Foreign ministers from 26 countries, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will gather in Paris Friday to participate in a French-led peace initiative aimed at reviving the long-stalled Israel-Palestine peace process. However, given that the Israeli government has rejected the meeting and the U.S. has refused to table specific proposals, many believe that the talks are doomed to fail.
“If the countries gathering this week in Paris really want to advance peace, they must join my call to [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] to enter into direct negotiations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday. “The path to peace does not pass though international committees that are trying to coerce an agreement, radicalize Palestinian demands and in doing so, distance peace.”
Dore Gold, the director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, even likened the Paris process to the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement — which led the Middle East being carved up by British and French colonial powers.
“A century ago, Sykes and Picot tried to dictate a new order in the Middle East,” Gold said. “That was at the high point of colonialism in our region. It failed then and it will fail today as well.”
Despite several rounds of international talks since the 1990s, Israel and Palestine have remained divided over several key issues, including the status of East Jerusalem — which Palestine claims as the capital of its future state — the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The occupied territories in the West Bank have been under Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967, in direct contravention of the United Nations resolutions 242 and 446, which call for the withdrawal of the Israeli military from the region and an end to expansion of Jewish settlements.
According to an estimate by the Israeli nonprofit Peace Now, in 2015, construction of 1,800 housing units, including nearly 1,550 permanent structures, began in West Bank settlements. Of these, at least 32 houses were built on private Palestinian land.
Israel, on the other hand, has expressed its reluctance to participate in any negotiations that include Hamas — the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
Although specific details of the directions the Paris talks would take have not yet been revealed, reports suggest that the discussions may focus on the 2002 Saudi peace initiative — one that even Netanyahu has said contains “positive elements.”
“[Netanyahu] is trying to go around the French initiative to try to create a competing initiative to it,” Nabil Shaath, a senior aide to the Palestinian Authority president, told the Wall Street Journal. “The French initiative is the only game in town now.”
The talks may also build further pressure on Israel to cease its settlement expansion activities in the West Bank, which even the U.S. — Israel’s closest ally — has denounced as “illegitimate.”
“[Kerry] looks forward to discussing all manner of options and alternatives that might come up on Friday. I’m not going to get ahead of the agenda of what specifically is going to be discussed; it’s a French-led meeting. And I certainly wouldn’t preview here any specific notions that the Secretary may or may not put forward on Friday,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing Wednesday. “But it is something he’s very keenly interested in, has remained so, will remain so for the whole time that he’s Secretary of State.”