There are many definitions of the Yiddish word “chutzpah”: temerity, audacity, nerve, are chief among them.
Any of these definitions aptly fit the upcoming, and grandly-named, Paris Conference on Middle East Peace. Seventy countries will soon gather in the French capital to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more likely than not, will propose—or perhaps will try to impose a solution to it.
Israel will not be in attendance, and for good reason.
French authorities, in introducing the idea for this conference seven months ago, said that they were “compelled to act” on the issue, which they presumptuously profess was necessary to bring the parties together. The conference spokesman says that discussions will center within three working groups, dealing with civil society, institution building and economic assistance.
This all may have been another exercise in “international conference futility,” as the Geneva peace conferences of decades past attest, had it not been for the passage of Resolution 2334 in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the speech of Secretary of State John Kerry outlining his “six principles” late last month.
Huge assemblages of diplomats from dozens of countries, some of which don’t even have relations with Israel, normally wind up letting off steam at these gatherings, and close with presumptuous declarations that either raise Palestinian expectations or frustrate Israel because they have never dealt with the rejectionism of the Palestinian camp.
But this time may be different.
Protestations coming out of Paris about not seeking to impose a settlement on the parties ring hollow. Armed with both the resolution and the Kerry declaration, the Palestinians, who will be attending the gathering, will seek to use the meeting to further isolate Israel. With friends like Sweden, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, mischief-making could very well be the order of the day.
The conventional wisdom is that the conference will endorse the Kerry principles, which placed the blame and onus on Israel for an absence of progress on a two-state solution, and send it on to the Swedish-chaired UNSC, for adoption. At that point, with the parameters not only enunciated by Kerry, but then backed by both the Paris Conference and the Security Council (how could the U.S. veto its own policy?), what would be left to negotiate?
It defies understanding how the French organizers, or any other parties, can still speak both of prejudging an outcome, as well as a serious return to direct negotiations.
Indeed, some Palestinian leaders rejected out of hand the Kerry parameters and called for negotiations within hours of the speech. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Mustafa Barghouti dismissed three of Kerry’s points, saying that the refugee issue must still include the right of return, that the Palestinians would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Kerry’s proposal for Jerusalem being the capitol of two states did not go far enough—presumably meaning that Israeli neighborhoods like Gilo and Har Homa would need to be evacuated in a final agreement.
In showing his hand, Barghouti underscores not just Palestinian rejectionism, but the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) incessant desire to wear down the international community and insist that it continue to attempt to marginalize and weaken Israel, both diplomatically and economically, until there is nothing left to talk about. Full diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state could very well follow this conference. With that in hand, there would be no need for the PA to make any concessions. What next? A PA invitation for Iran to send Revolutionary Guards to set up an operation in Ramallah or Hebron?
So is it any wonder that Israel has decided not to appear before this latest version of an international kangaroo court?
Where have the 70 countries joining this gathering been over the past decades, failing to strongly insist that the PA enter negotiations with Israel following offers made by a succession of Israeli governments of concessions ranging from custodianship of Islamic religious sites in Jerusalem (2000), evacuating settlements in Gaza (2005), further concessions on settlements in Judea and Samaria (2008) and most recently, a 10 month settlement freeze (2014).
The responses to these opportunities are well known: intifadas, rockets, incitement and utilizing the United Nations agencies to circumvent the very idea of a negotiated peace, at the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and now, the Security Council.
The massive amounts of time and energy the international community has wasted on these gatherings cannot be regained. Castigating Israel—and by all accounts that will be the end result of the Paris conference, notwithstanding whatever diplomatic language is used—is a non-starter. This is especially so now, when on every one of Israel’s borders there is chaos and uncertainly, ascribable not to the Palestinian issue, but to intra-Arab and intra-Islamic rivalries, mistrust and shifting ideological and strategic currents.
Security Council resolution 2334, and the Kerry speech, have already set back the notion—adhered to by many who back a two-state solution to the conflict—of directly negotiating its end.
Already, some diplomatic scholars and Middle East experts are suggesting ways to, if not rescind the resolution, then to at least mitigate its fallout.
As that unfolds, on into the new Trump administration in Washington, the PA should understand that its zero-sum strategy is also a non-starter.
The Paris conference could send that message to the PA, but it won’t. Those countries participating in these deliberations should do no more harm to this process.
In a joint statement, B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich and B’nai B’rith International executive vice-president Dan Mariaschin said the lack of outcry against the wave of terror was disturbing.
“If a rash of terror broke out in any other democratic nation, most of the international community would be appalled,” they said.
B'nai B'rith International joined a chorus of Jewish organizations that voiced displeasure at a recent Vatican's move on the recognition of a "State of Palestine.”
In follow-up analysis, B'nai B'rith Director of United Nations Affairs David Michaels examined the history of the terminology, noting that the Vatican has made prior references to the "State of Palestine," and concluding that the move, while disappointing, is unlikely to affect Israelis or Palestinians.
Read media coverage from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on B'nai B'rith's statement on the Vatican:
A May 13 announcement on an agreement regarding the functioning of the church in areas under Palestinian control raised eyebrows in its reference to the “State of Palestine.”
The upset was compounded by confusion over whether Pope Francis, in a meeting over the weekend with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, praised him as an “angel of peace” or urged him to attain that vaunted status. On Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman said it was “very clear” that the pope was “encouraging a commitment to peace.”
But the Vatican’s shift from terming its Palestinian partner as the Palestine Liberation Organization — the designation Israel accepts — to calling it Palestine comports with a shift in Europe toward accommodating Palestinian statehood aspirations, the Jewish officials said.
Daniel Mariaschin, the director of B’nai B’rith International, said the recognition of Palestine raised concerns, but they must be seen in the context of an increased willingness in Europe to recognize Palestinian statehood and not of Jewish-Catholic relations.
He likened it to the French and British parliaments recent nonbinding recognition of Palestine and Sweden’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood.
“It’s important, I won’t dismiss it, but it shouldn't be seen outside that broader context,” Mariaschin said. “It raises the expectations of Palestinians to un-meetable levels and frustrates the Israelis who say we can’t get a fair deal in the international community.”
With contested Israeli elections, the framework of a nuclear deal in place between the west and Iran, and a tenuous peace between Israel and the Palestinians, there is much political fodder for discussion at this year's Passover Seder tables.
The International Business Times featured quotes from B'nai B'rith World Center Director Alan Schneider in an article on the topic. Read highlights from the wide-ranging piece, below:
As much as Mia Warshofsky is looking forward to spending time with her family this Passover, the Florida college student is already bracing herself for the political arguments that she knows will break out over the Seder table on Friday. The subject of Israel has become a point of contention between Warshofsky and her grandparents, following Israel’s 50-day offensive in Gaza last summer, and she anticipates that these disagreements will be further inflamed by more recent political events.
“I would like my Seder table to not be a political minefield,” said Warshofsky, 20, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and a critic of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians. “But all of my grandparents have recently picked up this really wonderful habit of bringing up Israel every time they see me… I don’t like to start debates, but they always seem to steer the conversations toward the hot-button issues.”
Warshofsky’s family will not be the only one navigating potentially charged political discussions this year. Passover comes in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s contentious elections and just after the announcement of a preliminary agreement over Iran's nuclear program, a process Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned will endanger the Jewish state.
These sensitive issues mean that for many U.S. Jews, regardless of political or denominational affiliation, the rituals of the Passover ceremony, which commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery, will be particularly charged this year.
The implications of the election, which saw the incumbent Israeli leader sweep to a landslide victory after a tightly contested campaign, will be a particularly prominent topic at Seders in Israel, said Alan Schneider, the director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem. However, Schneider argued that for most Israelis, intense debates about Middle East politics are nothing new and that this year’s Passover would not necessarily be a departure from previous year’s holidays.
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