In what should have been an all-out Israel hate-fest with possibly disastrous consequences for the Jewish state, 70 nations gathered in Paris for a “peace” conference on Sunday – but at the end of the day, the results were lackluster and failed to accomplish anything significant against Israel.
The conference in Paris, set forward one year ago by former French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, was expected to have dire repercussions for Israel. Fabius envisioned it as a way of forcing Israel to accept the two-state solution. His original proposal called for France and the other nations at the conference to recognize a Palestinian state inside Israel’s borders if an agreement was not signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The present incarnation of the conference was markedly toned down by the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. At a conference in Paris last June setting the parameters for Sunday’s conference, the threat of recognizing a Palestinian state was removed.
Many feared Sunday’s conference would be an echo of the UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed three weeks ago, declaring Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria, and the Temple Mount to be illegal. But the conference in Paris stopped short of placing the blame entirely on Israel, concluding instead with a plea for direct negotiations. Though the final declaration made reference to the UN resolution 2334, it amended the language of the resolution which declared Israeli settlements to be “illegal”. The Paris conference merely referred to the UN resolution “which clearly condemned settlement activity”. No mention was made of their legal status.
Yuval Rotem, Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, considered the conference to be a victory for behind-the-scenes Israeli diplomacy.
“The fact that the Paris conference has no follow-up is, from our perspective the most meaningful accomplishment,” Rotem told Israel Radio Monday morning. “Even though we did not attend the conference, we succeeded in getting across our position.”
Perhaps the most significant reason for Israel to breathe a sigh of relief was the specific point concerning Jerusalem. The UN resolution referred to East Jerusalem as “Palestinian territory” with Israel’s claim to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall having “no legal validity”. The Paris conference dialled that back considerably, warning against any acts that would “prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem”. This ambiguous statement was also intended as a subtle warning to US President elect Donald Trump, who promised American voters and the Israeli government that he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
The Paris conference also saw at least one major player having a change of heart. Britain, which played a major role in advancing the UN resolution, attended the Paris conference as an observer, choosing not to sign the final statement.
The British government released an official statement to the press, which read:
“We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them – indeed which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis – and which is taking place just days before the transition to a new American President when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement. There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace. That’s why we have attended in an observer status and have not signed up to the communique.”
Indeed, Trump’s impending inauguration loomed over the conference, dulling the anti-Israel edge. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his cabinet meeting on Sunday, ““This conference is among the last twitches of yesterday’s world. Tomorrow’s world will be different — and it is very near.”
With four days left to Obama’s presidency, Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the Paris conference, promised Netanyahu that there would not be any follow-up action to the Paris conference and that Washington would oppose any further political action at the Security Council.
Perhaps the most telling sign that the conference was not as anti-Israel as intended was PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ last-minute decision to cancel his meeting with French President Francois Hollande, scheduled for Sunday. French Authorities announced on Monday that no new date for the meeting has been scheduled.