The French are flexing their diplomatic muscles.

 
The picture is not as encouraging as those advertisements I remember from years ago, showing Charles Atlas, and promising a body like his for a reasonable payment.
 
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It's far from clear what the French are expecting. Al-Jazeera is as complete as any of the media reporting plans for Paris on June 3.


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"The ministerial-level talks will host the Middle East Quartet, which includes the US, Russia, the EU and the UN, as well as the Arab League, the UN Security Council and about 20 countries, without Israeli or Palestinian participation.
The French hope that beginning with non-direct talks could help ease the way for an agreement later."


Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected the idea, offering direct talks with Mahmoud Abbas, saying that they'd be without preconditions, but saying that Palestinians would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish State and accept a Palestine that was demilitarized.
 
Perhaps that means nothing more than a police force, without weapons that could harm Israel.


Abbas has endorsed the French initiative. He reiterates that he will not recognize Israel as a Jewish State, calls for a NATO contingent in the West Bank to protect Palestinians from Israel, demands a just and fair and agreed upon solution for Palestinian refugees. minor land swaps of equitable value, and a timeline for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He is also quoting Israelis who are opposing the rightward extremism of the Netanyahu government, including a media personality, who usually sounds like a hawk when commenting on military affairs, but who recently joined the anti-Bibi crowd by saying that he's not sure that he wants his children to remain in Israel.


John Kerry will attend the Paris conference, but with less than enthusiastic optimism.


“It is not inappropriate for countries, all of whom actually care about both parties, and care about peace, to want to try to come together in an effort to find a pathway that would be helpful . . . In the end, the parties have to negotiate. You can’t impose it on people. What we are seeking to do is encourage the parties to be able to see a way forward so they understand peace is a possibility.”

Washington Post analysis indicates that not all is copacetic between the folks scheduled to meet in Paris. 


"Kerry’s remarks (about attending the Paris conference) came at the annual NATO spring meeting of foreign ministers, who over two days (were) discussing a series of security threats, from Russia in the east to strife on its southern flank, where wars and failing economies are propelling new waves of migrants across the Mediterranean.


The perils were underscored by speculation that the disappearance of an EgyptAir flight over the Mediterranean . . .  may have been caused by an act of terrorism. Kerry said the facts have not come in yet and declined to discuss it further. He offered his condolences to the families of the 66 people aboard the Cairo-bound airplane, most of whom were Egyptian and French."


It's not clear if Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will be at the Paris conference. He's produced his own idea for Palestinians and Israelis, in the form of bringing Abbas and Netanyahu to Cairo to begin talks. He has been less than friendly to the Palestinians of Gaza, keeping a tighter closure than Israel keeps on its border with Gaza, and seeing Hamas as involved with Islamic extremists against his own troops.

Are the French getting ready for serious politics or musical comedy?


If the French expect to be a major player, they have toned down their expectations. They are not about to settle the dispute between Israel and Palestine, but somehow  "ease the way" for an agreement between parties who will not be at the Paris conference.


Neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli leadership seem inclined to move toward anything more than a continuation of pragmatic accommodations alongside political nastiness.


The ostensible President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, has stayed in power since the end of his term in January 2009. Public opinion polls show him with less than majority support in the West Bank, and he is persona non grata in Gaza. One of the Palestinians often mentioned as a success is Mawran Barghouti, serving several life sentences for murder in an Israeli prison. Another is Mohammed Dahlan, once the head of the Palestinian security in Gaza, but booted out in fighting that occurred in 2007, and subsequently booted out of the West Bank after protracted conflicts with Abbas, including Abbas' accusing him of murdering Yasser Arafat. For some years now, Dahlan has been active in Palestinian politics from his refuge in Abu Dhabi.


Given the comparatively orderly government of Israel, Benyamin Netanyahu can speak with more authority than Mahmoud Abbas. However, Netanyahu's position has also been shaky, but in a democratic-parliamentary framework where colleagues in his coalition, including some in his own party, have been saying that it's time for him to retire.


Also on Bibi's plate is a recommendation of the Israel Police to the prosecutor that he begin criminal charges against Sara Netanyahu. Among other things, she is said to have dipped her hands into government money for personal expenses.


Along with the doubtful futures of both national leaders, there are those 180 degrees of difference between their initial postures should negotiations actually begin.


Bargaining usually starts with a face off of contrasts, but these characters are digging in heels in about the same ways that Israelis and Palestinians have been doing since the 1930s, with a lengthening list of outsiders thinking that they might bring them together.


Currently, other parts of the Middle East are burning and sending millions of refugees toward Paris and other parts of Europe, which is reinforcing both Palestinian and Israeli resistance to making any major concessions.


I don't know how to express my pessimism about the Paris Conference in French.


Maybe someone out there will help, and send a message to someone who might read it.


Comments welcome

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Irashark@gmail.com 
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

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