France's peace process threats will fade to black

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 4, 2016
Francois Hollande

Francois Hollande

Two competing narratives are now circulating in Jerusalem to explain the latest French plan to hold an international conference on the "viability" of the two-state solution and, in the absence of a diplomatic process, to unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state.

The narrative emanating from circles close to the Prime Minister's Office is that this is simply a last-gasp attempt by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to make his mark on the history books before he resigns, which he is widely expected to do soon.

According to this version, Mr Fabius is acting on his own accord and Israel will easily be able to fob him off.

The other narrative, coming from "diplomatic" circles, is that this is a serious initiative that has the backing of President Francois Hollande and other governments around the world. In this reading, the French are utilising the momentum created by the settlement products labelling guidelines, issued by the European Union two months ago, and are banking on American support.

For those who subscribe to this view, it was no coincidence that the US administration last week reissued its own long-standing regulations against labelling West Bank produce as "made in Israel".

The truth is likely to be somewhere in between. Mr Netanyahu - whose aides were quick to reject Mr Fabius's initiative, suggesting sardonically that he "should arrange an international conference with Daesh" - is certainly worried that it may be serious, and is anxious to nip it in the bud.

Past experience, however, suggests he has little to be concerned about. It took the Europeans over seven years to issue the labelling guidelines - former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was the original moving force behind them.

Mr Fabius suggested an international conference in late 2014, and nothing happened. Last year, he also tried to push through a United Nations Security Council resolution to set a timetable for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and that also came to nought. In all likelihood, he will soon join the respectable ranks of former statesmen who failed to bring peace to the Middle East.

Solving the Israel-Palestine conflict remains a diplomatic holy grail but the blunt truth is that, as the US enters what promises to be its most bizarre election season ever and Europe facing simultaneous crises - the Daesh terror threat, the refugee explosion and the Brexit referendum - the appetite for engaging with the stagnant peace process has never been at a lower ebb.

Even if France follows in Sweden's footsteps and recognises a non-existent Palestinian state, the move will have no effect on the ground. The fragile situation between Israelis and Palestinians remains critical but whether it calms down or explodes will almost certainly be down to local factors and not external pressure.

Last updated: 5:29pm, February 4 2016