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Once upon a time, the term “Paris Peace Conference” was a serious one, and referred to the historic Versailles Conference that ended World War I. That conference began on January 18, 1919, and it is striking that the French would wish to make a mockery of their own history by convening a useless conference on almost exactly the same date—today, January 15.
Today nearly 70 countries, and nearly 40 foreign ministers including the one from the United States, are gathering in Paris. Why? Well, why not—from the point of view of the foreign ministers. You do have to sit through an entire day of boring speeches, of course, but then you get the whole weekend in Paris. I’ll bet most arrived Friday for a good dinner, then you have Saturday free for shopping, then another dinner….who would say no merely because the event will be useless or harmful to the cause of peace?
For John Kerry this is his swan song, and he is fresh from Vietnam where he walked down memory lane yet again, at God knows what cost to American taxpayers. But thinking of Kerry should lead us to recall who will be engaged in this event. There is Kerry, who will be unemployed in five days. There is French President Francois Hollande, who has announced he won’t even run for re-election in May. There is Palestinian President Abbas, elected in 2005 for a four year term and now entering his 12th year. And Abbas won’t actually be at the conference, just nearby in some gorgeous hotel suite. Israel is boycotting the conference. No one will represent the new American administration.
What is the point of this endeavor? According to the French, it is to show support for the two-state solution and urge both parties, meaning Israel and the PLO, to negotiate. That is a demonstration of bias, because it is the PLO not Israel that has been refusing negotiations and rejecting peace plans again and again for years—indeed decades. To treat the government of Israel and the PLO as if their desire for peace were identical is wrong and unfair. If the participants at the conference truly wished to advance peace, they would be pressuring the Palestinians to stop rewarding and inciting terrorism by glorifying terrorists, and pressuring them to start negotiating seriously. This will not happen. There is every reason to believe Mr. Abbas will leave Paris satisfied with the circus and feeling zero real pressure to do anything at all.
The other point, perhaps the real point, of the conference is to pressure Israel to stop all settlement growth. In this sense it is a follow-up to UN Security Council resolution 2334 of December, and shares its conclusion that the real barrier to peace is the increasingly rapid, uncontrollable, endless, limitless growth of Israeli settlements. But this is false, as the statistics show. Settlement populations are growing, at about four percent a year, but the notion that they are rapidly gobbling up the West Bank and making peace impossible is a fiction.
There may be a third objective for the conference: pressing President-Elect Trump not to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We can expect language about leaving Jerusalem as a final status issue and doing nothing at all that changes the status quo. If you believe the President-Elect will be dissuaded by such a declaration from a conference such as this, well, I don’t agree.
So the conference will soon be nearly forgotten, and go down as yet another feeble effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. Of course if you ask the French, they will angrily deny that this was their purpose. I agree that it was not the purpose, but it is the effect, predictably. Like Resolution 2334, it is another diplomatic blow against the Jewish State, trying to isolate it and criticize it and undermine its ideological and diplomatic defenses. And meanwhile, this very month, we will see the PLO pay more money to prisoners convicted of terrorist acts and name more schools or parks or squares after murderers and would-be murderers. But there will be no Paris conference about all of that.