On June 3, France hosted a meeting attended by diplomats from 26 nations and three international organizations with the stated goal of helping relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks—although the two parties in question were not invited to attend. France’s desire to promote peace may be well-intentioned, but this meeting represents a distraction that could diminish the opportunity for a resumption of direct dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The meeting concluded with the participating parties issuing a joint communiqué conveying their vision for resolving the decades-long conflict and leaving open the possibility for a follow-up conference by year’s end. The communiqué highlighted and equated “continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity” as significant barriers to a two-state solution. It demonstrated bias by omitting any mention of the Palestinian leadership’s incitement to violence against Israelis and its continuing refusal to resume direct negotiations with Israel.
Israel has repeatedly offered to resume talks with the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently reiterated this, saying, “The path to peace is via direct negotiations and without preconditions between the parties. That's how it was in the past when we achieved peace with Egypt and also with Jordan and that's how it needs to be with the Palestinians.” He also expressed interest in engaging the Arab world in the peace process taking into account the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, saying the initiative “includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Israel’s newly-installed defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, reaffirmed his commitment to “two states for two peoples,” and expressed interest in the efforts of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to facilitate negotiations. “Egyptian President al-Sisi’s [May 17] speech was extremely important and he created a real opportunity. We have an obligation to try and rise to the challenge,” said Lieberman.
By contrast, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has refused direct talks with Israel while continuing its efforts to sidestep it and achieve recognition of Palestinian objectives through international institutions. Over the past two years, PA President Mahmoud Abbas directed that the Palestinians accede to dozens of international conventions, sought full state membership in the UN and several international organizations, and put forward one-sided anti-Israel resolutions.
President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have also repeatedly incited violence against Israel over the past year. Since October 2015, Palestinian terrorist attacks have left more than 30 dead, including five Americans, and over 400 wounded. On Sept. 16, 2015, just before the wave of terrorism began, Abbas said, "We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood.” In a March 2016 letter to the parents of Amani Husni Sabatin, 34, who carried out a car-ramming attack on Israeli soldiers, Abbas repeated his glorification of Palestinian violence. “We see in her a martyr who watered the pure earth of Palestine with her blood,” Abbas said. Additionally, Fatah, Abbas’ political party, has frequently posted inflammatory items on its official social media pages. Palestinian violence continues to exacerbate the distrust between the parties and hinder the prospects for peace.
None of these activities has brought realization of a Palestinian state one day closer to fruition. That can only come about through the give-and-take of direct negotiations with Israel. A deal can only work if both parties enter it willingly, feel vested in the process, and intend to implement the outcome. Without buy-in from the two parties and the publics they represent, no accord will be sustainable. Outside of a negotiated settlement, international recognition of Palestinian demands at Israel’s expense only encourages Palestinian obstinacy and refusal to return to the negotiating table. It does not hasten achieving real peace; it prolongs the conflict.
The Paris meeting, unfortunately, will likely serve as just one more impediment to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It may raise Palestinian hopes of achieving their demands without making the difficult compromises necessary for peace. Instead of taking the next plane to Paris, diplomats should urge the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
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