January 24, 2017

Middle East Conference in Paris

Oleksiy Volovych

January 15, 2017, at France's initiative, there was an International Conference on the Middle East, attended by representatives of nearly 70 countries and international organizations. It should be noted that the first round of the Conference took place June 3, 2016, and was attended by representatives of 28 countries and organizations. The Conference in Paris was held with taking into consideration and developing the decisions and recommendations of the Declaration of the “Middle East Quartet” (UN, EU, USA and Russia) of 24 September 2016, as well as of UN Security Council's Resolution 2334 of December 23, 2016.


The Course of the Conference

Participants of the Conference

Participants of the Conference

This event was attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, for whom the visit to Paris was the last in that post. It was also attended by Foreign Ministers of the leading countries of the world, Ambassadors of all the countries of the Arab League, “Big Twenty” and the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The European Union was represented at the Conference by High Commissioner for Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini, Russia — by the RF Ambassador in Paris Alexandr Orlov.

Opening the Conference, French President Francois Hollande said that “the Middle East will not be able to regain stability without negotiating on the oldest of all existing conflicts, as it continues to serve as a pretext for criminal forces that attract to their side misguided minds”. F. Hollande claimed that “cynicism and skepticism about the peace process, intensifies extremism”, stressing that the initiative put forward by his country, does not impose any decisions. F. Hollande had said earlier: the transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem as promised by US President Donald Trump, “is a provocation that will have disastrous consequences”.

Жан-Марк Еро

Jean-Marc Ayrault

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that the Conference was going to inspire the resumption of the process of settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to declare that the coexistence of the two states is the only possible solution to this conflict. Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been suspended since April, 2014. Since the autumn of 2015, there is another escalation of tension in the conflict zone, which has killed about 250 Palestinians and 40 Israelites.

The Paris Conference was held on the eve of the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump in order to make him hear the collective international call in his future Middle East policy to stick to the existing international principles of settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As you know, in the course of his election campaign D. Trump showed great sympathy for Israel. In particular, he urged the administration of President Barack Obama to block the UN Security Council's Resolution 2334, which demands from Israel to stop settlement activities and promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to participate in the Paris Conference, believing that the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can only be found in the course of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and not “imposed by the international community”. Although representatives of the Palestinian Authority were not invited to the forum in Paris, they supported the French initiative.


The Final Communiqué

In the final communiqué of the Conference, adopted after fierce discussions, with great difficulty was reached a compromise, based on the recommendations of the “Middle East Quartet” and on the UN Security Council's Resolution 2334 of December 23, 2016. The final communiqué of the participants of the Conference on the Middle East, calls on Israel not to take unilateral actions which may adversely affect the key issues: the status of Jerusalem, the problem of refugees, establishment of territorial borders and security issues.

Jean-Marc Ayrault and John Kerry

Jean-Marc Ayrault and John Kerry

The final statement of the participants of the Conference calls on Israel and the Palestinian Authority “to officially confirm commitment to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the principle of “two states for two peoples”. The document also establishes that the international community “does not recognize the changes in the pre-1967 borders of Israel without the consent of both the parties” . The Conference confirmed disregard to Israel's settlement activities in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault expressed hope that the Palestinians and the Israelites “will use the helping hand, we reached out to them”. According to this document, before the end of 2017 another conference will be held with the same agenda.

British diplomats did not sign the Final Communiqué of the participants of the Conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The United Kingdom at the Conference had an “observer status”. The representative of the British Foreign Office criticized the meeting taking place in the absence of both parties to the conflict and just a few days before the inauguration of the new American President D. Trump, “while the United States will be the most important guarantor of any agreement”. Under such circumstances there is a risk that the Paris Conference would only lead to “hardening of positions” of both the parties — reads the statement by the Foreign Ministry of Great Britain.


Benjamin Netanyahu and His Associates' Reaction

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

Opening January 15, a weekly government meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “The Conference in Paris is an empty idea, invented by the French and Palestinians to try to impose on Israel the conditions that are incompatible with our national interests”. He said, “the Conference postpones peace, reinforcing the intransigence of Palestinian positions and diverting the Palestinians from direct negotiations without preconditions”.

On the eve of the Conference in Paris, the second person in the Israeli government, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on French Jews to move to Israel in connection with France's “anti-Israeli” policy. According to him, the Conference in Paris on the Middle East, “cannot resolve any problems, it is a real tribunal against the State of Israel”. According to A. Lieberman, in Paris “was actually being prepared a modern Dreyfus trial, only now in the dock instead of a single Jew there will be all the people of Israel”. There is no doubt that these statements by A. Lieberman had been agreed with Prime Minister B. Netanyahu.

Avigdor Lieberman

Avigdor Lieberman

In this regard, it is appropriate to recall that June 30, 2009, French President N. Sarkozy, demanded from Israeli Prime Minister B. Netanyahu to remove A. Lieberman from the post of the Israeli Foreign Minister, referring to his radical and uncompromising stance toward the Palestinians. This Sarkozy's demand was seen by the Israeli government as interfering with Israel's internal affairs. With a small break in 2013, A. Lieberman continued to hold the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs until May 2015, and in May 2016 B. Netanyahu appointed his longtime ally and “V. Putin's friend” to the post of Defense Minister, who in Israel is considered the second most important post after the post of Prime Minister.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called the Middle East Conference in Paris “an attempt to seize the initiative at the time of the change of power in Washington”. According to D. Danon, this Conference is “encouraging Palestinian terrorism and M. Abbas' administration's refusal to negotiate directly with Israel”.


These Days in Moscow...

It should be noted that on those very days (15-17 January 2017) in Moscow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with participation of its Director, Professor-Orientalist Vitaliy Naumkin, (who taught the author of these lines the Arabic language at VIIYa /Military Institute of Foreign Languages/ in Moscow at the end of the 1960s), were held informal inter-Palestinian negotiations on the restoration of national unity.

January 16, Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov and the Russian President's Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa M. Bogdanov met with the leaders of nine Palestinian movements and parties, half of which in Israel, the USA and some EU countries are considered to be terrorist ones. Russia does not consider any of these organizations terrorist. The previous similar meeting was held in Moscow in May 2011. Speaking at the opening of the meeting, S. Lavrov said that “Moscow sees the united Palestine as an independent state that lives in peace and security side by side with all its neighbors”. Tel Aviv says that the union of Hamas with moderate Palestinian parties and movements will lead to their radicalization and Islamization that will pose a threat to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process on the peaceful settlement of the conflict.

On the eve of the Conference, the leader of the PNA, 83-year-old Mahmoud Abbas said that if the US Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Palestinians could return to the revision of the question of the recognition of Israel, and as a result — “the United States will lose legitimacy as a mediator in the settlement of the conflict, and the possibility of the coexistence of the two states will be reduced to zero”. According to some sources, M. Abbas asked President V. Putin to persuade US President D. Trump not to transfer the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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Another Middle East Conference held in Paris on January 15, 2017, was unprecedented in its composition. However, the impressive representation of the Conference was levelled by the absence of representatives of the parties to the conflict — the leaders of Israel and Palestine, for the sake of mutual understanding and compromise between which this Conference, actually was held. The final document re-affirmed the known positions and calls, repeatedly declared in such documents and resolutions over the past 50 years. However, this document does not contain a definition of the specific instruments for settlement of the chronic Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Israeli officials and political analysts, citing various international documents and legal acts, are trying to prove that Israel has an inherent right to the territory of Judea and Samaria (West Bank), the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. In their opinion, the demand of the international community to Israel is a political recommendation and political position, but not the legal basis. In this context they cite the decision of the Appeal Court of Versailles of 13 March 2013, which allegedly stated that it is impossible to legally justify the statement that Israel occupied the Palestinian territories and illegally settled there its citizens, if those territories formerly belonged to the illegal occupier — Jordan, while the Palestinian State had never existed before. On this basis, the Court of Appeal in Versailles recognized Israel's settlements in the West Bank as legitimate, and the Palestinian claim — as groundless.

The explanation of the Court of Appeal also states that all the international instruments referred to by the Palestinians, are signed between the States and the obligations or prohibitions which they contain, are addressed to those States. Since neither the Palestinian Administration, nor the Palestine Liberation Organization are states, none of these acts is applicable to them.

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu

Lately, the Israeli government has been relying on the new US administration of President D. Trump, known for his statements in support of Israel's demands. We think the policy of the US administration of President D. Trump in regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be largely revised and adjusted in terms of enhancing support for Israel. This, in particular, is seen in the first statements by Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, who, on D. Trump's recommendation, on January 24 was approved by the Senate as US Ambassador to the UN. In particular, N. Haley stated that “the United Nations' failure has never been more consistent and more outrageous than the prejudice against our closest ally — Israel”. According to some reports, representatives of the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria were present at D. Trump's inauguration, which had never happened before. So far there is no official information on Palestinians' presence at that event.

Defending Israel's right to the West Bank, Israeli lawyers refer to the UN Security Council's Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, which stated that Israel had to withdraw from the territories, but not “all, but only from some”. At this, it is pointed out that the boundaries of the cease-fire of 1949, achieved as a result of the agreements between Israel and its neighbors — are not ratified borders. It is also argued that the term “military occupation” cannot refer to Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria, as for Israel these territories are not “territories of some other State”, taking into consideration that Jordan had no legal rights to these territories. Israeli lawyers reinforce their arguments by referring to the Oslo Agreement of 1993 and the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 1995, which did not prohibit the construction of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, leaving the matter to the participants in the negotiations on the final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned, it seems unlikely that it would be possible to achieve a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the format “two states for two peoples” in the nearest future. The implementation of such a settlement format is possible only if the political forces that will come to power in Israel will support this format. But this also seems unlikely and almost impossible.