Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Initiative To Save Israel At The UN

By Hasan Abu Nimah
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 08/06/2011 

France has launched a new initiative to bring peace to Palestine. But the invitation by Foreign Minister Alain Juppe to Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders to attend a peace summit in Paris in the summer ignores the most striking realities that dominate the political scene in this region.

Obviously France will not be in a position to offer anything new. More importantly, the initiative would not dare to venture anywhere beyond the edge of the narrow lines which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out in his Washington speeches. So what is it for?
Let us recall Netanyahu’s spectacular “nos”: no to the 1967 borders even as a basis for negotiations; no to the rights of the Palestinian refugees; no to any idea that would deprive Israel of the right to “defensible borders”, which presumably means keeping the Jordan Valley; no to any compromise on Jerusalem; and no deal with the Palestinians before they recognise Israel as a state for the Jewish people.

The Israeli position is not just uncompromising and rejectionist. Rather, Netanyahu’s message was to say loud and clear to anyone who still had any doubt that Israel is in no mood for serious negotiations.

These extremist positions received so much applause in the United States Congress, as well as clear endorsement by President Barack Obama himself, that there is little room for the French to manoeuvre.

Even if the French would assure the Israelis that their initiative will not deviate in any measure from Netanyahu’s conditions, Israeli approval of the idea could not be taken for granted.

In fact, the Netanyahu’s terms in Washington were not preconditions for returning to the negotiating table; rather, they were prohibitive stipulations to block any possibility of negotiations. The French needed to offer even better terms if they were to expect a positive Israeli response.

And why should Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas have jumped so thoughtlessly at the new French bait? Does he expect the French to succeed where the Obama administration has failed after two years of persistent efforts? Or does he expect the French efforts to be more effective in convincing Netanyahu’s extremist government to turn more understanding and soft?

And what about the conclusions of the Arab League’s “Follow-Up Committee”, which had only recently met and, upon Abbas’ recommendation, concluded that the situation has become totally blocked in light of Obama’s and the Netanyahu’s speeches, and thus the only option left was to head in September to the United Nations to seek recognition for Palestinian statehood?

Most likely, the relevance of the French move should be viewed within this particular context: engage the Palestinians once more in the protracted, open-ended and doomed charade of a peace process, during which the United Nations option would be rendered as an ill-advised “unilateral action” and therefore a threat to the process.

Knowing the fondness of Abbas, his “chief negotiator” and their entourage for this kind of fruitless enterprise, the likelihood of Abbas preferring the French option makes sense.
As a matter of fact, Abbas welcomed the French move, albeit “cautiously”.

“We said that in principle this initiative is acceptable,” Abbas told Reuters, two days after his talks with Juppe in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Abbas was also quoted as having said that the French plan “talks about President Obama’s vision... in which he spoke about a state with the 67 borders with Israel, Egypt and Jordan”. Abbas added that “neither side would carry out unilateral action”. By this, he is clearly trying to justify his welcome of the initiative by making it sound promising.

For either side to avoid “unilateral actions” could only mean the Palestinians abandoning the UN bid. And perhaps for Abbas, this empty initiative could be a pretext to back off from the UN campaign, in light of stiff opposition from Americans and Europeans.

But for Israel to stop its unilateral actions - that is to say settlement building - is quite foolish, and if Juppe even suggested that it would lack all credibility.

All that Netanyahu had reportedly asked Juppe for after their meeting on June 4 was that France “continue efforts to secure the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held since his capture in a cross-border raid in June 2006”, Haaretz reported.

After meeting Netanyahu, Juppe admitted: “I would be lying if I said I was very optimistic. I am slightly optimistic. We are convinced that if nothing happens here between now and September, the situation will be very difficult for everyone at the time of the United Nations General Assembly.”

And perhaps that is the goal: to make life easy for the United States and Israel, as well as for the Europeans themselves who have hardly let their positions defy either.

The French initiative has nothing to do with peace or with support for the Palestinians.

The turmoil, uprisings and rebellions in the region should make it clear to the Europeansthat pursuing the samegames andthe sametired gimmicks of the peace process industry has no future. Such tactics need to be radically revised in light of the major developments in the Arab region if the goal is real regional peace and stability.

And now, it emerged, according to Haaretz, that the United States was once again trying to “restart direct negotiations and thereby forestall a Palestinian bid to obtain unilateral UN recognition as a state in September, according to a source at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem”.

Haaretz added, according to the Israeli source, that the “Americans had invited both sides to Washington in response to a French initiative to restart peace talks on the basis of Obama’s May 19 speech. The United States would apparently prefer to lead this process itself.”

Other press reports say that two senior Palestinian officials, Saeb Erekat and Nabil Abu Rudeina, have already arrived in Washington.

Now it will be President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not Sarkozy and Juppe, driving another doomed, cynical and futile initiative.

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