David Harris

Five reasons the Paris Conference failed

As we said repeatedly in the build-up to Sunday’s gathering in Paris of representatives of 70 countries to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue, AJC has long supported the search for an enduring peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state accord.

It is precisely in that spirit that we voiced our concerns about this conference, believing it would be irrelevant at best, harmful at worst, to the pursuit of a deal.

Our concerns, following the conference’s conclusions, can be summed up in five points.

First, as should have been crystal-clear by now, the Palestinians have avoided the only place where an agreement can be reached – the bargaining table with the Israelis. Therefore, every such diplomatic end-run only emboldens the Palestinians to believe, mistakenly of course, that they can achieve their goals without the tough negotiating required of face-to-face talks.

Second, Israel rightly felt that its own concerns were ignored in convening the conference, which the Israeli prime minister called “futile” and “rigged.” Antagonizing and isolating one of the two principal parties to the conflict from the get-go is not a strategy for success.

Third, it was not lost on the incoming U.S. Administration that this conference took place exactly five days before the transfer of power in Washington. President-elect Trump and his team didn’t hide their objections to the gathering. It is very possible that there will be some form of “payback” after January 20th, when the international community has to come to grips with the fact that the U.S. is the one indispensable player in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and may have a long memory about what occurred on January 15th.

Fourth, France didn’t help its own quest to be an “honest broker” in the conflict. Indeed, one nation, the United Kingdom, laudably demonstrated why. To the credit of London, it adopted a hands-off approach, saying in an official statement: “We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them – indeed which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis – and which is taking place just days before the transition to a new American President when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement. There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace. That’s why we have attended in an observer status and have not signed up to the communique.”

And last but by no means least, this conference sought to mobilize the globe, and not for the first time, on this one issue, and only days after the UN Security Council did the same thing. Meanwhile, other, pressing issues cry out for attention and resolution, but to no avail. Syria, above all, represents by far the greatest human tragedy of the 21st century, shattering the country, killing hundreds of thousands, and driving millions into exile, with profound ramifications for both neighboring countries and all of Europe as well. Yet all the time, effort, and investment of the Paris gathering went into the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and not to Syria (a topic, by the way, on which France claims special historical understanding and political savoir-faire) – or, for that matter, to the other failing and disintegrating states in North Africa and the Middle East, or to the brazen Russian attempt to divide Europe against itself while continuing its occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, or to the profound threats to Europe deriving from terrorism, failed integration models, and the surge of populist, xenophobic political parties.

This conference is now behind us and, thankfully, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has offered assurances that it will not be followed by still more UN Security Council action in the coming days.

But what lies ahead remains the empty Palestinian seat at the negotiating table. When it will be filled, then, perhaps, we can look forward to the proper framework for seeking the ultimate goal – two states for two peoples living side-by-side in peace.

About the Author
David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
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