Paris Peace Conference

A Deceptive Status Quo: The Middle East Peace Process Cannot Wait

Thinking the Middle East could restore its stability without settling its oldest conflict, between Israelis and Palestinians, is unrealistic. The absence of a peace process affects all of our collective security.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Francois Hollande and Mahmoud Abbas.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Francois Hollande and Mahmoud Abbas. ABIR SULTAN.AFP, MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP and Majdi Mohammed/AP

The Middle East peace process cannot wait, for two main reasons.

First and foremost, the situation is urgent. Many crises throughout the region, from Syria to Libya, from Yemen to Iraq, have generated new threats to its stability. Some say that because of these crises, priorities need to be established, and in the name of these supposed priorities, resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be put off until later. 

This is not what I believe: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be considered separately from its regional environment. Thinking that the Middle East could restore its stability without settling its oldest conflict is unrealistic. This conflict, if not dealt with, will continue to fuel frustration and will ultimately only worsen the vicious cycle of radicalization and violence. It will continue to give budding terrorists excuses for enlisting. The heinous attack in Jerusalem last Sunday is an additional warning sign. 

That is why I decided to take action: because peace cannot wait and every passing day moves possibilities for settling the conflict further from reach.

Because in addition to the urgency of the situation, I have a very strong conviction, and it is one I share with most of our partners and with most Israelis and Palestinians. This conviction is that only a two-state solution will, in time, bring stability to the region and enable Israel to live in security. This does not mean imposing peace. France has never claimed to outline a solution for anyone. We are extremely aware that the conflict will not be settled until parties have decided to set out down the courageous and demanding path of reconciliation. This path will be sinuous and marked by difficult choices. Neither France nor the international community can nor wishes to force the parties to take it. Israelis and Palestinians must jointly decide what their future together will be.

Yet, there is one certainty, shared by all, because beyond Israelis and Palestinians, it concerns our collective security: the aim of negotiations, their very reason for existing, is to achieve two states, living side by side in peace and security. Both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas know that there is no alternative and that this is the way Israelis and Palestinians will be able to look serenely to the future.  

However, this two-state solution is in danger. For more than six years, the absence of a peace process has given way to a deceptive status quo. Palestinians are seeing their future state shrinking, as settlement expansion continues at an unprecedented speed. This, in turn, generates more occupation, since there is never one without the other. Israelis, in a regional environment that has never been more turbulent, are also experiencing almost-daily violence, carried out by those who play on people’s frustrations to promote an agenda of hate. Promises of peace from both sides have disappeared and have been replaced by mistrust, resignation and even false hope that the current situation can go on indefinitely. 

Saving the two-state solution and safeguarding a future of peace and prosperity for peoples in the region is why the international community has decided to take action with the impetus of France. That is why on 3 June 2016, 30 countries and international organizations answered our call and met in Paris. That is why the Security Council passed resolution 2334 on 23 December 2016. This action has but one, simple and clear message: Israeli friends, Palestinian friends, we will not make peace on your behalf but we will be by your side. It is our responsibility in the face of History. We will be there to support you. Like us, you are aware that the international community’s support will be indispensable when the time comes. We are ready to provide this support.

On 15 January in Paris more than 70 partners will meet again. First, to present the outcome of the work they started on 3 June. Together, we have come up with a contribution for all areas: the economy, trade, development assistance, cooperation and the civil society. Its goal is to show the parties what they can gain from peace. 

The 15 January conference will also send a message to Israelis, to Palestinians and to the world. At a time when the future of the peace process is subject to all kinds of speculation, it is our joint responsibility to reiterate this obvious fact: in no way can a unilateral decision be compatible with the two-state solution. This solution will only be possible if there is restored confidence and a shared political future to which Israelis and Palestinians aspire. France has but one ambition: to help make this happen.

Jean-Marc Ayrault is the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development.