On Friday 3 June, the French authorities have organized an international meeting on the Middle East in Paris with the Foreign Ministers or representatives of some 28 countries and international organizations in order to relaunch a deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process. French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, explains the aims of this initiative to Le Monde.
Why is this meeting being held now?
We want to change the status quo. The situation on the ground is worsening, particularly in the Palestinian Territories. Settlement activity is continuing, whether organized or scattered. For a visitor arriving there, it is clear that the available space for a Palestinian State is diminishing. In the Palestinian Territories or in the camps in Jordan and Lebanon, Daesh’s [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State organization] propaganda is feeding off people’s despair. Everyone who wants peace and security in the region has said the same thing. I have consulted with many parties, and the countries in the region are concerned about this deadlocked situation.
France’s position has always been a two-State solution, with a State of Israel and a State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as their shared capital. This position was first put forward by François Mitterrand before the Knesset during his historic visit in 1982. This prospect is now becoming more remote. There are currently no direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The initiative must therefore be taken at international level to create a positive environment for dialogue.
Could this initiative be more successful than previous attempts by the United States, especially that of Secretary of State, John Kerry?
The American Secretary of State has been hugely committed to mediation. His conclusion is similar to ours. A new environment must be created on an international scale to tell the two parties: we are not going to negotiate on your behalf, as that is your responsibility as Israelis and Palestinians, but we do want to help you. The last international conference on this issue was in Annapolis (United States) nine years ago. Our ambition is thus to once again mobilize the international community.
With this in mind, our starting point is all the work achieved up to now: the UN Security Council Resolutions, the Madrid Principles, i.e. “land for peace”, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet’s [United States, EU, Russia and UN] roadmap. On 3 June, I will propose forming working groups to identify the contributions of the different countries present in order to highlight the peace dividends for the Israelis and Palestinians.
I am targeting two outcomes for this meeting: confirmation of the prospect of a conference with the parties by the end of the year and the creation of several working groups, one of which will be on the theme of economic incentives, e.g. the offer of a special partnership with the European Union and an association agreement for the future Palestinian State. A second group will focus on the regional environment and security assurances.
The Palestinian Authority supports this approach. Are you expecting anything else from it?
As I stated both times I met President [Mahmoud] Abbas, the Palestinians also have work to do: inter-Palestinian reconciliation and uniting the West Bank and Gaza. This can only be done using the clearly-defined peace and dialogue agenda led by the Palestinian President. Hamas must take the first step and accept the framework set by the international community, i.e. recognizing the State of Israel and past agreements, and renouncing violence.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has stated that the only solution is via direct negotiations.
At the moment, no such direct negotiations exist. When I met Benjamin Netanyahu, he told me that he supports the two-State solution, but not our method to achieve it. This disagreement over method can be overcome. If we cannot break the current deadlock, we are heading for disaster. The context has changed: increased terrorism is having an impact, including in this part of the region. This is a danger for Israel. France is a friend of Israel’s and there is currently genuine concern over its security and its future.
With the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman to the defence portfolio, the current Israeli government is the most right-wing government the country has ever had.
Israel is a democracy, it is up to its people to choose its government. There are publicly-expressed disagreements within the government, and a Minister has just resigned. There are discussions within the army. Our initiative can only help to move the debate forward, including in Israel.
The plan for the initial project was that if this process failed, France would recognize Palestine. Why is this no longer mentioned?
A few months ago, you would have told me that this meeting was impossible. I wanted to create a platform for it to take place. I am not contemplating failure. My Palestinian partners fully understood this and on their own initiative decided to withdraw the draft resolution on settlement which they had wanted to submit to the UN. There must be as many countries as possible around the table in order to break the deadlock and reach a two-State solution.
Does the current election campaign in the United States not complicate matters?
It may well make it more difficult for the Obama administration but at the same time, it all the more justifies our initiative to regain momentum. John Kerry understands the importance of this process and will be present in Paris, as will many other countries and international organizations. This meeting is a fine political accomplishment, and I believe it is recognition of France’s consistent positions and steadfast commitment to resolving this conflict. Even when our partners express disagreement, no one has any doubts as to France’s sincerity.
Interview by Marc Semo and Christophe Ayad