Many more air miles have been collected and many more fine dinners have been consumed in five-star Parisian restaurants off the backs of the Palestinian people, to bring together representatives of 70 countries at a conference to regurgitate the “only way forward” — the two-state solution — to solve the Palestine-Israel conflict. It is, of course, obvious to any objective observer that this “solution” is dead in the water. The final communique could have been written by any one of the participants on their home computer.
Unusually, I find myself in agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Paris conference was “useless”, albeit for different reasons, which I will come to. However, he went too far when rejecting it before it was even convened, claiming that the conference was “Palestinian deceitfulness under French auspices, aimed at adopting further anti-Israeli positions.” Describing it as “among the last twitches of yesterday’s world,” Netanyahu added that, “Tomorrow’s world will be different, and it is very near.”
His reference was to a world where Israel was (occasionally) criticised for its illegal and aggressive policies but which brought no consequences of any note. To him the future is “Tweeting Trump”, who believes that treating Israel with “such total disdain and disrespect” cannot continue. “They [Israelis] used to have a great friend in the US,” tweeted the US President-elect, “but not any more. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (UN)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
The UN Security Council passed resolution 2334 just before Christmas, criticising Israel’s illegal settlements; Netanyahu has called the resolution “shameful”. Trump’s intention was confirmed when he let it be known repeatedly that he would be moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is not recognised as Israel’s capital by any state, pending the determination of the Holy City’s fate through negotiations with the Palestinians. The mere mention of this possibility outraged the Palestinians, with President Mahmoud Abbas warning that the move would have a “disastrous impact on the peace process, on the two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire region.” Senior Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh went further: “One of the measures we [the Palestinians] are considering seriously is the issue of mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel,” he warned. “[It] is not valid any more doing this,” he added about the proposed embassy move.
The Paris conference — which neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians attended — concluded with a declaration which restated that the world wants to see peace coming through the two-state solution, and called on the two sides to recommit to it. Through this, the two parties would be “disassociating themselves from voices that reject this solution.” In other words, it regurgitated the stale position that this is “the only game in town” and anyone who does not agree with this is not interested in peace. The participants called on the two sides to refrain from unilateral actions. The declaration also made reference to the recommendations of the Quartet, the Arab peace initiative and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s “parameters”. Gaza received a mention with the possible benefits of a peace deal in economic terms through a European special privilege partnership. The future could also see “the convening of Israeli and Palestinian civil society fora, in order to enhance dialogue between the parties, rekindle the public debate and strengthen the role of civil society on both sides.”
As the declaration was being announced it emerged that the United Kingdom had not signed as it risked “hardening positions”. This may be more significant in terms of indicating Britain’s future take on the conflict following its support for resolution 2334 on illegal settlements and Prime Minister Theresa May’s criticism of Kerry’s speech which she thought was “inappropriate”. May could be aligning herself more closely with the incoming US Trump administration than with the outgoing Obama. Shortly after the end of the Paris conference, President-elect Trump told the Times that he would be appointing his son-in-law Jared Kushner to broker a Middle East peace deal but also urged Britain to veto any new Security Council resolution critical of Israel.
There is no doubt that while the Palestinians welcomed the Paris conference because it continues to keep their cause on the international agenda, Israel saw it as a hindrance to its ongoing colonisation of Palestine; it wants to avoid at any price the creation of a Palestinian state not only any time soon but also at any time in the future. Israel sees in Trump an ally who will be less engaged in the conflict and that will allow it to dictate the shape of its future relationship with the Palestinians through bilateral “talks”. The team Trump has created around him is very sympathetic to this approach, including the proposed US Ambassador to Israel, David Freedman, who has declared his support for moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Both Secretary Kerry and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault see the dangers that this would pose, with the latter calling it a “provocation with serious consequences.”
While the predictable outcome of the Paris conference was being formulated, a potentially more important event was taking place in Moscow. Under the aegis of the Russian Academy of Sciences, various Palestinian factions were brought together to address the long-standing divisions and to attempt to reach agreement on a common platform.
Palestinian unity is all the more important in the era of a President Trump whose staunch support for Israel is likely to translate itself into more misery and loss of hope for Palestinians; irreversible “facts on the ground” will push the achievement of a just peace for Palestinians even further beyond reach. Trump’s refusal to meet Palestinian representatives as he cosies up to Netanyahu is a strong indication of his direction of travel. Only through unity can Palestinians temper and slow down this biased juggernaut.
The message from Palestinians to “Tweeting Trump” should be delivered through his apparently favourite medium: @realdonaldtrump We Palestinians are united, resilient and steadfast in our commitment to self-determination, independence and freedom. Help us achieve peace!”