Mainstream, VOL LIV No 49 New Delhi November 26, 2016
Israel’s Rejection of Paris Peace Talks
Monday 28 November 2016
by Yasmeena Ara, Riyan Rashid
In the contemporary international relations, the Middle East conflict is one of the core issues. Israel on the one side and Palestine on the other have gone through a severe conflict since 1948 to the present times. From 1948 to 2011, Israel and the Arab states have fought six wars in 1948—1949, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982 and 2006 respectively. Notably Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the Arab states which have fought against Israel, though Palestine is the main opponent among them. To solve this conflict, a number of peace plans have been started such as the Oslo Peace Process, the Taba talks of 2001, the Roadmap of 2003, and the Annapolis Conference of 2007. Sometimes the peace processes had the nature of solving the issue. The European Union also started a new format of peace process called ‘The Middle East Quartet’. The Quartet was of four entities, that is, the EU, the UN, the United States and Russia.
In 2006 Lebanon attacked Israel by rockets and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. In response to that Israel attacked the Hezbollah positions in South Lebanon and bombed several cities, including Beirut. As a result a high number of civilians were killed in Lebanon and Israel’s image was damaged. In 2007 a summit in Annapolis (United States) was organised by the George Bush Administration that brought hope to both Israelis and Pales-tinians. The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, declared that the Palestinian side would support an agreement with Israel if certain requirements were met. Abbas stated that Israel should end the occupation of all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem as well as the Syrian Golan Heights and the occupied Lebanese territories, and also to resolve the refugee issue. Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed that his government would do its best to reach a wide-ranging and lasting agreement. But the elections of 2009 and the comeback of Benjamin Netanyahu did not support this peace process.
Different Peace Accords
In 1991 in Madrid, the first direct negotiation of all parties involved in the Middle East conflict took place. More rounds of talks were held in Washington until 1993 resulting in the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty.
Secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations then resulted in the Oslo Declaration of Principles signed in Washington on September 13, 1993. This Declaration was intended as the final status negotiations. In its wake, the Palestinian Authority was established and its powers and responsibilities defined by the 1994 Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area. On March 27-28, 2002, at its summit meeting in Beirut, the Arab League approved the peace initiative of the then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. In this Arab Peace Initiative, the Arab states offered Israel normalised relations in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders (including in Jerusalem) and called on Israel to accept a consensual solution for Palestinian refugees.
Roadmap for Peace in the Middle East:
While violence continued between Israel and Palestinians, the US, the EU, Russia and the UN Secretary-General decided in Madrid on April 10, 2002 to work together as the Middle East Quartet. On the basis of preparatory work by Germany and the EU, the Middle East Quartet developed a peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians, known as the Roadmap, in 2003. Its goal was to achieve a two-state solution with Israel with Palestine as an independent, democratic and viable state, existing side by side within secure and recognised borders.
The result was that on June 3, 2003, Prime Minister Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Abbas publicly accepted the Roadmap. This Roadmap was approved by the UN Security Council on November 9, 2003 and it called upon both Israel and its counter-party to meet the obligations laid down in the document.
The Bush Administration in November 2007 organised a conference in Annapolis where Israelis and Palestinians agreed to enter into direct negotiations. The aim of this was to conclude an agreement by the end of the year 2008. Both parties reaffirmed their obligations under the Roadmap. In December 2007, direct and secret negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians began. But the attempts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of 2008 ended in a failure. After armed conflict broke out in and around Gaza on December 27, 2008, direct nego-tiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were suspended.
In January 2009, Obama took office and a new phase of the peace process began. The US worked intensively to broker the resumption of direct talks between the parties. These efforts included convincing Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree on settlement-building. In 2009, US President Obama gave a speech in Cairo and called on Palestinians to renounce violence, Arabs to recognise Israel’s right to exist, and go for the resolution of the conflict. Netanyahu promised that Israel would support the two-state solution and end the cons-truction of new settlements, but housing units continued to be built, allowing for “natural growth”. In September 2010, shortly before the moratorium period was due to end, talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas resumed.
A new phase of the peace process began when US President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. The US, represented by then Special Envoy George Mitchell (2009-2011), worked intensively to broker the resumption of direct talks between the parties. These efforts included convincing Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to a ten-month moratorium on settlement-building. Only a few weeks later, however, they broke off again, as Israel was unwilling to accept the Palestinians’ demand that the moratorium be extended beyond the end of September 2010. In September 2012, President Abbas in his speech to the UN General Assembly announced a resolution to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to that of observer state in the UN General Assembly. But Israel rejected this step as a unilateral action from Palestine.
However, on November 29, 2012, the General Assembly passed the resolution. US President Barrack Obama, during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in March 2013, called for new unconditional negotiations between the two parties. US Secretary of State John Kerry subse-quently held confidential talks with the parties on how the matters should proceed. In spite of intensive US efforts, it was not possible to reach an agreement. Since then, the negotiations have come to a standstill.
Resurgence of Violence
In October 2012, violence again broke out in Gaza. Rockets were launched by the Palestinians at southern Israel and Israel reacted with air strikes. The situation worsened day by day as more than 2000 rockets were fired at Israel, which again responded with air strikes. More than a hundred people were killed. At last, it was by the efforts of Egypt that a ceasefire was reached between Israel and those in power in the Gaza Strip, and it was held until June 2014.
In 2014 Hamas started rocket attackstargeting Israeli cities and infrastructure and in response to that Israel on July 8, 2014 launched an attack in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. This operation lasted for seven weeks. This war is generally called the Gaza War (2014). This war resulted in the death of thousands of people, mostly Gazans. On June 12, 2014 on the abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, that is, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah, Israel blamed Hamas for this action. Withholding evidence in its possession suggesting that the teens had been killed immediately, Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper. It was a large-scale crackdown on Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and personnel in the West Bank. Parallel to these incidents, a large number of rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel.
In response to this, Israel on July 8, 2014 launched a military operation named Operation Protective Edge, which ended with a ceasefire on August 26, 2014. Since September 2015, violence again broke out in Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Later on it spread to the West Bank and Israel. This also resulted in the death of over 30 Israelis and 200 Palestinians, mainly in stabbing attacks by Palestinians and interventions by Israeli security forces.
From March 2016, the situation has become calmer, but is still volatile. France has repeatedly tried to breathe new life into the peace process this year. Israel has formally rejected the French invitation to take part in a Middle East peace conference in Paris this year. Israel said that it was a distraction from the goal of direct negotiations with the Palestinians. In a meeting held in Jerusalem, French envoy Pierre Vimont was informed that Israel wanted nothing to do with the effort to revive the talks that last broke down in 2014. They told the French envoy in a clear and obvious manner that Israel will only promote the peace process and reach an agreement by going through direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. The French Government’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process, Pierre Vimont, met with Acting National Security Adviser Yakov Nagel and Netanyahu confidant Isaac Molcho, who told him in an “unambiguous and unequivocal fashion” that real progress and a lasting peace agreement could only emerge through direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA.
The Palestinians said that they cannot resume talks with Israel until it suspends the building of settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians seek for an independent state, and it meets previous commitments, including the release of prisoners.
The Arab-Israeli conflict in contemporary inter-national relations seems to be a never-ending story. Whatever options were available, have been put on the table since the conflict started, but all have failed to reach any comprehensive and lasting agreement. Both parties are not satisfied with the prevailing conditions and both also want a two-state solution that would suit them best, but both differ in the possible ways of achieving this goal. The Israeli settlements in the West Bank constitute the main hindrance in the peace process. The Israeli Government of Benjamin Netanyahu is not going to make any concessions. On the other hand, the Palestinians also are not ready to make any serious territorial concessions to the Israeli side.
This mental agony from both sides has led to a big confusion and this will not let them go for direct bilateral talks. To solve this mental agony, a third party intervention is needed. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a matter where nobody can predict what may happen the next year or even the next month. We can only affirm that the longer the conflict lasts, the more difficult it will be to find a mutually beneficial solution.
Yasmeena Ara is an M.Phil scholar at the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar. Riyan Rashid is a Law student, University of Kashmir, Srinagar.