Contrary to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion, the forthcoming Middle East peace conference, scheduled to be held in Paris on January 15 under the auspices of France, is neither “rigged” nor “a last gasp of the past.”
The conference, expected to be attended by the representatives of 72 countries, including the major powers, will reaffirm the international community’s commitment to the two-state solution, the only realistic and viable method of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict in a fair and equitable fashion.
Although Netanyahu professes to be in favor of such an outcome, he is not sending a representative to the conference, claiming it will be slanted against Israel and push the prospect of peace backwards.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman has adopted a similar argument, having incorrectly branded the conference as “a tribunal against the State of Israel” and compared it to the infamous Dreyfus affair.
Netanyahu and Liberman have both expressed fears that resolutions flowing from the conference may well be adopted by the United Nations Security Council, which last month passed a justifiable resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
It’s debatable whether the UN will adopt a similar resolution so soon after the passage of resolution 2334 on December 23. As Israel well knows, there is a global consensus that these settlements, some built deep inside the West Bank to break up the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state, pose a formidable obstacle to peace.
The Israeli government also contends that peace can only be achieved by direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Hence, the logic goes, the conference in Paris in superfluous and a waste of time.
As French President Francois Hollande has correctly acknowledged, only Israel and Palestinians can ultimately negotiate the terms of a peace agreement. But because the peace process ground to a screeching halt in the spring of 2014, following the collapse of U.S.-sponsored negotiations, the international community has an obligation to ensure that the two-state solution is kept alive, even if the odds are extremely daunting.
This is all the more true because Netanyahu’s right-wing government has no sincere interest in reaching a comprehensive accord with the Palestinian Authority, which has welcomed the upcoming conference. Netanyahu prefers the status quo.
Netanyahu pays lip service to the concept of Palestinian statehood, but continues to expand the network of settlements in the West Bank. The key ministers in his cabinet are not so disengenuous. They openly oppose a sovereign Palestinian state Some, like Education Minister Naftali Bennett, have urged Israel to annex Area C — which comprises about 60 percent of the West Bank — and grant the Palestinians a measure of autonomy.
Bennett’s proposal is an absolute non-starter because no self-respecting Palestinian leader would or could ever accept it. The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, is demanding a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, with the possibility of engaging in mutual land swaps with Israel, as suggested by the outgoing Obama administration.
If there is ever to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the two-state solution is still the only peaceful way of translating that concept into reality. Without it, the nearly 50-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank will be entrenched, with all its attendant consequences, including the drift toward a binational state.
Most Israeli Jews want Israel to be a democratic Jewish state. But if Netanyahu stubbornly adheres to the status quo in the West Bank, Israel may yet be transformed into a single state of its Jewish and Arab citizens, an objective espoused by, among others, Iran.
The upcoming peace conference in Paris is designed to head off this scenario, notwithstanding Netanyahu’s cynicism. It’s definitely not “rigged,” as he falsely believes.