“The measured Israeli reaction to the latest flurry of problematic diplomatic activity reflects Jerusalem’s more central security imperatives, as well as its newly-discovered sense of being a significant regional player rather than a besieged small state in a hostile sea,” Senior Media Advisor Europe Israel Press Association Yossi Lempkowicz had written.
France hosted on 10 June an Initiative for Peace in the Middle East conference to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with the participation of ministers from the Middle East Quartet – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – the Arab League, the UN Security Council and about 20 countries.
But neither Israel nor the Palestinians were invited. The gathering aimed to lay the ground for a fully-fledged peace conference to be held by the end of the year. For Israel, the Paris initiative is doomed to fail because Jerusalem considers that peace with the Palestinians cannot be coerced by countries around the world who are sitting and seeking to decide Israel’s fate and security when they have no direct stake in it. Peace, it says, will only come through direct negotiations between the two sides, without preconditions.
“The path to peace does not pass though international committees that are trying to coerce an agreement, radicalize Palestinian demands and in doing so, distance peace. The path to peace passes through direct negotiations,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he already told French Prime Minister Manuel Valls when the latter visited Israel at the end of last month.
“If the countries gathering this week in Paris really want to advance peace, they must join my call to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enter into direct negotiations,” Netanyahu added. “That is the only path to peace – there is no other.”
The prime minister insisted that Israel will continue to seek peace, even with the help of other regional players as he recalled that this happened when Israel made peace with Egpt and with Jordan. “That is how it must be with the Palestinians. We will not stop looking for paths to peace,” he said.
There are also plans for a regional summit in Jerusalem that would include representatives from moderate Arab countries, including Egypt and Jordan. As newly appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman assumed his post this week, Netanyahu stressed that the government was committed to achieving peace with the Palestinians and cited the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for a possible solution.
“We believe the Arab states would give backing to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director General Dor Gold. “Therefore we prefer a Middle Eastern process and not a process that somebody is trying to create in Paris.”
Gold compared France’s bid to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks to a May 1916 colonial effort to carve up the Middle East, in a reference to the Sykes-Picot agreement to draw up the region’s borders after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
“It was at the apex of the era of colonialism in our area,” Gold said. “Their effort failed as we see today in the deserts of Iraq and Syria. Instead, Israel said the 2002 Arab peace initiative that offers Israel diplomatic recognition from Arab countries in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians.
“We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states on revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002 but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples,” Netanyahu said as a response to speech by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
According to Dr Eran Lerman, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA Center) “the measured Israeli reaction to the latest flurry of problematic diplomatic activity reflects Jerusalem’s more central security imperatives, as well as its newly-discovered sense of being a significant regional player rather than a besieged small state in a hostile sea”. He added: “The regional realities in 2016 have generated a very different relationship between Israel and Egypt. The countries both face the same threats to their security – Iran, IS and the Muslim Brotherhood- even if the Egyptian order of priorities is the reverse of the Israeli. The level of security cooperation is unprecedented and President al-Sisi has said so explicitly to foreign visitors.”
Incoming Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared about the Arab Peace Initiative: “President Sissi’s speech was very important; it creates a genuine opportunity that obligates us to pick up the gauntlet. I certainly agree that there are some very positive elements in the Arab Peace Initiative that will enable us to conduct serious dialogue with our neighbors in the region.”
Daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot stated that Lieberman has been championing the idea of a comprehensive arrangement between Israel and the Arab world for a long while, and declares: “Now, with Egyptian President al-Sisi promoting just such a move, Lieberman’s commitment to his proclaimed vision will be put to the test.”