Saturday, January 14, 2017

Washington Post: In Paris, the world will try one more time to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Poor, belittled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pulled off a remarkable feat.

On Sunday, top diplomats from as many as 70 nations are gathering in Paris to show their support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Abbas hasn’t won his people a sovereign nation. Not even close.

But with all the challenges facing the world, the international community has accepted the invitation of French President Fran├žois Hollande to come together again and urge Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hammer out a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict.

Abbas and his little proto-state of Palestine, with its population split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, have muscled their way back onto the world stage for at least one more encore.

The Israelis are howling in protest.

Just days before he is to be replaced as secretary of state, John F. Kerry will spend his last hours in office in Paris negotiating a consensus document on how Israelis and Palestinians can live as two peoples, side by side, in peace and security.

This, even after Kerry spent nine months of his tenure shuttling between Jerusalem, Ramallah and Arab capitals in a failed attempt to strike a final peace accord.

And less than a week after Sunday’s Paris conference, the Palestinian leader will face a new American president who has expressed nothing but support for Israel and nominated an ambassador who has been openly hostile to the Palestinian cause.

[Israel says there’s never been a more right-wing U.S. ambassador than Trump’s pick]

The Israeli government will boycott the Paris conference, and its leaders have expressed disdain for the effort and for Abbas.

“It’s a rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians, under French auspices, to adopt additional anti-Israel stances,” Netanyahu said Thursday.

Signaling his exasperation with the Obama administration, the prime minister called the French initiative “a relic of the past. It’s a last gasp of the past before the future sets in.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the Paris conference “is like a wedding with neither bride nor groom.” She said the Palestinians don’t really want peace. They “venerate death and destruction,” she told foreign reporters Wednesday.

Hotovely stressed that “the conference won’t bring peace. On the contrary, it will distance peace. Israel achieved peace with Egypt and Jordan through direct talks.”

Netanyahu has often boasted that he is prepared to meet with Abbas “anywhere, anytime” to talk peace “without preconditions.”

But the Israeli leader reportedly turned down a French invitation to travel to Paris after the conference to discuss its conclusions.

Abbas has accepted Hollande’s invite and will go to Paris later this month.

On Saturday, Abbas will meet the pope in Rome. The Vatican has not only recognized the “State of Palestine” but has agreed to allow the Palestinians to open an embassy at the Holy See.

If history is any guide, there is no reason to think that the Paris conference will move Israelis and Palestinians closer to a final peace. Similar efforts over the past 25 years have failed.

Hollande, who is also on the way out of office in May, told his diplomatic corps that the objective of the conference was to reaffirm the support of the international community for a two-state solution that is withering “on the ground and in the minds,” according to a Reuters report.

An early draft of a resolution sought in Paris, and obtained by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, calls for both sides “to take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground and to start meaningful, direct negotiations.”

“I am realistic about what this conference can achieve,” Hollande said. “Peace will only be done by the Israelis and Palestinians and by nobody else. Only bilateral negotiations can succeed.”

Still, in the waning days of President Obama’s term, Abbas and the Palestinians have been on a roll.

In a surprise move, the United Nations Security Council last month passed a resolution demanding that Israel cease Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank. The Obama administration abstained rather than using its veto as it has reliably done in past votes.

A few days later, Kerry harshly criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying their growth threatens to destroy the viability of a future Palestinian state. In his 70-minute speech, Kerry called the current Israeli government the most right-wing in the country’s history and said it is driven by an extremist settler agenda inimical to a two-state agreement.

Abbas remains unpopular at home. He has failed to give his people a state and many are tired of his leadership and those of his aged comrades. Recent polls showed that two-thirds of Palestinians think he should resign.

But with elections repeatedly delayed, there are few obvious alternatives. Abbas tightened his grip on power in December at his Fatah Party’s congress, where he and his allies purged rivals and reasserted control.

The message: The 81-year-old Abbas is not going anywhere.

Grant Rumley, who is writing a biography of the Palestinian leader, said “The Paris conference is a victory for Abbas.”

“Any move on the conflict where the international community — rather than the United States — is the primary arbiter is a net positive for him, even if it means aggravating his relationship with the incoming administration,” Rumley said.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official and former peace negotiator, agreed that it was remarkable that the Palestinian cause was again drawing world attention.

But Shtayyeh said the Palestinian leadership worried what the Trump administration would bring.

“All indications are negative,” he said.

Two hours before Kerry spoke last month and blamed Jerusalem, in part, for the absence of a peace deal, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted, “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

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