It was, even by the dispiriting standards of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, a futile concept: a peace conference without either of the warring parties. On January 15th, diplomats from more than 70 countries flew to Paris for a summit against which Israeli officials had been inveighing for weeks. After a full day of debate, the diplomats issued a two-page declaration that urged both sides to “commit to the two-state solution…[and to] take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground.” If that sounds familiar, it should. Parts of it were copied verbatim from the closing statement of the previous Paris Peace Conference, held in June. In truth, the Paris meeting felt less like a diplomatic summit than a farewell concert thrown by an ageing rock band.
The celebratory speeches at the Paris Conference, in anticipation of positive change, were a total mockery of justice. Weariness about these conferences continues as they replay the efforts of the 2000 Clinton Parameters and the 2003 Roadmap for Peace document—except in a contorted and retrogressive manner, especially in the case of refugees, Jerusalem and borders.
The impetus for the conference in Paris, like similar international efforts before it, was not to address the Palestinian reality and the roots of the issue, but rather to contain yet another Middle Eastern nuisance.
It’s the approach of an international community dealing with an inconvenience, rather than an endeavour to undo the injustice enacted on Palestinians as an indigenous population.
The fact that the Paris Conference wilfully chose to disregard the actual voices of those dealing with the consequences of the oppression, is a testament to the continued refusal of the international community to be in touch with the reality on the ground.
It is a patronising attitude that Palestinian officials see as a step forward, when it merely conspires to further strip agency from the Palestinian public in a push for a virtually dead two-state solution.
The Palestinian struggle is thus reduced to a vision set by powers, which believe that they are more fit to decide the Palestinians’ fate than they themselves are.
Perpetual state of symbolism
Like some sort of extended metaphor in a tragic novel, Palestine has been in an unabated stalemate.
The grave of Yasser Arafat, with a light pointing in the direction of Jerusalem in the evening, is the emblem of an unrelenting wishful thinking, without working towards achieving Palestinians’ aspirations.
Concurrently, the Palestinian leadership works in contra to the original vision of the struggle of complete liberation, dignity and justice for all Palestinians.
The perils of the Paris Conference, like western initiatives before it, are that it does not delve into the echelons of this settler-colonial milieu.
The framework and laws for Palestinian rights are already echoed in UN resolutions, international law and even various state declarations. The issue at hand is not the legitimacy of Palestinian self-determination, but the failure of the international community to enforce what it has conceded in human rights and not holding Israel accountable.
It is difficult to believe in the sincerity of such conferences after the ad infinitum failure of US-led bilateral peace talks and the UN’s inability to follow up on implementing its decisions. Once more, the stage is set for the public debacle of Israel adhering to international legislation and laws. The only real concomitants of the Paris Conference will be Israel, once again exposing the limitations of the world in the face of lobbying and corruption.
In a similar fashion to previous peace efforts, whether it be the 1978 Camp David accords, the 2010 Obama administration effort in Washington or the Quartet’s Roadmap Plan, coordination is made by no real stakeholders.
Moreover, these successive conferences are virtually a return to the fabric of the 1978 Camp David agreement. Therefore, 39 years later, to be discussing the terms that were practically already agreed upon is a mockery of justice and true aspirations of solving the Palestinian question.
What is disturbing is the momentary euphoria representatives gain in deluding themselves into thinking that they are making a difference, while subsequently allowing for the incessant dispossession and subjugation of Palestinians through apartheid rule.
Playing dice with the Palestinian question
While it is positive that the Palestinian demand for liberation is not forlorn, their struggle has always been hijacked by others for various reasons that are not linked to their fight for recognition and dignity.
Instantly, the French endeavour must further be contextualised in relation to the political sphere in the United States and Israel. With President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the sentiment is already one of despair and anger at the prospects of what is to come next for the Middle East.
To gain a hold of the political milieu of Palestine-Israel is to gain a stronger hold on the Middle East. The Palestinian cause has continuously been used by states, individuals and organisations as a catalyst for power. For the French, to take a leading initiative in attempting to solve the issue is to further try to curb the US’s stronghold on the region.
However, the outcome of the Conference has yet to align with Trump’s efforts. Albeit more implicit than Trump’s overt support of Israel, what was laid out in Paris does not address the notion of justice and further pushes for the alienation of Palestinians from their self-proclaimed leadership.
The very foundation of the Paris Conference is not the divulging of the uncomfortable and terrifying truth of occupation and apartheid, but playing dice in hopes that the incessant screaming and noise stops.
What Paris means for Palestinians
It is not surprising that the Palestinian Authority welcomes the Conference, despite the fact that, in essence, it is an act of absolving both Israel and the international community from accountability.
It’s significant to remember that 50 percent of the Palestinian population is scattered outside of the territories. Their voice, as well as the voice of the 1.5 million Palestinians within Israel, is ignored in the discussion of a two-state solution.
On the ground, Palestinian voices are not only silenced by Israel, but by political organisations such as the PA and Hamas, which also suppress Palestinian dissidents that do not agree with their vision of justice. There is a colossal gap between those who claim to represent Palestinians and the rest of the masses.
The statement of the Conference in one part notes that “both sides” have “to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution, thus disassociating themselves from voices that reject this solution”.
This statement obscures the fact that many Palestinians do not ask for the two-state solution. Additionally, with the PA’s continued detachment from the Palestinian masses, the promise to pump even more money to it only serves as a liability for Palestinians.
If anything, this is a positive result for Israel as it promotes the rift between the PA and Palestinians, ensuring that the struggle never truly moves forward. Subsequently, Israel is given a chance to continue building settlements, and lobby the international community for support, especially with the coming of Trump into office.
In sum, the outcomes of the Paris Conference reaffirms the limitations of the international community in achieving true justice as it is detached from the ambitions of Palestinians suffering the daily consequences of colonialism.
This reluctance to address the Palestinian question as a settler-colonial reality in such conferences speaks for itself, as it insidiously equivocates the oppressor with the oppressed. No real solution will be achieved should this pattern remain.
MIDDLE EAST PEACE CONFERENCE JOINT DECLARATION
I) Following the Ministerial meeting held in Paris on 3 June 2016, the Participants met in Paris on 15 January 2017 to reaffirm their support for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They reaffirmed that a negotiated solution with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is the only way to achieve enduring peace.
They emphasized the importance for the parties to restate their commitment to this solution, to take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground, including continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, and to start meaningful direct negotiations.
They reiterated that a negotiated two-state solution should meet the legitimate aspirations of both sides, including the Palestinians’ right to statehood and sovereignty, fully end the occupation that began in 1967, satisfy Israel’s security needs and resolve all permanent status issues on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and also recalled relevant Security Council resolutions.
They underscored the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as a comprehensive framework for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, thus contributing to regional peace and security.
They welcomed international efforts to advance Middle East peace, including the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 2334 on 23 December 2016 which clearly condemned settlement activity, incitement and all acts of violence and terror, and called on both sides to take steps to advance the two-state solution on the ground; the recommendations of the Quartet on 1 July 2016; and the United States Secretary of State’s principles on the two-state solution on 28 December 2016.
They noted the importance of addressing the dire humanitarian and security situation in the Gaza Strip and called for swift steps to improve the situation. They emphasized the importance for Israelis and Palestinians to comply with international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law.
II) The Participants highlighted the potential for security, stability and prosperity for both parties that could result from a peace agreement. They expressed their readiness to exert necessary efforts toward the achievement of the two-state solution and to contribute substantially to arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a negotiated peace agreement, in particular in the areas of political and economic incentives, the consolidation of Palestinian state capacities, and civil society dialogue. Those could include, inter alia:
– a European special privileged partnership; other political and economic incentives and increased private sector involvement; support to further efforts by the parties to improve economic cooperation; continued financial support to the Palestinian Authority in building the infrastructure for a viable Palestinian economy;
– supporting and strengthening Palestinian steps to exercise their responsibilities of statehood through consolidating their institutions and institutional capacities, including for service delivery; – convening 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.
III) Looking ahead, the Participants:
– call upon both sides to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution, thus disassociating themselves from voices that reject this solution;
– call on each side to independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution and refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees and which they will not recognize;
– welcome the prospect of closer cooperation between the Quartet and Arab League members and other relevant actors to further the objectives of this Declaration.
As follow-up to the Conference, interested Participants, expressing their readiness to review progress, resolved to meet again before the end of the year in order to support both sides in advancing the two-state solution through negotiations.
France will inform the parties about the international community’s collective support and concrete contribution to the two-state solution contained in this joint declaration.