YERUSHALAYIM - As representatives of 72 countries gather in Paris on Sunday to discuss the Middle East, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely likened the event to a shidduch that has gone terribly wrong. “The conference is like a wedding with neither bride nor groom present. Peace will be achieved between the sides only through direct talks and not by external coercion,” said Hotovely, stressing that “the conference won’t bring peace; on the contrary, it will distance peace. Israel achieved peace with Egypt and Jordan through direct talks.”
After unsuccessful efforts by Israel to reduce the level of representation by several countries to the conference, the State Department announced Wednesday that John Kerry would represent the U.S. at the event. Israel has denounced the event numerous times, saying that it would not improve the chances for peace, but rather make peace more difficult to achieve, as it would embolden the Palestinian Authority to make ever-greater demands without conceding anything.
Although Kerry will have less than a week left in his tenure as secretary of state, as it is presumed that he will either resign or be fired as soon as Donald Trump is sworn in as president next Friday, Israel fears that the Paris conference is a prelude to another “last-minute surprise” by the Obama administration. Israeli officials said that there was a distinct possibility that the conclusions of the conference – which would presumably set specific criteria for what the conference expects a final-status settlement to look like – could be adopted by the U.N. Security Council. That would further complicate Israel’s relationship with that body, after it was already badly impacted by the Security Council resolution last month against construction in Yehudah and Shomron. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not be attending, but Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas will.
Commenting on the event, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that the Paris conference “is not a peace panel, but a tribunal against Israel. The purpose of the conference is nothing other than an effort to damage Israel and its good name. It’s a modern-day Dreyfus trial, except instead of one Jew on trial, the entire State of Israel is sitting in the defendant’s seat.”
At his confirmation hearing Wednesday, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, slammed U.N. action on Israel and the Obama administration’s policy. “Israel is, has always been and remains our most important ally in the region,” Tillerson told senators. “The U.N. resolution that was passed, in my view, is not helpful. It actually undermines a good set of conditions for talks to continue.” Attempts to coerce Israel would backfire, and “will not lead to a solution,” he said.
Things will be different under a Trump administration, said Tillerson. “The president-elect has already made it clear that we’re going to meet our obligations to Israel as the most important ally in the region.”
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, they would need to show concrete progress in reducing incitement against Israel and accepting its permanence in the region. While the PA has renounced violence, “it’s one thing to renounce it and another thing to take serious actions to prevent it,” Tillerson said, adding that they needed to “do something to at least interrupt it or prevent it. Sometimes it takes another generation that’s not carrying all that baggage of the past,” he said of Arab hate of Israel. “The Palestinian people have suffered a lot, under their own leadership in many cases.”
In her remarks Wednesday, Hotovely agreed, saying that refusal to acknowledge Israel’s existence meant that the first building block in a peace agreement was missing. “Palestinian culture is based on hatred and we see this in the schoolbooks of the young generation. If the international community wants to advance peace it must first and foremost send a clear message that the education toward hatred and terror is the real obstacle to peace, not the settlements,” she said.