The Palestinian, French and possibly European and global diplomatic focus is on the French initiative that will be proposed to the UN Security Council as a solution to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.
We are used to Western officials making sweet talk to begin with when it comes to finding an agreement in the Middle East. Such talk includes a degree of justice and fairness regarding some of the Palestinian national rights, made in order to lure the Palestinians back into negotiations with Israel. After this is "achieved" the officials will more than likely back down from their promises and support the Israeli vision of the future. There are a number of reasons for this, perhaps the most important of which is the external and domestic pressure applied by Israel and its lobby groups in the US and Europe, Christian Zionists and Israel's friends in the international arena, including senior government officials.
This has been the case with Obama, who backed down from all of his promises, just as it was with Clinton, George Bush Jr and others before them. All ditched their promises to the Palestinians, in favour of Israel.
Look at what has happened, for example, with what is known as "the first French initiative" during President Nicolas Sarkozy's time in office. It was launched after the resumption of Palestine-Israel negotiations, and was based on a Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 borders and the negotiation of other major issues, such as the refugees and Jerusalem. An international conference on the Middle East was held in Paris attended by the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as international parties. It was not, of course, a success. The new initiative, moreover, shrinks the Palestinians' rights even more than the new plan.
The visit made by former French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in June last year was part of the efforts made to get an international consensus for the approval of the initiative in the UN Security Council. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the French plan and reiterated Israel's position on the need to have direct negotiations without external pressure. The Palestinians backed the initiative. In February, shortly before his resignation, Fabius announced that France intends to hold an international conference in July in order to move forward and save the two-state solution.
His successor as foreign minister resumed the initiative and explained that France will not recognise a Palestinian state automatically if the proposed conference is a failure. According to Jean-Marc Ayrault, France's goal is to mobilise the international community to support the only possible solution based on two states living side by side. However, he said that recognising a Palestinian state is not a prerequisite for the conference and, by saying so, he effectively annulled his predecessor's intentions.
The French initiative proposes the establishment of a demilitarised Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 borders, with a land swap of agreed upon areas. It also states that the emerging state must respond to "Israeli security needs", that negotiations to reach a two-state solution for both sides do not last more than 18 months, and a state of Palestine must recognise the Jewish nature of Israel. It also calls for a fair, balanced and realistic solution for the Palestinian refugees based on a "compensation mechanism".
Furthermore, both sides must set standards that ensure security for the states of Palestine and Israel, preserve the integrity of their borders, combat terrorism, prevent the flow of arms and respect the sovereignty of the demilitarised Palestinian state. The full withdrawal of the Israeli army gradually during the transitional phase will be agreed upon. This initiative will be consider a final settlement, not a temporary agreement.
Paris clearly recognises Israel's demands regarding the amendment of the 1967 borders in order to keep the massive illegal settlement blocs and settlers where they are, as well as settler-only bypass roads and the wall in the West Bank. This means that the Palestinian state will be established on less than 18 per cent of the West Bank along with the Gaza Strip, and it will be made up of fragmented and non-contiguous cantons. Once this is in place, Israel will probably propose the "transfer" of its non-Jewish citizens to the new Palestinian state. Its ultimate goal is to eliminate the presence of all Palestinians in that part of their homeland taken by the state of Israel in 1948.
France recognises Israel's "Jewishness" and this stands in the way of Palestinian refugees' right to return to their country, as established by UN resolution 194. Thus, the latest French plan is bypassing the original intention to make the issue of refugees (and Jerusalem) subject to negotiation. Did France consider this when it drafted the new initiative?
It looks very much as if this initiative, given the rejection of Palestinian rights by Israel and its main supporter the US, will only lead to a new round of ultimately fruitless negotiations, satisfying nobody except Israel (which will have more time to expand its settlements) and the Oslo-created Palestinian Authority. Although such negotiations have all the appearance of being international and bilateral, anything that Israel does not agree to will not be adopted by the international conference. In short, if the French initiative is adopted, it will mean the liquidation of the Palestinian cause as we know it today.
Translated from Arabi21, 26 April 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.