Will France’s Initiative Revive the Peace Process in the Middle East?

A diplomatic meeting will be held in Paris on June 3rd with the Foreign ministers of twenty countries but without Israelis and Palestinians

May 18th, 2016

The peace process between Israel and Palestine has been at a standstill for more than two years, I spite of efforts made the Quartet (USA, Russia, UN and the EU) to rectify it. This French initiative aims to create a new original frame of discussions in order to find a two-state solution.

On the 3rd of June, a diplomatic meeting made up of representatives of 20 Foreign Ministers including the US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia, Germany, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan and will take place in Paris. However Israel and Palestine have not been invited to this conference but will join the talks during the autumn months.

The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas has stated that he supports this French initiative. However there remains to be a positive acknowledgement from the Israeli government regarding the initiative, who so far have remained unconvinced of its legitimacy. Nonetheless they claim to be open to direct talks between Israel and Palestine even if this method has proven to be insufficient so far.

The relationship between France and Israel has been cold since France signed a UNESCO resolution entitled ‘Occupied Palestine’ earlier this year, the goal of the French and in particular this initiative is not to appease Israel. This is why French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and the Prime Minister Manuel Valls visited Tel-Aviv mid-May to defend the “disinterested” French initiative for peace in the Middle East.

The hard part for France will be to convince Israel that its initiative can indeed bring a solution to the conflict. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to expend his majority in the Knesset, and to do so 

he is turning toward the extreme right. Earlier this week Israel Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon resigned from his office and said that he lost confidence in his “extremist” government. The arrival of former Foreign Affairs Minister and ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman in the very important office of Minister of Defense could jeopardize the peace talks.

Egyptian President al-Sisi declared that he is in favor of the French initiative and called for the Israelis and the Palestinians to make peace. He asked the different political parties in Israel to unite for this cause. President Sisi also suggested that the 2002 Arab peace initiative could be used as a model. The relationships between Egypt and Israel are still cold since the 1979 peace treaty; progress in the peace process between Israel and Palestine could warm up the relations between the two neighbors.

Uncertain for a time, the presence of the US Secretary of State John Kerry gives much more weight to the French project. However, and in spite of Kerry’s declarations of support for the initiative, it is doubtful that the US will strongly engage in the talks only a few months away from the end of the Obama Administration.

Europe is once again divided regarding the French attempt to bring back to life the peace process. The High Representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini is not enthusiastic that the Quartet is no longer the only actor in the peace process, even if it has come to no solution yet. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the “the time is probably not to major progress”. Because of those divergences the French plan to put pressure on Israel by an automatic recognition of Palestine as a State in case of failure of the peace talks.

It remains to be uncertain whether or not the French initiative to revive the peace process in the Middle East, will be a success. In order to truly succeed, it will be necessary to convince Israel to join the talks with true intentions to come to a resolution to the conflict. Therefore American pressure on Israel is necessary. However the upcoming publishing of a report which does not depict Israel in a positive light, may change their stance on the matter.

The recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, the Arab Springs, the wars in Libya and in Syria, the Iranian nuclear deal and ISIS, all demonstrate the need for this French initiative and its potential to put the matter of the conflict between Israel and Palestine to the forefront of problem solving initiatives.


Cultural Diplomacy News
Gaspard Fontaine, CD News