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Netanyahu, Lieberman deal meant to derail French plan

If the French are serious about their peace effort, they must not allow yet another conference without teeth

Daoud Kuttab

Published: Updated:

If the French diplomatic machine had a hard time scheduling a conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry, it will soon find out that its effort to arrange an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be that much harder. In a three-day spat, a behind-the-scenes effort by Kerry and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to move the Israeli government toward peace backfired.

The plan included Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog joining the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give it more muscle against right-wing settler ideologues. To make it more acceptable, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, one of the more popular Arab figures in Israel today, gave a pro-peace speech and said he was willing to help. Netanyahu and Herzog were supposed to head to Cairo to meet with Sisi.

However, instead of adding 25 members to his one-seat parliamentary majority, the prime minister offered the Defense Ministry to settler Avigdor Lieberman, whose right-wing Jewish Home party only won six seats in last year’s elections. This turn of events produced many reactions in Israel, including in the army, but the biggest potential loser in this cabinet reshuffle will be the French plan to hold an international conference.

Israel is skeptical about the multilateral event, preferring to keep control of peace talks bilaterally. Palestinians, who have tired of 20 years of direct talks that produce nothing but photo opportunities, have for some time vowed to shun a process that gives Israel a PR badge without producing any results.

The sudden Israeli cabinet shift further to the right has not lessened French enthusiasm. A revisit to Kerry’s schedule produced a window on June 3, and the preparatory meeting is back on, irrespective of the changes in Israel’s government. Israel and the Palestinians are not invited to the meeting, which aims to consolidate the will of the international community.

Political will

The problem is that while there is general agreement on what needs to happen and the framework of a solution to the conflict, there is an absence of political will and muscle needed to force Israel to take the peace process seriously.

What made the Iran nuclear deal possible was tough sanctions by the international community. Nothing of the sort is on the table regarding Israel. In fact, the international community - including France - is fighting tooth and nail against attempts by their own citizens to divest from companies that deal with Israel and help perpetuate its occupation and settlements regime.

If the French are serious about their peace effort, they must not allow yet another conference without teeth

Daoud Kuttab

Boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) are what caused South Africa to end its apartheid system, but the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe are violating freedom of expression by trying to criminalize BDS efforts against Israel.

The absurdity of this position was best exposed in a Twitter exchange between Palestinian-American Ali Abu Nimeh and an EU official opposed to BDS. The exchange ended with a logical question to the official: What form of resistance to the occupation will be accepted by the international community?

If the French are serious about their peace effort, they must not allow yet another conference without teeth. Former French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabious had said if Israel balked at peace, France would recognize Palestine. However, that statement was retracted by his successor Jean-Marc Ayrault.

It will take much more than a shy, hesitant threat of recognizing Palestine to make the forthcoming peace conference work. Paris needs to understand that if occupation and settlements are illegal under international law, their perpetuation must have consequences. Until and unless Israel has to pay a price for its actions, there is no chance for any process to bring about true peace in the Middle East.

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Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.

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