The outgoing French ambassador to the US has said that Israel is an "apartheid state" and that the status quo provides no incentive for its government to make concessions in peace negotiations.
Gerard Araud – who ended his five year term as France's ambassador to the US this weekend – gave an interview to US magazine the Atlantic in which he discussed a number of topics pertaining to the Israel-Palestine conflict and the so-called "deal of the century", the long-awaited peace plan touted by US President Donald Trump's administration.
Discussing the "deal of the century" and its chief architect, special advisor to the President and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, Araud told the Atlantic: "Everywhere in the history of mankind, when there is a negotiation between two sides, the more powerful [party] is imposing terms on the weaker party. That's the basis of Jared Kushner's [peace plan] – it will be a proposal very close to what the Israelis want."
Rumours that the "deal of the century" will be biased in favour of Israel have been rife for months, buoyed by recent comments made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promise to annex the occupied West Bank to Israel will not impact the US-led peace plan.
Araud also told the Atlantic that while the status quo continues to suit Israel's interests, he believes little progress will be made towards peace. "The problem is that the disproportion of power is such between the two sides that the strongest [Israel] may conclude that they have no interest to make concessions. And also the fact that the status quo is extremely comfortable for Israel. Because they [can] have the cake and eat it," he explained.
Speaking specifically about Israel's now 50-year-old occupation of the West Bank, the former ambassador said:
[Israel] won't make [Palestinians in the West Bank] citizens of Israel. So they will have to make it official, which is we know the situation, which is an apartheid. There will be officially an apartheid state. They are in fact already.
Araud's comments were echoed last night by US Senator and 2020 Democratic party candidate Bernie Sanders. Speaking at a CNN "town hall" – an event at which election hopefuls address potential voters – Sanders said: "I am not anti-Israel. But the fact of the matter is Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who I think is treating the Palestinian people completely unfair[ly]. What I believe is not radical. I just believe that the United States should deal with the Middle East on a level playing field basis."
Sanders continued: "In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing – dare I say – racist government."
Sanders has long been critical of Netanyahu's government, last month posting a campaign video featuring a supporter praising him for his condemnation of the "apartheid-like" conditions imposed on Palestinians by Israel. In the video, the supporter said "[Sanders] spoke out against apartheid in South Africa when, crazily, that was an unpopular thing to do, and even today he speaks out against apartheid-like conditions in Palestine even though it's not popular".
In February, Sanders criticised Netanyahu for his orchestration of a deal to bring ultra-nationalist party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) into the Union of Right Wing Parties in order to bolster his re-election bid ahead of Israel's general election earlier this month. Speaking to NBC in the wake of the deal, Sanders said: "I'm not a great fan of [Netanyahu], and, frankly, I hope he loses his election."