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Ensuring the success of the French initiative

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Furthermore, the French are hoping to prevent the incoming Trump administration from rushing into taking a position completely supportive of Netanyahu and scuttling what's left of the peace process, especially at a time of regional turmoil and extremism, which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict feeds into with consequential adverse effects on the European community.

For the French conference to succeed, however, it should not merely echo what the UN resolution and Kerry's speech called for, and not simply push for the resumption of direct or indirect peace negotiations that will meet the same fate as previous talks. The conferees must adopt a three-track approach that will be conducive for the resumption of constructive negotiations leading to a peace agreement that the Trump administration can support.

Given the intense distrust, deep sense of mutual insecurity, and persistent illusion that either side can have all, it is critically important to begin the first track with a process of reconciliation for about two years to largely mitigate these three major obstacles.


During this period, neither side should be required to make concessions regarding any of the major conflicting issues-which in any case neither side is prepared to make at this juncture-but instead take government-to-government and people-to-people measures to create a new socio-political environment supportive of meaningful negotiations.

The government-to-government measures should include: halting the mutually acrimonious public narrative, taking no provocative action (e.g preventing the Palestinians from suing Israel at the International Criminal Court), substantially slowing the expansion of settlements and providing only for natural growth, encouraging joint economic development ventures, further strengthening security cooperation to prevent violence, and releasing some Palestinian prisoners with no blood on their hands as a good-will gesture. Finally, textbooks should be modified to reflect the reality and rights of both peoples, which is one of the most critical measures that must be taken so that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians see each other as friends and neighbors rather than eternally sworn enemies.

In the area of people-to-people interactions, both sides should undertake several measures (some government-facilitated) including: engaging in an open public discourse to air out some of their concerns and aspirations for the future, allowing more Palestinian laborers to work in Israel, encouraging the media to report on any positive developments, facilitating tourism in both directions, emboldening women activism, supporting student interactions, providing Palestinian youth opportunities to study at Israeli universities, embarking on joint sport activities, and exchanging art exhibitions.

The purpose of these activities is to humanize the Israelis and Palestinians in each other's eyes, stop the stereotyping, and construct a new relationship based on mutual acceptance and trust, which are essential to peace making.

To significantly allay Israeli concerns (real, perceived, or exaggerated) over national security, the second track is for the conference to call on Hamas and other Palestinian extremists to forsake violence and join the Palestinian Authority in the search for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Hamas is an integral part of the Palestinian body politic, without which no Israeli-Palestinian peace can be forged, let alone endure.

The conferees should especially call on Turkey and Qatar to pressure Hamas (on whom they enjoy tremendous influence) to renounce violence and accept the inevitability of Israel's existence without necessarily surrendering its arms. As an incentive, Hamas should be removed from the EU and US' list of terrorist organizations and provided with targeted financial aid to build housing, medical facilities, schools, and infrastructure, and pull the Palestinians in Gaza out of their rampant poverty and despair. Under such circumstances, Israel would ease the blockade and ultimately remove it altogether under conditions of peace.


The third track is the adoption of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) as the overall framework for peace, which could rally the whole Arab world behind the French Initiative and create a roadmap for the establishment of Israeli-Palestinian peace in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

The conferees should task three foreign ministers from Egypt, France, and the US to persuade Israel and Hamas to embrace the API, which offers several common denominators between them. There is perhaps no better time than now to do just that because of the intensifying collaboration on security and intelligence sharing between Israel and key Arab states in the Gulf, along with Jordan and Egypt, who seek to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and focus on the Iranian threat.

By adopting these three tracks, the conference will put the Israeli government and the PA to the test, as they cannot profess to seek a two-state solution but then refuse to undertake such measures of reconciliation which are essential to a genuine peace agreement.

I am convinced that if the conference does not adopt the above outlined approach and subsequently elicit the endorsement of the Trump administration, it will fail. The failure will deprive the French and, by extension, the EU from having much of a say in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the future, in which their stakes are extremely high.

Given that the US is and will remain the main interlocutor between Israel and the Palestinians, the conference will provide Trump (through the three-track approach) the time and opportunity to genuinely assess the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, Trump would not want to grant Netanyahu's wishes and let him expand the settlements and annex more Palestinian territories if such a move kills any prospect of a two-state solution and subjects Israel to a perilous future.

Trump, who boasts of being the greatest dealmaker, should take heed of the above and, with the support of the European community led by France, effect a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians which will indeed be the deal of the century.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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