Paris Middle East Peace Summit:
Two-State Solution is the only Way - Hollande

Dr. Mozammel Haque

One-day Middle East Peace Summit was held in Paris, capital of France, on Sunday, 15th of January, 2017. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has delivered a speech on Israeli Settlements and Two State solution on 28 December, 2016. Commenting on the Middle East Peace Summit in Paris, The Guardian editorially observed on 29 December, 2016 before the Summit: “Mr Kerry’s speech is better late than never; its symbolic effect is better than none. The international community should reaffirm its commitment to the two-state solution when foreign ministers from 70 countries meet at a Middle East peace conference in Paris on 15 January. No one has a better plan. But no one expects all this to revive the process. It is about attempting to prevent a sharp turn for the worse, and if necessary to allow something to be salvaged in a post-Trump era.” (The Guardian’s View on the US and Israel: Late, but necessary, editorial, 29 December, 2016)


One-day Middle East Peace Summit in Paris:

Two-state solution is the only Possible Solution

A one-day Middle East Peace Summit was held in Paris, capital of France, on Sunday, 15th of January 2017, hosted by France and attended by representatives from 70 countries, including 40 Foreign Ministers. The Summit was also attended by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as key European and Arab states. The Conference was also attended by the outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry who travelled from Vietnam to be at the meeting. This makes the Paris conference importance because its decisions will make the international community shoulder its responsibilities in order to achieve justice for the Palestinian people.


Patrick Wintour, diplomatic editor of the Guardian reported, “The list of attendees released by the French Foreign Ministry to the long-planned conference includes 36 Foreign Ministers, as well as Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the Secretary General of the Arab League, and the EU Foreign Affairs representative, Federica Mogherini. The list includes the German Foreign Minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, as well as the Irish, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish and Swedish Foreign Ministers. In total, 74 delegations were scheduled to attend the conference and hear a speech by the French President, François Hollande.”


“Rigged and futile” that is how the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Middle East Peace Summit in Paris which was trying to bring peace between Israel and Palestinians. Delegates from 70 countries met in Paris to jump up and reaffirmed the two-state solution is the only possible way to bring peace in the region. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the French initiative. In recent years, they have campaigned for the international community to assume a greater role in resolving the conflict. Netanyahu dismissed the talk. He said only the bilateral talks have chance to bring peace and to be successful. French Foreign Minister said the two-state solution is the only possible way to ensure peace in the region.  Abbas is expected to visit France in the coming weeks.


Aims and Objectives of the Summit

French President Francois Hollande said the conference aims to ensure the support of the international community for the two-state solution as a reference for future direct negotiations. “I can’t accept the status quo, letting people think that the conflict would resolve itself. It’s not true. That’s why France took the initiative of a conference on the Middle East,” Hollande said. “The objective is to reaffirm the support of the international community to the two-state solution and ensure that this solution remains the reference. But I see that has weakened, on the ground and in the minds (of people). If we let it decay, it would be a risk for the security of Israel.”


Opening Speech by French President:

Two-State Solution is the only Way - Hollande

In his speech to open the meeting, French President Francois Hollande said the international community had to be reminded of its obligations to build peace. “The naivety is to believe that the much-needed reconciliation between Israel and its neighbours can go forward without peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. “And the cynicism is to sink into the status quo, hoping the situation would find a natural solution as a result of all excesses.”


A "two-state solution" of a Palestinian country alongside Israel has long been endorsed by both sides but there are sharply divergent visions as to the type of state which should emerge. Israel rejects international involvement in the peace process, saying an agreement can only come through direct talks.


Final Communique: Summit

Warns against unilateral actions

Some 70 countries on Sunday, the 15th of January 2017 reaffirmed at the Middle East Peace Summit in Paris that only a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians could resolve the conflict and warned that they would not recognise any unilateral steps taken by either side that could prejudge negotiations. The conference in Paris warned Israel and Palestinians against “unilateral steps” on Jerusalem and borders that could threaten a two-state solution.

The one-day summit came to a close on Sunday evening with a joint declaration, backed by the 70 countries, calling on Israel and the Palestinians to restate their commitment to a peace settlement and to refrain from unilateral actions.


The statement urged both sides to “officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution” and disassociate from voices that reject that goal. It also called for them not to take one-sided actions that could preclude fruitful talks.


In a statement, the conference called on them to avoid steps that “prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including, inter alia on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees.” It also said the pre-1967 war borders should provide the basis for negotiations, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.


The final communiqué of a one-day international Middle East Peace Summit in Paris shied away explicitly from criticizing plans by US President-elect Donald Trump to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but said a new conference would be held by year-end for interested parties.


Final Communiqué of the Paris Summit

Palestinian response to the Communiqué

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement on Sunday night: “It’s a message to Israel, the occupying power, to abide by international law and international humanitarian law and to end its military occupation of Palestine towards the achievement of peace and stability in the region and the world”  “It is time to stop dealing with Israel as a country above the law and to hold it accountable for its systematic violations of international law and the rights of our people,” he added.


Erekat called upon France and other participating nations “to immediately recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.” “We also call upon all participating countries in today’s conference, including European countries and the United States of America, which all have continuously supported the importance of the two-state solution as the only viable solution, to recognize Palestine, in line with their recognition of Israel and their strong position to preserve the two-state solution,” he said.


President Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement Sunday, 15th of January 2017 that “Palestine respects the Paris declaration” along with international law, international decisions, and UN Security Council Resolution 2334. The Palestinian President said the final joint declaration issued by the participants of the Paris peace conference “affirms” the terms of Security Council resolution, according to the PA’s official news site Wafa.


“Palestine is ready to resume negotiations on all final status issues, to create a full and lasting peace through the framework of an international mechanism and a specific timeframe along international parameters, the Madrid principles, the Arab Peace Initiative, Security Council Resolution 2334 and the Paris declaration,” he said.


“Just as Security Council Resolution No. 2334 affirmed the international and legal parameters, international decisions and the two-state solution, based on 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, so too, the Paris announcement affirmed all the international parameters, including the principles of international law, and rejected all the unilateral measures, settlement construction and the imposition of facts on the ground, including in Jerusalem,” Abbas said.


Critical Analysis

Analysts and commentators expressed scepticism at the relevance of the Paris summit. Alain Gresh, a journalist from France's Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper, said the initiative was launched in response to the French parliament vote in December 2014 to officially recognise the State of Palestine, which failed to come to fruition. “The then-foreign minister Laurent Fabius said they wouldn't recognise it, but that they'd try a diplomatic initiative. And if this initiative was to fail, they'd recognise Palestine. But little by little, this talk of recognition disappeared,” said Gresh. (Al-Jazeera)


Francois Burgat, a political scientist and author, said if the French government wanted to meaningfully bring about peace; it could have taken a harder line with Israel as the occupying power.


While no Palestinian officials attended the Paris meeting, Husam Zomlot - ambassador at large for the Palestinian government - told Al Jazeera the French peace initiative was a  “a crucial step to reaffirm the international consensus about the Palestinian cause - that is a cause of foreign military occupation that must end”. The two-state solution, agreed on in the 1993 Oslo accords, has been largely lost with negotiations between the two sides broken off by ever-increasing Israeli settlement activity and violence carried out by both sides. The settlements are considered illegal under international law and were denounced last month by the passing of a UN Security Council resolution, which was vehemently castigated by Israeli officials. (Al-Jazeera)


Speaking about the prospects of the Two-state solution, Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General, Palestine National Initiative, said to Insight Story programme at Al-Jazeera: “We have to remember that the Oslo Agreement have been concluded more than 23 years ago and according to that agreement both sides have to finish negotiating issues and the Palestinian state would have been established after six years in 1999. We already passed that date by 17 years during which time Israel has increased the number of illegal settlements from one hundred thousands settlers to more than 760,000 settlers today and so many new settlements. This is a very dangerous path. I think Ben White was very clear and very correct when he said you cannot equate between the Israelis and the Palestinians – one side is occupying the other, one side is oppressing the other. Israel has created not only the longer occupation in modern history almost 50 years but has created already a system of apartheid, a system of racial discrimination and it is killing every opportunity for peace.”


“In reality, we see the Israeli government does want one thing – more time to finish the process of settlements, more time to kill the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, more time to kill the possibility of hope for the future,” said Barghouti. (Insight Story, Al-Jazeera, 15 January, 2017)


Ben White, freelance journalist, writer, researcher, human rights activist, specializing on Palestine, said to the same programme to Al-Jazeera about the outcome of the Summit: “Lots of assumptions of this conference are shaped by the same assumptions that govern the so-called peace process and there has been primarily US and the European-led Quartet and that peace process has been going on about half of the entire 50 years that Israel has been occupying West Bank and Gaza Strip and the problem that peace process that reflected in the gathering today. It imposed a false symmetry on occupier and occupied implied that they have mutual responsibilities and obligations and the peace process also serves to immunize Israel from accountability in the international fora and in terms of its end goal, which is increasingly explicit, the end goal of preserving Israel as a Jewish state.”


“Today’s conference is reflecting that framework. I am quite pessimistic about what will emerge from it (Paris Summit),” White said. (Insight Story, Al-Jazeera, 15 January, 2017)


However, still there is a good sign that of the 193 UN member states, 137 officially acknowledge Palestine as an independent state.


President Donald Trump and

His Middle East Policy

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive and complex issues of the entire conflict. Israel and Palestinian cannot agree on the future status of Jerusalem. The Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state but Israel proclaims the entire city as its capital.


Move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

The conference in Paris comes at a time of rising tension in the region, and there are fears President Donald Trump's plans (President Trump said as a President-elect before 15 January 2017) to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could stoke it further. There was deep alarm among participants at the conference that if President Trump does break with decades of US policy and move the embassy to Jerusalem, then conditions will be set for another upsurge in violence in the region, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.


John Irish, Lesley Wroughton and Marine Pennetier reported from Paris that Trump has pledged to pursue more pro-Israeli policies and to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, all but enshrining the city as Israel's capital despite international objections.


It is also reported that tensions are very high because of the appointment of pro-settlement hard-liner David Friedman as the new US ambassador to Israel which carries with it terrifying prospects. On the other hand, Patrick Wintour reported: “His (President-elect Donald Trump) nominee as Defence secretary, James Mattis, has said he sees no case for changing the way in which the US is represented in Israel.”


French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told France 3 TV on Sunday, the 15th of January, 2017, he thought Mr Trump would not be able to make the move, but if he did, it would have "extremely serious consequences". On Saturday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas warned such a move could “bury the hopes for a two-state solution”.


The participants in the Paris Summit “call on each side ... to refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final-status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees and which they will not recognize," the final communiqué said.

(Prepared on 18th of January 2017)