President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday told members of the European Parliament that international efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement — including the current French initiative — were “negotiations for negotiations’ sake,” and therefore doomed to fail.
His criticism of Paris’s efforts to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table joined a growing chorus of scorn from senior Israeli officials. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has derided the French proposal, and a senior Israeli official this week said the EU’s efforts smacked of colonialism.
“The French initiative suffers from fundamental faults. The attempt to return to negotiations for negotiations’ sake, not only does not bring us near the long-awaited solution, but rather drags us further away from it,” the head of state said in an address in Brussels.
Like other international initiatives to reach a peace agreement, Rivlin said the French plan’s inflexible “all or nothing” approach to the implementation of a two-state solution ignores the total lack of trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
“This paradigm relies on the assumption that the problem which is the crux of the matter in this bloody and painful conflict is simply the lack of good faith on both parts, and that if we only exert pressure on ‘them’, on us,’ they will adhere to a permanent agreement and to a state of peace,” he said. “The most fundamental trait of Israeli-Palestinian relations today which is, to my deep regret, a total lack of trust between the parties on all levels; between the leaderships and the peoples.”
But, the lack of good will, he said, is not only “fundamentally erroneous,” it ignores the practical considerations of the conflict.
“Currently the practical conditions, the political and regional circumstances, which would enable us to reach a permanent agreement between us – the Israelis and the Palestinians – are failing to materialize,” Rivlin said.
With the US-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled since 2014, the EU has in recent months actively encouraged both sides to return to direct negotiations, announcing a package of economic and security incentives to do so.
Earlier this month, representatives from 28 Arab and Western countries, the Arab League, the European Union and the United Nations met in Paris to discuss ways in which the international community could help advance the Palestinian-Israel peace process. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives were invited to attend the meeting, which aimed to lay the ground for a full-fledged peace conference to be held by the end of the year.
In his address on Wednesday, Rivlin urged EU nations to instead show patience and facilitate trust-building measures between Israel and the Palestinians.
“If Europe is interested in serving as a constructive factor in striving for a future agreement, it will be incumbent upon you, its leaders, to focus efforts at this time in a patient and methodical building of trust. Not through divestment, but through investment; not by boycotts, but by cooperation.”
The president went on to say the divided Palestinian leadership, and regional political turmoil made reaching any peace agreement with Israel impossible. Hamas, the terrorist group-turned-rulers of the Gaza Strip, were committed to the annihilation of Israel, he noted in his address.
Rivlin called for increased cooperation with the “moderate powers” in the region to eradicate extremism, boost the Palestinian economy and develop infrastructures both in the West Bank and in Gaza.
The president’s speech came a day after the EU’s 28 foreign ministers endorsed France’s plan to hold an international peace conference in Paris later this year. Israel has repeatedly rejected the French initiative, arguing that it hardens Palestinian negotiating positions and thus distances peace.
After talks with Rivlin in Brussels on Tuesday, European Council President Donald Tusk said that the EU will “back up a peace deal with an unprecedented package of cooperation and support to both Israel and the future state of Palestine.”