Paris conference was simply a farewell party to diplomacy as we know it

Smiles aside, nobody at Sunday's gathering has any idea what the diplomatic landscape will be like next week

January 16, 2017 14:57

If the Paris conference on Sunday is ever mentioned in a history of the diplomatic process between Israel and its neighbours, it will be as a footnote to an end of an era in which the so-called international community agreed on the orthodoxy of the two-state solution being the best - even the only - solution to a century of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The smiles of French President Francois Hollande and the foreign ministers standing around him, cranked out for a photo taken at the end of the eight-hour conference, barely masked the fact that none of them had any idea what the diplomatic landscape would be like next week, with a new president in the White House.

Meanwhile, for the three more recognisable people in the group photo, 2017 certainly will not be a year of Middle East diplomacy. On Friday, US State Secretary John Kerry will be out of a job. In June, Mr Hollande will be stepping down after only one, rather inglorious term in the Elysse Palace. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini may keep her job, but her focus will be on the internal wrangling within Europe, as Britain prepares for Brexit.

Even before the Trump inauguration drowned out any effect the Paris conference may have hoped to have, Britain was already overshadowing events in France.

The double snub delivered by Downing Street, in refusing to send any minister or senior diplomat to attend, and then putting out a statement expressing the UK government’s “particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them”, added insult to diplomatic injury.

Even before the Trump administration takes power, there is a major English-speaking nation with a government expressing a position almost identical to that of Israel.

In Paris, officials were enraged. “What does Theresa May think she’s doing?”, asked one French functionary. “Britain needs our goodwill now more than ever before the Brexit talks. To rub our faces in it like that?”

In Jerusalem, they had a better idea. “Since the Security Council vote where the British delegation was very involved in the resolution against the settlements, Britain has been eager to show its changing course,” explained one diplomat. “There’s no question this is part of the attempt to try and build bridges with the Trump administration.”

In Paris the senior diplomats called on the two sides not to abandon the two-state solution, but whether or not the two states can ever be a reality, their appeal rang hollow because the entire frame of reference is about to change.

Based on his statements until now, Mr Trumps seems to be about to upset the applecart of diplomatic protocol in favour of a more informal and direct policy whereby things get done directly between him and like-minded leaders.

In the new order, he and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deal with each other through their private channels and trusted intermediaries.

Whether or not this means farewell to any realistic talk of a two-state solution remains to be seen, but Paris was certainly the swansong of diplomacy as have known it in modern times.

January 16, 2017 14:57

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