In a few weeks, a Middle East peace conference will take place under the auspices of the French government. This conference will host the so-called Middle East quartet and will include the U.S., Russia, European Union, United Nations, Arab League, U.N. Security Council, and 20 more countries. The Israelis and Palestinians will not be part of the conference.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) did give full support to the conference but not because it would advance a Palestinian state or because it wants a peace agreement with Israel. The PA logically believes that an international conference will apply pressure on Israel and will exempt the Palestinians from responsibility. Israel opposes the conference for the very same reason.
As Richard Schifter, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, has pointed out, the French Foreign Ministry has, for a number of decades, pursued the policy of reducing U.S. influence in world affairs — particularly in the Middle East. Subjugating Israel is a way of achieving this goal.
Thus, the French initiative originally proposed a peace process aimed at creating a two state solution. However, if this goal is not met, France would unilaterally call for the creation of a Palestinian state without Israel’s consent. Of course, what the French proposed was a formula whereby the PA leadership simply needed to keep the international community at bay until the time came to demand that France fulfill its promise of handing over a Palestinian state.
Furthermore, France threatened Israel with a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state should Israel not accept its proposal.
France also supported a resolution at the United Nations Scientific Educational and Cultural organization (UNESCO) that denied the Jewish connection to the Western wall.
That did not add to France’s credibility. However, recently President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed public regret for the UNESCO vote but that was possibly done in effort to gain American and Israeli acceptance of France’s peace initiative.
However, the most important part of this is that Egypt enthusiastically accepted the idea of securing a peace treaty with Israel that would ensure Palestinian national aspirations and security for Israel.
It was that attitude by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and not the French initiative per se, that caused a positive reaction by Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Egyptian position is important because Egypt for decades has maintained a cold peace with Israel for decades; it refused to persuade the Palestinians to compromise with Israel out of fear that peace could make Israel a hegemonic power in the region.
However, since taking over the reins of power in 2013 el Sissi has been vocal in fighting radical Islam and neutralized the power of Hamas in Gaza (something not even Hosni Mubarak was willing to do).
If el-Sisi’s attitude means that Egypt could help neutralize the power of Hamas and is willing to actively promote peace between Israel, and the rest of the Arab world, this would be more significant than anything a country with limited leverage and legitimacy, such as France, would be able to accomplish.
Furthermore, Egypt could be more effective than Saudi Arabia, itself a frightened and inept monarchy that survives by paying off incubators of terrorism, and by promoting and financing anti-Israel propaganda.
Regardless of what the French leadership claims, France would ultimately try to generate international pressure on Israel in order to extract concessions. This concept is simplistic and does not stand any empirical test. However, a change of attitude by Egypt towards Israel, and the actual acceptance of Israel in the region, could be a meaningful step.
To be sure, peace with the Palestinians cannot be guaranteed by the Palestinians themselves. The Palestinian leadership is no more than a kleptocracy, unable to make courageous decisions out of fear of Hamas and of a Palestinian society that deeply despises them. Peace will come when Palestinians who oppose peace are effectively neutralized and when the Palestinians and the Arab world give up the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to become Israeli citizens.
If Egypt and countries such as Jordan (who two decades ago enthusiastically embraced the peace agreement with Israel) work together with Israel, practical solutions may emerge.
Although nothing can be guaranteed, good intentions, which do not abound in the Middle East, are a good start.
Luis Fleischman has worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America. He is the author of "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Threat to U.S. Security." Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Florida Atlantic University Honors College and FAU Lifelong Learning Society. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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