The director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that France’s bid to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks, beginning with a one-day summit in Paris on Friday, was doomed, and compared it to a 1916 colonial effort to carve up the Middle East.
“This effort utterly failed then and will completely fail today,” Dore Gold told journalists in Jerusalem, referring to the Sykes-Picot agreement to draw up the region’s borders.
“The only way to get a stable regional arrangement that will allow us to create real peace in the Middle East is if the parties of the region come to understandings between them,” Gold said.
“We believe the Arab states would give backing to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” he added. “Therefore we prefer a Middle Eastern process and not a process that somebody is trying to create in Paris.”
British diplomat Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot of France drew the borders of a new Middle East in May 1916 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
“It was at the apex of the era of colonialism in our area,” Gold said. “Their effort failed as we see today in the deserts of Iraq and Syria.”
Israel has rejected the French-led multilateral effort and insists instead on direct talks with the Palestinians.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians will be represented in Paris at Friday’s talks, which aim to lay the ground for a fully-fledged peace conference to be held by the end of the year.
“A century ago, Sykes and Picot tried to dictate a new order in the Middle East,” Dore Gold said. “That was at the high point of colonialism in our region. It failed then and it will fail today as well.
“The only way to make peace is through direct negotiation, without prior conditions, with the support of the Arab nations and not by conferences in Paris.
“If you have an argument with your neighbor you won’t make the effort to fly to Paris and to bring Senegal over the solve it.”
Two days ago, former deputy prime minister Dan Meridor said the French initiative was a “very serious and dangerous attack” on Israel’s standing in the world.
“We need to launch our own diplomatic initiative. The government needs to determine what it wants in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank],” continued Meridor, who today is the president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. If only Israel were to declare where it would want to draw the border with a future Palestinian state, it could radically change public perception about its obduracy and put the ball in Ramallah’s court, he argued.
“This is not a question of hasbara [public diplomacy]. We can’t explain our policy as long as we don’t have a clear policy.”
“In the Middle East, there are no shortcuts,” President Reuven Rivlin told French Prime Minister Manuel Valls last month in Jerusalem. “Reaching an understanding and an agreement requires direct negotiations out of mutual trust, with both sides truly wanting to live side by side in peace in this land.”
Netanyahu, too, told Valls that peace will not come through international conferences, “UN-style,” as he called it. “It doesn’t get to fruition through international diktats or committees from countries around the world who are sitting and seeking to decide our fate and our security when they have no direct stake in it.”
On Wednesday, the prime minister again rejected the French-led multilateral effort.
“The way to peace is via direct negotiations without preconditions between the sides,” he said in an address.
“If the nations meeting in Paris this week really want to advance peace they should join me in calling on Abu Mazen to come to direct negotiations of this kind,” he said using a familiar name for Abbas.
In talks Thursday with visiting Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini Netanyahu told his guest that the French initiative gave Abbas an opportunity to evade direct negotiations, a government statement said.