Opinion

Avi Dichter: The Paris Conference Shows France Does Not Understand the Reality of the Middle East

Paris peace conference
Foreign ministers and representatives from around 70 countries met to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process at the Paris Conference, January 15. Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty

The Paris conference was not a peace conference. The conference, which took place on January 15, was a conference of disconnection from the reality in the Middle East.

Never before have so many senior international officials been so removed from the horrible crimes that are happening today between Arabs and Shiite Arabs and Muslims across the region. With wars raging and innocent people dying by the tens of thousands, French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault astoundingly wrote in Le Monde recently: “Thinking that the Middle East could restore its stability without settling its oldest conflict is unrealistic.” The escalating violence in the Middle East means nothing as Ayrault continued at the Paris conference to repeat the old messages from traditional French hypocrisy.

The ongoing wars in a collapsed Libya have no connection whatsoever to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The occupation of Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthis has never had any connection whatsoever to the conflict between us and the Palestinians. The chaos in Iraq is not connected to our conflict with Abbas. Iranian pursuit of the strategic Bab el Mandeb Red Sea shipping lane, key to its role in supporting the rebel Houthis and harassment of Saudi Arabia, has no connection to the conflict, but potentially threatens freedom of navigation for all countries. In Egypt, an affiliate of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) is carrying out a violent wave of terrorism against the Egyptian government and against Russia (likely blowing up a Russian passenger plane) and that is in no way related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The impudence of the French foreign minister has its most dramatic dimension around the six years of violence perpetrated on the Syrian people by Bashar al-Assad. France, which was once the patron of Syria over many decades, now simply watches from a safe distance and does not lift a finger to help the Syrian population being slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands.

The Syrian debacle is staggering: 400,000 killed, mostly civilians; almost 2 million wounded, 12 million have become refugees with half of them fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Europe. Yet the voice of mother France remained silent. With such a mother, wouldn’t orphanhood be the better option?

All these events have one common denominator: they do not have and never had any connection to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The French people in general and their minister in particular are well aware of the lack of any connection between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the terror attacks in Nice, Paris, Berlin, Istanbul and many others in Europe, let alone the war in Syria. The attempt to hang the bloody Middle East situation on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raises profound questions about the degree of connection of top Western leaders to what is really happening in our region.

But that's not all. Ayrault’s recent statements do not contain even one mention of Hamas. The French minister simply ignores the fact that for almost a decade there have been two de facto Palestinian authorities. Mahmoud Abbas barely represents the Palestinians in the West Bank, while the second Palestinian government was established after the 2007 military coup by the Hamas organization in Gaza, a territory from which Israel withdrew two years previously, expecting the Palestinians to negotiate peace. Instead, Hamas seized control, reiterated that it totally rejects peace with Israel, and fired thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities.

The French initiative is disconnected from what is truly happening in our region. The problem is that it gives an international platform to one of the most prominent political lies and distortions we believe—that solving the Palestinians’ problems on their behalf is necessary to bring peace to the entire Middle East. Nothing could be farther from reality.

Despite its misguided view of “peace,” France remains a friendly country to Israel and has many interface points with us. Israeli democracy is even based on some of the same principles of French democracy. However, the gaps in French understanding of what is really happening in the Middle East in general and in our conflict with the Palestinians in particular are a serious cause for us to be concerned. The so-called “peace conference” in France is a new peak for our apprehension.

The hypocrisy of the French leaders and their foreign minister is most problematic. Our sages of a millennia ago wisely said: “Do not fear the Pharisees or the Sadducees, fear the hypocrites...''

We are the ones who will decide about our future here in Israel. The French foreign minister has the right to state his opinion, but not the right to make decisions on our behalf—and so it will remain.

Avi Dichter is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. A member of the ruling Likud Party, he is a former head of Israel’s national security agency and former minister of internal security.

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