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France puts a spoke in Israel’s wheel

February 1, 2016 at 9:29 am

The world is growing weary of Israel’s ongoing settlement activity which continues unabated. It is a bitter irony that while the settler-colonial construction in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem is illegal and unnecessary, thousands of Palestinian families in the war-torn Gaza Strip are still living under canvas almost 18 months since their homes were destroyed during Israel’s summer 2014 offensive. They are desperate for contractors to begin the reconstruction of their neighbourhoods.

Not even 1 per cent of the building work promised since Israel’s war has been delivered to those living in the besieged Gaza Strip despite all the pledges and funding offered by the international community. As the Palestinians struggle through their second bitter winter in temporary shelters, they face the real possibility of yet another Israeli military offensive looming on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, which accompanies settlement construction as part of Tel Aviv’s ethnic cleansing process, is speeding up. It is probably no coincidence that the latest spurt of development is happening during the political spectacle of the US presidential candidates’ selection debates.

While Washington and the rest of the world focuses on who will be the next leader in the White House, Israel is busy rolling out its illegal building programme. The start of every presidential hustings appears to be a signal for Israel to do what it wants, even if that includes making war on Palestinian civilians. The pre-election road show has in previous years enabled Israel to unleash its weapons of mass destruction with impunity on neighbouring Gaza three times within the past decade.

Even though Israel consistently refuses to follow international laws and conventions, it continues its illegal activities largely unchallenged by the international community. Anyone who dares to comment on this or contemplate an intervention, is usually dismissed by the Israelis as either anti-Semitic or a supporter of terrorism; sometimes both at once.

The latest to face such an accusation is the rather ineffectual UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, whose feeble attempts to restrain the Zionist State have failed miserably despite his criticism of Israel’s rough treatment of the Palestinian people. An outraged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Ban of giving a “tailwind to terrorism” after the UN chief basically blamed a four-month long uprising by Palestinians on human nature and a natural reaction to Israel’s brutal occupation.

Now France has stepped into the firing line, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announcing that his country is leading an initiative to convene an international peace summit to renew diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. He also served up a warning that if diplomacy fails, France will formally recognise a Palestinian state.

“Unfortunately, Israeli settlement construction continues,” he told a conference of French diplomats in Paris. “We must not let the two-state solution unravel. It is our responsibility as a permanent member of the UN security council.”

Around 550,000 Jewish settlers live in 250 illegal housing projects peppered across the West Bank and East Jerusalem and with no sign of peace in sight frustration among Palestinians has grown. As such, they welcome the initiative because they know that the US presidential election will prove to be the most dangerous time for anyone living in Palestine. Timing is everything and, based on previous experience, one has to wonder if France’s peace plan has arrived rather inconveniently for Israel, which could be preparing for its latest war against Gaza. The last attempt to broker a peace deal was led by US Secretary of State John Kerry back in April 2014 and they collapsed without plans for future discussions.

Typically, a senior government official in Tel Aviv dismissed the French threat as counter-productive. “There is no logic in a deadline for recognition of a Palestinian state, it will only encourage the Palestinians not to negotiate,” he claimed.

Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have been occupied by Israel since 1967, have been seeking a state for many years. Palestine already has non-member observer status at the UN and its flag flies with other member states at UN headquarters in New York.

Sweden led the way by becoming the first EU member to recognise the Palestinian state in 2014; to-date, a total of 136 other UN member states, mostly in Africa, Latin America and Asia, have given such recognition. However, Israel’s closest European allies, Britain and France, do not recognise Palestine as a state, which makes the threat by Paris all the more significant.

Israel’s main sponsor, of course, is the US, and the government in Tel Aviv is watching the presidential debates anxiously, as Bernie Sanders appears to be forging ahead of its favoured candidate Hillary Clinton. Sanders is regarded as non-compliant with the Zionist State’s ambitions after he criticised Israel’s actions during the 2014 Gaza offensive. The Senator for Vermont is chasing the Democratic nomination and insists that if he is elected as America’s first Jewish president, he will “maintain an even-handed approach” to the Middle East.

That will not please Netanyahu, who has a long-distance relationship with the concept of even-handedness. He has already been accused by Sanders of “overreacting and causing more civilian damage than was necessary” during the 50-day bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014.

“[The Israelis] have very sophisticated weapons systems,” said Senator Sanders. “They make the case, and I respect that, that they do try to make sure that civilians are not damaged. But the end result [in 2014] was that a lot of civilians were killed and a lot of housing was destroyed. There was terrible, terrible damage done.”

Regardless of who ends up in the White House, the French peace initiative may be just the spoke in the wheel needed to stop — or at least slow down — Israel’s illegal settlement expansion and, indeed, its plans for the next war against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.