The Eiffel Tower is seen at sunset in Paris.
The imminent arrival at the White House of President- elect Donald Trump is welcomed by many in Israel, particularly by those who identify with the Right. However, the leadership change in Washington is also spurring European states and the present US administration to establish facts on the ground before Trump’s inauguration.
For the Europeans and the Obama administration the goal seems to be to make it more difficult for the Trump administration to honor promises such as moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, or to allow unrestricted housing construction in Judea and Samaria.
These efforts are likely to play out at the Paris Mideast Conference, slated to take place on January 15, five days before Trump takes office.
Preceded by UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on the illegality of the Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem, and by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech, which laid out six principles for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Paris summit could lead to another Security Council resolution that dictates the general contour of a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, before Trump takes office.
A day after the Paris meeting, the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, composed of the foreign ministers of the 28 EU countries, is scheduled to meet in Brussels, and may also issue a statement on the Middle East.
In addition, the principals of the Mideast Quartet – the US, Russia, the EU and UN – may convene for one last meeting with President Barack Obama before he leaves office.
Resolution 2334 combined with a resolution at the Paris summit based on Kerry’s six principles or on some other formula, would be seen as a victory by the Palestinians.
But while the intention of the parties involved in the summit is to advance peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, they will achieve the exact opposite.
Resolutions that declare settlements to be illegal or that do not acknowledge the new security challenges presented by the rise of ISIS and the breakup of Iraq and Syria or the dangers of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank will make it even more difficult for the sides to return to the negotiating table.
If the Paris summit demands a settlement freeze or recognizes a Palestinian state along the 1949 armistice lines, the Palestinians will not agree to anything less. A similar move by the US at the outset of Obama’s first term was a similar mistake that has stymied talks ever since. Back in 2009, Obama demanded that Israel implement a full construction freeze as a precondition for talks with the Palestinians, including in consensus Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem such as Ramat Shlomo. No US administration had made this demand. Even Yasser Arafat had never demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition for talks. But once the US president had, the Palestinians could demand no less. Ever since, there has been no substantial headway.
In contrast, former US president George W. Bush realized that calling for a full settlement freeze or declaring that all Israeli settlements were illegal were unrealistic and counterproductive demands.
As he wrote in a letter in 2004 that was backed by Congress: “It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final-status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
If the nations participating in the Paris summit make a move similar to the one made by Obama and make Kerry’s principles the starting conditions for renewing negotiations, they will not advance peace talks. They will place additional obstacles in the way of peace.
Central to the success of achieving a negotiated peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is ensuring that all terms of the deal are reached between the two sides – Palestinians and Israelis, and that no terms are dictated by outsiders, no matter how good their intentions may be.
Trump’s election creates new opportunities. Israel’s leaders are willing to take chances for peace when they feel they have the full backing of the US. In contrast, an atmosphere of criticism and coercion as exemplified by the Paris forum is doomed to fail.
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