Message of peace

Wednesday, 2017-01-18 10:56:30
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French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault addressing the Paris conference on January 15.
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NDO—A conference on peace in the Middle East took place on January 15 in Paris with the attendance of diplomats from over 70 countries, igniting international efforts seeking to terminate the prolonged conflict between Israel and Palestine. As the international community was concerned about the possible outbreak of a new spell of violence in the Middle East, the conference issued a joint statement in favour of a peaceful solution to the problems between the two states, claiming it was the only way to bring peace to the region.

Since the initiative under the United States’ patronage fell apart in April 2014, negotiations between Israel and Palestine aiming to salvage peace for the Middle East have stagnated, pushing the efforts to work towards a two-state solution to a standstill. The previous Paris conference in June 2016 issued a declaration calling on Palestine and Israel to demonstrate their real commitments for a two-state solution aiming to rebuild trust between the two sides. However, few developments have been recorded so far. Therefore, despite the limited hopes that the recent conference could bring the two sides of the conflict to the negotiating table, it is considered an opportunity for both Israel and Palestine to clearly demonstrate their commitment to a two-state solution and avoid unilateral action to adversely affect negotiations.

Taking place in the context of Israel’s severe opposition to the conference and US President-elect Donald Trump’s commitment to favouring a pro-Israel policy, the Paris conference is said to have sent a strong message to the US President-elect and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a two-state solution is the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East.

The conference declared that the Trump administration’s plan to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was an act of aggression that threatened efforts for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Trump’s intention was a move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in spite of protests from the international community, as well as from the Palestinian side. This move also touched on one of the most sacred and consistent goals pursued by Palestinians in their persistent struggle over the years, which is the foundation of an independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the Middle East peace process would get stuck if the movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem was implemented. Palestine said that any claims or viewpoints hindering or changing the status quo of Jerusalem was an unacceptable “red line.”

The signing by over 70 countries of the joint statement issued at the recent Paris conference is considered a big diplomatic win for Palestine. The country immediately welcomed the conference’s joint declaration, while calling on the international community to recognise the State of Palestine based on the borderline demarcated in 1967. Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Saeb Erekat affirmed that the joint statement stressed the necessity to terminate the construction of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories and sent a strong message that Tel Aviv should abide by international law.

Palestinians’ struggle for autonomy, as well as the establishment of an independent state, have received support from the international community, most recently the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 2334 criticising Israel’s Jewish resettlement areas built in occupied Palestinian territories. Allowing the resolution to be adopted, the Obama administration took criticism from its ally Israel after abstaining from voting, which marked the first time in history that Washington had not used its veto power and abandoned its ally in a vote at the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, Israel rejected France’s initiative to organise the Paris Conference a number of times and called on Palestine to participate in direct negotiations instead. Israel always calls for direct dialogue with Palestine, but the conditions insisted on by the two sides have made it impossible to resume negotiations.

The January 15 Paris conference saw the last diplomatic effort by US Secretary of State John Kerry before leaving office, marking an end to the Obama administration’s eight-year efforts seeking a diplomatic solution to the Israel-Palestine crisis, which, however, had yet to blossom. The Middle East peace process remains at a standstill and it is expected to face numerous challenges as US President-elect Trump, who has a pro-Israel stance, takes office. Nonetheless, the Paris conference also sent a message of peace, reminding the international community to promptly work out a solution to facilitate the Middle East peace process.