The French peace initiative is doomed to fail
Op-ed: History has taught us that any peace proposal that doesn't include the right of return is rejected out of hand by the Palestinians. This proposal will be rejected as well. But for as long as Israel has been saying 'yes' to peace initiatives, it has prospered, while the insistent Arab refusal has only led the Palestinians astray.
The French peace initiative was born in sin. It did not begin as an initiative, it began as a threat: If Israel doesn’t accept the diktat to recognize a Palestinian state, without negotiations and without the Palestinians having to recognize Israel, France will support Palestinian demands. The initiative includes demands made of Israel, like halting settlement construction beyond the Green Line—both in the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem and in the main settlement blocs that will undoubtedly stay part of Israel in any future accord. But there are no demands made of the Palestinians—not on the "right of return," not on stopping incitement, nothing. This isn't serious.
The Israeli anger—which is entirely justified—led to a certain change in tone. The French are no longer promising the Palestinians that they would recognize a Palestinian state if the talks fail, and they've ambiguously dropped their other preconditions. The Israeli anger increased following the French support of the Arab resolution passed by UNESCO, which in practice rejects any connection between Israel and Jerusalem. When something like this is coming out of Tehran, we can mock it. But not so, when it's coming out of Paris?
The French realize they've made a mistake. They condemned their own vote in favor of the resolution. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault visited Israel on Sunday. Next week, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls—a serious and brave man—will visit Israel as well. They're trying to convince Israel to get on board with their peace initiative.
All peace initiatives so far have failed. Even the dream team of Yossi Beilin, Shlomo Ben-Ami and the late Yossi Sarid couldn't deliver the goods. The Palestinians, again and again, have insisted on the right of return. Not a partial right or return or a symbolic one—a mass one. Not that Netanyahu would've agreed to what Beilin proposed, but Abbas said "no" to Beilin.
Experience proves that it doesn't matter what the Palestinians are offered, it doesn't matter what the initiative entails. It's clear, even before the fact, that Abbas will say no. Even the French, despite Israel's anger at them, won't offer the Palestinians the right of return, and any proposal that does not include the right of return will receive the already-known answer. So, despite the pro-Palestinian bias, the result is known in advance.
And yet, despite the fact that this is a terrible initiative, Israel’s negative reaction to it is inherently flawed. Because for as long as the Arab side has been saying "no," it has been sinking; and as long as the Israeli side has been saying "yes," it has been rising. This has been true in the 1937 Peel Commission proposal, the 1947 UN partition plan, the 1967 Khartoum Resolution following the Six-Day War, the Clinton Parameters in late 2000, Olmert's offer in 2008, and the two drafts written by John Kerry in 2014. Abbas's "no" to the two drafts stood starkly compared to the hesitant, partial "yes” from Netanyahu, at least to the first draft.
The only plan the Palestinians support is the Saudi peace initiative, which became the Arab proposal. There are arguments over the details of the plan. But what's clear is that while good-willed Israeli commentators see the proposal as giving up on the right of return, the Arab interpretation, and certainly the Palestinian one, is the complete opposite of that. Israel should say "yes" to this proposal as well, while clarifying, for example, that UN Resolution 194, which is mentioned in the Arab proposal, is talking about the original refugees of 1948, and not their descendents. And in general, that in all of the transfers and population exchanges of the 1940s, refugees did not have a "right of return."
The French resolution will fail, and it's a shame if it fails because of Israel. That would only aid the Palestinian campaign against Israel. And in any case, the French initiative came to be because of the freeze in talks. Instead of a French initiative, we should've had an Israeli initiative—both regarding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It's not that the Palestinians would've said "yes," but an Israeli initiative would have at least continued the tradition in which Israel says "yes" and prospers. This is a tradition worth keeping, as it has proven itself.