for political dividends for those who have participated in the 25-year gambit: buying time and acquiring more funds. There is nothing to celebrate about this.

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Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

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