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The Paris Conference: The costs of diplomatic delusions

To suggest the conference’s international pressure will yield Palestinian goals of statehood is unfair and disingenuous

What did the Paris Conference of January 15 produce? At least for the sake of the argument, we might accept the protestations of the French government – and the Obama Administration — that the sole function of the conference was to facilitate a rapid return to the negotiating table, and that the conveners had the hope for peace uppermost in their minds.

However, this latest exercise in diplomatic futility, coming hard on the heels of UNSCR 2334 and Secretary Kerry’s long and rambling speech, only undermined the very purposes it was presumably meant to serve. The French didn’t manage to bring the Israelis to Paris and, to add to the absurdity, even the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who had endorsed the effort, was a no-show. Mainstream Palestinian factions not-aligned with Abbas’ West Bank government criticized the conference and, no matter how well-intentioned, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will not get Hamas in Gaza to abandon its firm ideological commitment to violence nor its total rejection of the peace process itself.

For decades, Palestinian hopes have been pinned on an imposed solution. The Paris conference certainly did not give them that — it did not have the clout to do so. However, the danger lies in the possibility that momentum from the conference will be harnessed towards convincing the international community to rewrite the terms of references for future negotiations — and therein lies the peril. Once the conference hosts and their partners recognize their inability to get Hamas to accept the peace process, they will have no choice but to ignore the realization that before peace can even be possible, a top priority is “reuniting Palestinians under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian authority.”

The weak often seek strong terms of reference before they sit to talk with the strong and thus the tactics of the West Bank Palestinians are therefore not surprising. However, being nice to the poor and beleaguered leadership in Ramallah is not a strategy: it is a sentiment, perhaps understandable, but disastrous for the cause of peace.

A sober look at the realities — as embodied, for example, in President Bush’s letter to Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004 — would indicate that an implementable agreement must reflect some basic facts on the ground. To encourage the Palestinians to believe that much more can be achieved by means of international pressure — like pushing Israel back to indefensible lines, or carving up the living city of Jerusalem (which, following the recent terror attack there, would look like a reward for terrorism) — is to harm their long term interests by selling them on a fantasy.

Last week’s Golden Globe awards all went to La La Land, but if Paris sends the West Bank Palestinians there, it will not be a light, romantic comedy. To make peace possible, to reverse the growing anger and frustration of many Israelis, it is necessary for the international community to back away from the illusion of coercion, rather than feed it through futile diplomatic extravaganzas such as the one held in Paris.

Col. (reserves), Dr. Eran Lerman is the former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council in charge of Foreign Policy & International Affairs, a member of faculty at Shalem College and Senior Research Associate at BESA.

About the Author
Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman is former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office. He held senior posts in IDF Military Intelligence for over 20 years and also served as Israel director of the American Jewish Committee.
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