At first thought, the French proposal to convene a peace conference between Israel and the Palestine Authority, with a commitment to recognize a Palestinian State no matter what, sounds like an awesome threat. France is something to think about. It's not a Muslim country like those that long ago recognized Palestine. Those who fear the world being against us have reason to consider this latest act.
However, Israel is not one of those pompous but impotent countries of the Third World that must accept what the greater worthies of the world dictate.
There is a long list of countries that already recognize a Palestinian State in one form or another, going back to 1988 when Yassir Arafat declared Palestine's independence while at a conference in Algeria.
Not much has happened since then, and one can guess that a Palestine recognized by great powers won't be much more than it is now.
Recognition by France and other countries will involve upping the status of Palestinian representatives in overseas capitals to that of Ambassadors. Aside from being rosier patronage that the purported leader of Palestine can pass out to friends and relatives, that won't amount to much. Recognition may not define the borders of the Palestinian state, but come with reference to the lines of 1967, with details to be negotiated.
The act, and its acceptance by Palestine, will also give Israel reason to exercise a range of pressures to remind the Palestinians how they must behave. Control of borders, electricity, and water provide considerable ways for Israel to keep Palestine in line, even without the use of military force.
Last week a member of the Palestinian security services went bad, shot and wounded three Israeli security personnel before he was killed at the crossing from Ramallah. A few days later, Israeli personnel closed off all entrances to the capital city of Palestine for the better part of a working day, and went house to house in a neighboring village seizing weapons and individuals for questioning. Now officials are planning to destroy the family home of the Palestinian police officer.
Israelis are playing a tough game, while seeking to avoid excessive force. Neither the Palestinians nor the French should expect a free lunch.
There will also be Israelis and some French (Jews and others) who apply contrary pressures against the French government. And Muslims may spoil the scenario. France declared months ago that it would move in the United Nations to promote the status of Palestine, but backed off when Islamic fighters killed more than 100 people in Paris, less than a year after other attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Kosher Market. Something similar can happen again, either in France or somewhere else to make the French think further.
Hamas has indicated that it will not accept a French invitation to sit alongside Fatah and Israel. That can also lead the French to reconsider the kind of Palestine they are promising to recognize.
No doubt that Palestine is on the world's agenda, whatever that means.
It is far from a clear picture. Wikipedia has a page that summarizes the postures of various countries.
"Postures" rather than "actions" is the operative word. It is not only difficult to summarize how a bloc of significant countries, such as those of western Europe, deal with Palestine. It is also difficult to say what existing degrees of recognition mean for any one of them. Overall, they appear to be a lot closer to symbolic gestures than to concrete actions of importance.
Those who see awesome pressure mounting on Israel cite the French statement alongside actions of the European Union and more recently the United States to insist on the marking of products from the West Bank as such.
It's too early to know the impact of these actions on Israeli firms or their Palestinian employees. One hears that some factories have relocated inside the 1967 lines, and about others considering locations in Jordan or some other low-cost place with a surplus of underemployed labor. Given the unequal opportunities of investors and workers, we can guess that Palestinians will suffer more than Israelis from whatever comes from efforts to mark or boycott Israeli products.
Also bubbling are actions on the Jewish front, especially from mostly non-Orthodox Jewish women not heavily represented in Israel, and against Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews well represented in the Knesset.
Women of the Wall pretty much sums it up. The organization has been active for two decades demanding rights to pray as they wish at the Western Wall.
Now a proposal worked on for some time by the Jewish Agency, having close connections with overseas Jews, has been approved by the government. It involves the expansion of the Western Wall to include a separate portion for non-Orthodox men and women to pray together. No surprise that this has brought forth opposition ultra-Orthodox and some Orthodox ministers in the government, who see it as threatening what they see as the essence of Judaism.
Ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox members voted against the proposal in the government, but so far have not mounted a serious campaign against it. One commentator who follows the religious communities sees this as conceding the greater power of the government, and its capacity to weigh the interests of all congregations. He summed up his view with the statement that "the ultra-Orthodox need the government more than the government needs the ultra-Orthodox."
Others are not so sanguine, especially before anything is actually implemented.
The details are hardly more precise or final than what France or any other significant country will do with respect to Palestine. Still to be ironed out are the nature of a separation between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox portions of the Wall, the actions of Orthodox Rabbis who administer what will still be the major and Orthodox portion of the Wall, and will have some role in implementing the reform, and whether all factions of Women of the Wall accept its details..
Israeli archaeologists claim that the project would destroy priceless remnants of Judaic history, and threaten a suit in the Supreme Court.
Yet to be heard from are Palestinians and their friends, who usually see anything in the area as threatening al Aqsa.
So far, the Internet gambling sites that feature betting on US presidential elections and primaries, other national elections, and a host of other political issues have not posted the odds on actions by France, Palestine, Israel, Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, and Israeli archaeologists.
Perhaps Jewish money isn't all that pervasive and powerful.Comments welcome
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem