Over the weekend, representatives of 70 countries and international organizations gathered in Paris to discuss peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Absent were Israelis and Palestinians.
A final statement adopted by participants innocuously promised “to support both sides in advancing the two-state solution through negotiations.” It also called on Israelis and Palestinians “to refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final-status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees, and which they will not recognize.”
The gabfest wound up with no firm plans for future action and with no tangible results save a statement of well wishes for peace and coexistence.
The official absence of the very people whose future the conference was convened to discuss carries echoes of the past. In an earlier age, European powers gathered to redraw the maps of the Middle East, among other places. More recently, in 1938, world powers gathered in Evian to decide what to do about the Jews of Europe (conclusion: nothing).
The French government, which hosted last weekend’s conference, aimed to nudge along the process toward a two-state solution.
“The two-state solution, which the international community has agreed on for many years, appears threatened,” French President François Hollande said. “It is physically threatened on the ground by the acceleration of settlements, it is politically threatened by the progressive weakening of the peace camp, it is morally threatened by the distrust that has accumulated between the parties, and that has certainly been exploited by extremists.”
The futility of the conference – and the incomplete understanding of the issues by the parties involved in it – may have been summed up in Hollande’s litany of what he sees as the barrier to two states.
Certainly settlements are not helpful to advancing an ultimate resolution and are a kind of provocation. But settlements are not irreversible. There can be negotiated land swaps or Israel can hand over settlements to Palestinians, as they did in Gaza. They are an obstacle to peace, but they are not the most grievous.
Likewise, to cite the “progressive weakening of the peace camp” without acknowledging why Israelis who have believed in peace are abandoning hope dismisses Israelis’ legitimate reasons for losing faith in a negotiated peace. Certainly there has been a recent emboldening of extremists on both sides, as compromise has seemed to float further from reach. Yet the “peace camp” Hollande referenced is an Israeli entity. Weakened though it may be, it is eminently stronger than any equivalent on the Palestinian side, where signs of compromise with the Zionist entity invite accusations of collaboration. Ordinary Palestinians who want to live in peace, too, are left feeling little hope, with their governments and extremist clergy inciting the elimination of Israel on one side and a right-wing Israeli government that has done little towards reconciliation on the other.
A solution, or set of solutions, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex and, at this point, hard to imagine. But, inasmuch as there is hope for one, it must come from Israelis and Palestinians. International diplomats and do-gooders can hold all the confabs they want, but all such gatherings are a pointless waste of time.