Trump cast his long shadow over a tepid Paris conference
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Trump cast his long shadow over a tepid Paris conference

Talk of a new peace push buoyed by Obama’s UN abstention gave way to a statement that even Israel could celebrate as a victory

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault (L)  shakes hands with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during the opening of the Mideast peace conference in Paris on January 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / THOMAS SAMSON)
French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault (L) shakes hands with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during the opening of the Mideast peace conference in Paris on January 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / THOMAS SAMSON)

PARIS — What a difference a few months can make. In June, France convened a first peace summit in an attempt to advance a new peace process, with the help and attendance of Arab states. The Israelis and Palestinians did not participate in the first conference, but organizers hoped they would be present for the second, which took place Sunday. They didn’t show, and the organizing countries concluded the event with a tame statement about the need for a two-state solution, which Britain refused to sign and barred the EU from endorsing.

A lot happened in world diplomacy in the six months between the Paris meets, but the two events that had the greatest impact on the second peace summit were Donald Trump’s victory in the the US presidential elections, and the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which excoriated Israel for its settlement policies.

On December 23, breaking an eight-year streak of vetoing, the US abstained from the Security Council vote, allowing the anti-settlement resolution to pass.

As for Trump — although the president-elect’s name wasn’t mentioned at the conference, his presence was felt, notably in the statements delivered by France’s top diplomat, and in Britain’s breaking ranks over the concluding declaration.

French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault spoke repeatedly to the press pool, and while early in the day he warned of “extremely serious consequences” if Trump followed through on his promise to moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, a few hours later he was mumbling about his intention to hold a “friendly” conversation with the president-elect’s secretary of state about the relocation. In a stark departure from his earlier tone, he also carefully added that the consequences would depend on how the move was executed.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir talks to reporters at an international summit on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in Paris on June 3, 2016 (Suha Halifa)
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir talks to reporters at an international summit on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in Paris on June 3, 2016 (Suha Halifa)

When the first summit convened here in June, participants spoke of high hopes for a new and promising approach championed by the French and — for the first time — backed by the Arab world. The gusto of the Arab foreign ministers was evident in the statements they volunteered to the press. This time around, however, a few hours after the summit ended they were nowhere to be found. The Arab Peace Initiative, whose revival seemed imminent in June, and which was even partially endorsed at the time by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, barely got a mention in the joint declaration that came out of Sunday’s conference.

The official statement itself, handed out to the press moments after Ayrault left the press room, mentioned Jerusalem just once and merely hinted at the embassy issue, indicating that even before the formal inauguration, the new administration in Washington is trumping the policies of its predecessor.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on December 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The conference, which was supposed to have been empowered by Barack Obama’s UN resolution veto, had ended with a whimper.

In June, Israeli politicians rushed to protest the summit’s tough concluding communique. When the joint declaration of this week’s summit came out, however, they were hailing it as a victory. The participants of the conference know, as does Netanyahu, that the Trump administration will be calling many of the shots from now on, whatever the declarations and even resolutions.

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