This weekend, a peace conference convenes in Paris. The peace in question is between Israel and Palestine. Despite that, there will be no Israelis or Palestinians at the conference. The foreign ministers in attendance, including the US secretary of state, know first-hand how hard it is to advance a resolution to this century-old conflict. It's hard to do it when the two sides are not there; but it's even harder when they are present.
The first conclusion from the conference in Paris is that the commitment to direct negotiations, which has been dominant in all peace efforts since the Oslo Accords, is growing weaker. We're returning to an older era during which diplomats and statesmen in the West were preaching for a forced solution.
American diplomat George Ball wrote about this approach in a 1977 article. Israel, he claimed, was incapable of making on its own compromises that would ensure its existence. Israel "needs to be saved from itself."
The second conclusion is that Israel is beginning to pay the price for its government's rhetoric and makeup. Veteran American negotiator Dennis Ross and his colleague David Makovsky published an article in the US media this week describing the difficulties the current Israeli government faces. They state that, among other things, US Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to attend the Paris conference only after coalition talks between Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog collapsed. Kerry was hoping for good tidings coming from Jerusalem. When he realized he will not receive any, he chose Paris.
The problem is that peace is not imminent - not in Paris, not in Ramallah and not in Jerusalem. Abbas wants to internationalize the conflict. The Paris conference is therefore an achievement for him. He will make Israel keep paying the price on the international stage, but won't get his independent state. Even if Israel was willing to make the necessary concessions, it's doubtful he would've been willing to making the concessions he is required to make. When a resolution draft is formulated and accepted by all members of the Security Council, if such a resolution is reached at all, the Palestinians would be the first to object to it.
The great upheaval in the region pushed the Palestinian issue aside. Four Muslim states are considered major players in the area: Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Three of them have shared interests with Israel. These interests lie in the concern of Iran growing stronger, strained relations with the Obama administration, the threat of ISIS terrorism, and the need for an anchor of stability in the Middle East.
What is the Palestinians' place in this alignment? At best, they're in the margins. The renewal of peace talks might have made it easier on the leadership in Saudi, Egypt and Turkey to form, strengthen or renew ties with Israel, but it's not a necessary condition. The occupation is our curse, and the curse of the Palestinians. They, like us, cannot stomach it, but are also unable to throw it up.
"We'll always have Paris," Humphrey Bogart consoles Ingrid Bergman at the romantic climax of the movie Casablanca. But Israel, it turns out, will not always have Paris. At least not this weekend.