France warned Friday that it will recognize a Palestinian state if its imminent efforts to end the deadlock in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians end without result.
“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners, American, European, Arab, notably to preserve and make happen the solution of two states,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
France, Fabius said, has a responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to sustain efforts to reach a two-state solution.
Should efforts to breathe life into the moribund peace process fail, France would move to unilaterally recognize Palestine as a state, Fabius made clear. “And what will happen if this last-ditch attempt at reaching a negotiated solution hits a stumbling block?” he said. “In that case, we will have to live up to our responsibilities and recognize a Palestinian state.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday welcomed a French plan to recognize the state of Palestine should a fresh push for peace talks fail, and warned that his people would no longer accept Israel’s occupation or settlements.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced Friday that Paris would shortly try to convene an international conference, with the hope of enabling new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but that if this effort reached a dead end, Paris would recognize a Palestinian state. Israel immediately rejected the proposal.
Speaking at a summit of African nations in Addis Ababa, Abbas blasted the occupation, settlements, and what he said was Israel’s seizure of Palestinian natural resources. He also accused the Israeli government of stalling peace efforts by the international community.
“We cannot accept the current situation, including the occupation and settlements,” he said, the Maariv website reported.
“We have to establish a sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he said, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa. “We won’t accept interim or temporary solutions.”
“We won’t return to negotiations just for the sake of negotiating and won’t continue to unilaterally implement previous agreements,” Abbas told the summit. Nor will the Palestinians “accept the theft of our natural resources, and the non-utilization of our lands or investment in them,” he said.
Jerusalem on Saturday downplayed its initial rejection of a new French initiative to kick-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying the disapproval stemmed from France’s ultimatum that it would recognize a Palestinian state if fresh negotiation efforts fail to yield results.
Israel had moved quickly Friday to reject the French ultimatum.
“This is not how one conducts negotiations and not how one makes peace,” the prime minister’s spokesman was quoted by the Hebrew daily Haaretz as saying.
Another Israeli source said the French threat to recognize Palestine if negotiations failed was “an incentive” for the Palestinians to be obdurate.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said earlier Saturday that Israel rejected the French ultimatum. “Israel will not negotiate under ultimatums and threats,” he said.
“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners, American, European, Arab, notably to preserve and make happen the solution of two states,” Fabius said. Paris is hoping to hold the conference in the summer.
There are two ways to look at the French threat to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state if the stalemate in the peace process persists.
We’ll get to the “it’s a serious challenge for Israel” folks lower down. But those who aren’t overly perturbed by the Paris ultimatum say: So what? Paris is free to convene an international conference to try to break the deadlock and get the two sides to make the concessions necessary for a peace deal. Since this outcome seems unlikely — or more accurately, utterly unrealistic — France can go ahead and recognize a “State of Palestine.” Such a move will be condemned in Jerusalem as unhelpful on the path to peace and celebrated in Ramallah as a great victory against the occupation. But declarations and recognitions change nothing on the ground.
A sovereign Palestinian state was not born in 1988, when Yasser Arafat proclaimed independence, or in 2012, when 139 states voted to grant “Palestine” nonmember observer state status at the United Nations, or in 2015, when the Palestinian flag was raised at UN headquarters in New York.
So French recognition of Palestinian statehood would be merely that: words on a piece of paper, and perhaps a solemn declaration by President Francois Hollande and another stately but ultimately meaningless photo op for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
France would not even be the first Western European state to recognize Palestine. Parliaments in Britain, Spain, Belgium, Greece and elsewhere have already called on their respective governments to recognize Palestine. Sweden did just that in 2014, and the world did not tilt off its axis.
Much more significant than a French recognition of Palestine would be a Security Council resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. While that would still not immediately change anything on the ground, it would create a new legal framework for future negotiations, and probably not in Jerusalem’s favor.
It is currently hard to assess whether the US administration would support or oppose a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations. That might depend on the resolution’s wording, on timing, and on a whole host of other factors, but it has always been the US position that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be resolved by the two sides, rather than unilaterally via the UN.
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