January 26, 2017
“I must say that this conference is among the last spasms of yesterday’s world. Tomorrow’s world will be different — and it is very near.” (PM Benjamin Netanyahu)
The much-discussed Paris Middle East Conference ended Sunday 15th Jan. 2017 with a rather bland statement reaffirming support for a two-state solution, and a call to stop violence and “ongoing settlement activity.”
From the very beginning the French initiative of the Paris Middle East Conference was ill-planned bad idea: it had wrong timing, wrong participants and its agenda and content – a working draft of the communique – was seriously biased. No wonder that the result was null and void. The best result of Paris peace conference might be its ending without outcome; it can be concluded that in Paris sundown actors speculated on worn-out idea and dead end roadmap without new visions nor real stakeholders.
While the Conference can be doomed as waste of time whereas the developments on the ground seemed to get boost in opposite directions.
Wrong timing and participants
The fact that France is home to one of the most important Muslim communities in Europe and the largest Jewish community could be seen as giving Paris the mandate to hold the summit. In addition Israeli-Palestinian violence came especially since the early 2000s and the second Intifada on French soil, commonly referred to as the “import of conflict.” The outbreak of anti-Semitic violence, rioting and other actions were particularly evident during the last war in Gaza in the summer of 2014; a synagogue was stormed and slogans such as “Screw you Jews, France isn’t yours” were chanted by the crowd at gatherings “in support of Gaza.” An “unprecedented anti-Semitic climate led many Jews of France to emigrate to Israel.
However France’s desire to establish itself as a central player in the peace process, and now “Paris Peace Conference”, experienced a failure already before it started due bad timing: to organize international summit conference, just days before the inauguration of the new US President and the swearing in of his new administration in Washington. With no representatives from the new US administration or from the two parties who are directly involved, the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, the conference essentially offered no new platform on how to restart the stalled peace process in the Middle East.
Some 70 countries and international organizations, including the foreign ministers of more than 30 states, participated to “Paris Peace Conference . However British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson intentionally kept away from the Paris conference, but he gave the British representatives – some junior officials – clear instructions not to sign any statement of its conclusions, thus giving a clear indication of where the loyalty of the British government will lie in the future. Australia also refused to sign the final document. Canada and many other EU member states chose to send only second-ranking officials to the summit instead of their foreign ministers. Newly appointed UN Secretary-General António Guterres also chose not to attend.
An idle declaration…
A copy of a working draft of the communique published by Ha’aretz included a general expression of support for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-state solution and broad ideas about how the participating states can contribute towards this, without either a specific definition of what the final resolution should look like or any clearly defined follow up action. A draft summary statement says the participating countries will not recognize unilateral changes to 1967 borders, including Jerusalem.
It remained to be seen if the final version will be more concrete and detailed – it wasn’t. In the conference conclusions, the participants (except for the UK and Australia) confirmed their support for a two state solution with a call to the two parties directly involved in the peace process to dismiss any government representatives who do not share this goal. But the text of the final conclusions was softened after pressure from the outgoing US administration; criticism of Israeli settlements was balanced by the inclusion of a statement of the need to stop (Palestinian) terrorism and incitement. The final communique also shied away from explicitly criticizing plans by Trump to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, although diplomats said the wording was meant to send a “subliminal” message.
While the declaration contains all the right elements, it emerges as a water downed document without any details or new ideas. It states the obvious when it calls on each side to refrain from unilateral steps that would prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues such as Jerusalem, borders, security, and refugees.
…of no effect
Already the timing of the conference suggested that any measure adopted in Paris could remain a dead letter – and so happened as after Paris – Monday 16th Jan. 2017 – Britain, Balkan countries block EU from adopting Paris declaration. The fallout was reflected just one day after the Paris summit, as the 28 EU foreign ministers met in Brussels for a pre-scheduled EU-Council meeting in Brussels without issuing a statement adopting either UN Security Council Resolution 2334 or the declaration that emerged from the Paris conference. The British Foreign Secretary decided to block the adoption of the Paris summit conclusions by the EU foreign ministers, hence causing further embarrassment for the EU during a week which was intended to demonstrate EU solidarity and unity for the peace process. The Jerusalem Post has learned that France was pressing inside the meeting for the EU to adopt the Paris declaration, but these efforts were rebuffed by Britain and some Balkan states keen on getting off on the “right foot” with US President-elect Donald Trump when he takes office.
Expectations were high on the Palestinian side that the Paris conference would outline the two-state solution and determine a time-plan for its implementation. There is nothing of this in the statement nor any follow-ups after that.
“Nevertheless,” Ashrawi noted, “it is evident that Israel and its proxies managed to water down the Joint Declaration and weaken its effectiveness. The Declaration omitted any reference to the creation of the Palestinian state on 1967 borders and restricted that “to ending the occupation that began in 1967 which does not necessarily conflate with the boundaries of the state.” “Absent effective follow-up mechanisms with the responsibilities of arbitration, monitoring and evaluation, and concrete engagement, the outcome of the Conference becomes just another verbal exercise. “We regret the unfortunate stance of the British and Australian governments, as well as the UK going so far as to prevent the EU Foreign Affairs Council from adopting the Declaration. (Source: Israel Today ).
In addition U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry eased Israeli suspicions Sunday in a phone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he provided assurance that the Paris peace conference would not lead to any kind of concrete outcome at the U.N. Security Council or elsewhere. Kerry promised Netanyahu that the United States would not assist in passing a resolution against Israel in next Security Council meeting, due to follow both the Paris conference and December’s passing of Resolution 2334 against the settlement enterprise.
While diplomats were formulating their declaration the developments on the ground showed a huge gap between high-flown statements and reality on the grassroots. Here some highlights:
According WIN Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, is proposing to incorporate a handful of towns located outside of Jerusalem into Israel’s capital, essentially annexing them to Israel in the process. “Today I will propose at the security cabinet that we pass the ‘Greater Jerusalem Law’ that includes extending Israeli sovereignty to the surrounding communities of greater Jerusalem,” continued Katz. “This is a necessary first diplomatic step in the era of President Trump.” Katz’s plan essentially goes farther than that of Education Minister and Jewish Home party Chairman Naftali Bennett to officially declare the town of Ma’ale Adumim as a part of Israel. The “Greater Jerusalem Law” would also incorporate Givat Ze’ev to the northwest of Jerusalem as well as Beitar Illit and the Etzion regional bloc of communities, which are directly southwest of Jerusalem, into Israel’s capital.
The Local Planning and Building Committee of Jerusalem on Sunday approved the construction of 560 units in the eastern part of the city, beyond the Green Line, after US President Donald Trump formally took power. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat stated, “We went through eight difficult years of [former US President Barack] Obama’s pressure to freeze construction.” Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his security cabinet that Israel will expand construction in settlement blocs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (Source: JPost)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday [24th Jan. 2017] announced their approval for construction of approximately 2,500 new housing units in Judea and Samaria. Most of the units are planned for the existing blocs of Israeli communities and are based mainly on prior decisions and commitments by previous governments. Liberman also authorized construction of an industrial area meant for Arabs near Tarkumiyah, in the Hebron area. It is designed to be one of the largest in the region and includes diversified industrial components. (Source: United with Israel)
Former US President Barack Obama, in his waning hours, quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Congress had been blocking. A State Department official and several congressional aides said the outgoing administration formally notified Congress it would spend the money Friday morning. The official said former Secretary of State John Kerry had informed some lawmakers of the move shortly before he left the State Department for the last time Thursday. The aides said a written notification dated January 20 was sent to Congress just hours before Donald Trump took the oath of office. (Source: United with Israel)
Israel and the Palestinian Authority on 15th Jan. 2017 signed an agreement to renew cooperation on joint water projects benefiting Israeli and Palestinian residents of the West Bank after a six year freeze in activities. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, signed an agreement to restart the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC). (Source: i24News )
After a friendly telephone discussion on 22nd Jan. 2017, US President Trump invited PM Netanyahu to come to Washington for a meeting next month, to discuss close cooperation in a number of areas, including Iran’s nuclear program and the renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians. “The President emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal”, according to a White House statement. (Source: GPO/Israel)
The Arrow Weapon System (AWS), the upper-most tier in the Israeli strategic capability, entered into a new era on 18th Jan 2017 in its defense from ballistic missiles threats.Earlier the AWS consisted of Arrow-2 interceptors, and has now added for the first time the Arrow-3 operational interceptor (made by Israel Aerospace Industries/MLM). The Arrow-3 interceptor capabilities enable longer range, higher altitude (exo-atmospheric) and more precise ballistic missile engagements. The combined interception capabilities of the Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 will significantly reduce the possibilities of ballistic missiles impacting the State of Israel. (Source: IsraelDefence )
After a decade of failures to implement reconciliation agreements between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, a new deal took place in Moscow. According Al Jazeera – on 18th Jan. 2017 – the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has agreed to form a unity government with rival organisation Hamas. The two organisations will form a new National Council, which will include Palestinians in exile and hold elections. The deal also includes the Islamic Jihad group, which had not been involved in negotiations for a long time. Earlier, both Fatah and Hamas showed many signs that they were neither willing nor interested in having a genuine agreement that bridged the intra-Palestinian divide, as the current status quo is convenient for them especially with the absence of any forms of popular local accountability . Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from Moscow, said the agreement in Russia signals the Palestinians “looking away” from the United States, which has been involved in the peace process for decades. “Historically, peace discussions have been dominated by the US. They are looking for a different approach, and Russia certainly offered a different approach,” she said. The Moscow declaration provided an opportunity for the Palestinian political leaders to shape a new reality, it remains to see if they really seize the opportunity this time round?
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