For the second time in two weeks, France has proven itself the most serious foreign-policy player the West currently has. First, it thwarted an abysmal nuclear deal with Iran. Now, it’s come up with the most creative idea for advancing Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy that I’ve heard in years.
Speaking in Ramallah yesterday, French President Francois Hollande essentially told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the following: You think Israeli settlement construction is destroying prospects for a two-state solution, and therefore want it halted. I agree. But the Israelis think these prospects are being destroyed by your demand to relocate millions of Palestinians to Israel (aka the “right of return”). So why not trade concessions on the right of return for a settlement freeze?
The first innovation in this proposal is that someone in Paris actually seems to have read the Oslo Accords–a rarity among Western diplomats–and discovered that they explicitly designate settlements as a final-status issue, just like refugees; Israel has no interim obligation to stop building them. Once this is understood, it’s obvious that an unrequited settlement freeze is a nonstarter: No sane negotiator would make major, upfront, unrequited concessions on a significant final-status issue. Hollande therefore proposed a substantive trade in which both sides would make concessions on a major final-status issue.
Granted, the issues aren’t equivalent. Flooding Israel with over five million Palestinians really would render a two-state solution impossible, by turning the Jewish state into a second Palestinian one. Settlements, by contrast, don’t preclude a Palestinian state; even chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat admits that they occupy only 1.1 percent of the West Bank. But since Palestinians have repeatedly declared a settlement freeze a top priority, such a trade would give both sides something they claim to want.
And that is the even greater innovation in Hollande’s proposal: For the first time in 20 years of Israeli-Palestinian talks, a Western leader is suggesting mutual concessions instead of demanding that Israel make unilateral ones.
Contrast this with some of the Obama administration’s “peacemaking” proposals:
- Israel should agree in advance to a border based on the 1967 lines. In other words, Israel should concede all the Palestinians’ territorial demands upfront without getting anything in exchange.
- Israel and the PA should negotiate a deal on borders and security only, without resolving issues like Jerusalem and the refugees or ending the conflict. In other words, instead of trading territory for peace, Israel should trade territory for no peace. Moreover, it should forfeit its only bargaining chip–territory–in the first stage of negotiations, thereby leaving itself with nothing to trade for Palestinian concessions on vital issues like the refugees.
- Israel should free 104 Palestinian murderers just so the Palestinians will deign to negotiate–a move Israeli negotiating expert Moty Cristal aptly termed paying “with hard currency for nothing.” Palestinians also temporarily halted their campaign against Israel in international agencies, but that will resume in nine months. The prisoners won’t be rearrested.
To be fair, Hollande’s proposal won’t actually bring peace any more than Obama’s ideas have, because the Palestinians aren’t willing to make any concessions: Abbas told Hollande he has no authority to deviate from the Arab League’s stance on the refugees, begging the obvious question of what the point of the current talks are if he has no power to actually negotiate.
Nevertheless, the French proposal at least acknowledges the obvious fact that peace requires concessions by both sides, not just one. And that is a necessary first step. For as long as the world keeps pandering to Palestinian rejectionism by not demanding any concessions, as the Obama administration has, the Palestinians will never have an incentive to make any.