Once again, Israel has managed to escape scrutiny — thanks to a last-minute American intervention from the United States Secretary of State John Kerry, who has said that the date of the upcoming meeting is not convenient for him.
For many weeks, the French President, Francois Hollande, has been calling for an international conference, due to be held later this month in Paris, to relaunch peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis. But the key participants from the high-ranking officials of some 30 countries will not include any official from the Palestinian National Authority or Israel in order to launch guidelines for a peace settlement between the two warring parties of more than five decades.
Unlike the Palestinians, the Israelis were not supportive of this expanded undertaking. And now at the last minute, Kerry has reportedly told his French hosts that the timing is not convenient for him, raising curiosity about his last-minute response before the May 30 meeting in the French capital.
The French government has reportedly grown frustrated over the absence of a movement towards a two-state solution since the collapse of the US-brokered talks in 2014 and letting the status quo prevail, prompting fears that the region is on the brink of additional turmoil. More to the point, Israel has repeatedly declared it is not willing to support an expanded international conference, probably for fear of international condemnation and hopes of grabbing additional Occupied Palestinian Territories, where some half a million of illegal Israeli colonists have moved into the West Bank without any effective condemnation from key western powers, especially the US.
But the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who visited Israel and the Palestinian government last week, raised slight hopes in saying that the conference will take place “in the course of the summer”.
The Israeli government is against the projected meeting and particularly recent French actions; its support of a Unesco resolution that did not acknowledge Jewish ties to occupied Jerusalem and of Palestinian membership in Unesco.
The potential participants in the upcoming meeting will include the Middle East Quartet (US, Russia, European Union and United Nations), Arab League, the UN Security Council and about other 20 other countries.
In turn, the Palestinians remain hopeful that the projected French conference will bring about new “parameters for the promised talks”, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah declared. He cited the case of the international community when it came together before. “A peaceful settlement was found for the Iranian issue. Why not Palestine?” he said.
But what remains troublesome is the approaching American presidential election, where the two presumptive candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are hard-nosed supporters of Israel. Trump, the Republican front-runner, is on record as supporting Israel build colonies in the West Bank, while Hillary said: “We need steady hands, not a president who says he is neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows [not] what on Wednesday, because everything is negotiable”. She added: “Well, my friends, Israel’s security is not negotiable.”
What has been more rattling lately is Israel’s expectations regarding US financial aid that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to sign before January 2017 when US President Barack Obama’s last term in office expires, although crucial disagreements remain unresolved. His concern is that signing the deal with Obama, a Democrat, will assure all that Israel is supported by both Democrats and Republicans, fearing that Trump will be the next president.
The current deal, valued at $30 billion (Dh110.34 billion), expires at the end of 2018. Obama is willing to give Israel $40 billion on condition that Israel will not seek more financial assistance over the next 10 years. Aid from the US equals to a quarter of the Israeli military budget.
But a contradictory turnaround that may influence a new America administration was revealed by the Pew Research Centre. Democrats are more than four times as likely as Republicans to say they sympathise more with the Palestinians than with Israel, and sympathy for Palestinians among Americans is growing.
The empathy for Palestinians, according to the survey published in the Times of Israel earlier this month, “is up most sharply among the youngest American adults, growing threefold over the last decade”. It added that “some 27 per cent of millennials say they are more sympathetic to Palestinians than Israelis. In 2006, the figure was 9 per cent, but the share of those favouring Israel has held at 43 per cent”.
The survey also shows that “there is more optimism among Americans that a two-state solution can be achieved by the Israelis and Palestinians than scepticism that it cannot”.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org