This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 01/06/2011
There is weak optimism about the results of the visit by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe the day after tomorrow to Israel, where he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Juppe will also visit Ramallah, where he will meet with the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, after meeting tomorrow evening with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Rome. No matter how strong Juppe's personality is, or the widespread respect he enjoys in France and the rest of the world, the problem lies in the obstinate positions of Netanyahu. This is especially after Netanyahu's return from Washington, where he received unprecedented support from the American Congress, which applauded more than 24 times when he gave his blindly ideological speech. Netanyahu's address contained nothing new with regard to the hope of negotiating with the Palestinians on the bases that were agreed to by the entire world, and endorsed by the International Quartet and the European Union. The French president has reiterated that the criteria for peace are known to all sides, but he could add that Netanyahu completely ignores them. Netanyahu returned from the United States with the support of Congress and his popularity has risen considerably in Israel, while his competitor, Tzipi Livni, has seen hers plummet. Under such circumstances, how will Juppe be able to achieve any change in the stance of Netanyahu, who rejects all of the principles and criteria of peace, as everyone knows? Netanyahu does not want peace and rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders; he rejects the ending of settlements and opposes Palestinian interests, while also rejecting Jerusalem as the capital of two states. What can he offer to his French friend, Sarkozy? Nothing. The European Union will continue as the main economic financer of Israel and Israel will continue to reject seeing France and the EU play any political role, contrary to what Netanyahu claims when he meets Sarkozy, in the presence of his foreign minister, Juppe. Netanyahu is aware that France's policy is more balanced than that of the US, and that Paris is asking that Israel and the Palestinians adhere to the criteria of peace. However, Netanyahu relies on Congress and its pressure on President Obama to remain in his rejectionist position vis-à-vis any negotiation or true peace with the Palestinians.
Sarkozy and Juppe are trying hard to re-launch negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides before September, when the Palestinian Authority wants the UN General Assembly to vote on recognizing a Palestinian state and ask the Security Council to admit a new member to the UN. The US will use its veto and it will be a difficult moment for all sides, including the Europeans.
Certainly, the French position that Juppe will try to discuss with Netanyahu is a balanced one, which looks to pushing the negotiations forward. But everyone in Paris knows that there is little hope for the possibility of seeing a successful mission by the French foreign minister, since the Israeli positions were laid out clearly in front of the US Congress; the Arabs, through the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, expressed their disappointment about the "seven No's" that Netanyahu put forth before the Congress, and said it represented a blow to the hopes of any peace. Juppe will meet Netanyahu after having met with Obama, Cameron and Merkel at the G8 Summit, in the presence of Sarkozy, followed by a meeting last night with Saudi Arabia's Prince Saud al-Faisal. The Europeans, especially Britain and France, are pushing for a resumption of negotiations, but Obama, and despite what he pledged in his speech when he spoke of the 1967 borders, will never confront Congress while preparing for his re-election campaign next year. There is little hope that France will succeed in convening a political conference that revives the peace talks, despite the energy of the French president and his efforts to move things forward.
It is true that Sarkozy says the existing situation on Palestinian-Israeli peace track is unacceptable, but Israel and its ally the US support this situation and if this were not the case, then things would be different. Perhaps the importance of Juppe's visit will be greater as he hears out the Palestinian side, especially Salam Fayyad and the young people of the civil society movement, and their analysis of what is taking place in terms of the domestic Palestinian situation and the formation of a government, and the Palestinian reconciliation that France supports and Sarkozy has welcomed. Juppe believes there is an opportunity that must be taken advantage of to convince Hamas to take steps that show the Palestinians are united on peace, and the issue of a Palestinian state.