Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers the peace conference that convened on Sunday in Paris, attended by more than 70 foreign ministers, “useless.” He is waiting breathlessly for the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who he assumes will rescue Israel from the headache known as the peace process with the Palestinians. That’s why even the presence of the incumbent U.S. secretary of state at the conference was meaningless to him.
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Netanyahu already made his opinion known when he announced that he would boycott the conference because he is adhering to the principle of direct negotiations with the Palestinians — the negotiations that he has repeatedly made every effort to scuttle. He also shrugged off the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which defined the settlements, including those built in East Jerusalem, as illegal. It seems as if he considers any international forum that doesn’t fully adopt Israeli policies a hostile forum, as if it were talking about a meeting of Arab or Muslim states.
It’s true that the conference participants themselves disagreed over the wording of the concluding statement, and it’s also true that any resolution passed at the conference will not be binding. Nevertheless, this is not a “useless” conference. Au contraire. Participants will be asked, at the very least, to reaffirm their commitment to the two-state solution, a principle that Netanyahu has recognized, and perhaps even to propose ways to achieve it.
The conference might also serve as a launch pad for actual policies that will stand up to whatever provocative initiatives or inaction that the new U.S. president might try to peddle.
One can debate the effectiveness or the results of the conference, but Israel mustn’t abandon the international arena when its issues or issue relating to the conflict are being discussed without at least presenting its position and trying to persuade participants of the justice of its policies.
The boycott of the conference shows more than anything else that Netanyahu believes Israel can, on its own or with the help of the U.S. president, block international efforts aimed at saving the peace process while portraying Israel and the country being persecuted by those who wish it ill.
Netanyahu is thus playing into the hands of those who claim that Israel, like the Palestinians, never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. This conference is not Netanyahu’s private business. It touches on the status of the State of Israel and its citizens in the world. The boycott of the conference reinforces Israel’s image as a recalcitrant state and gives a shot in the arm to all those who call for it to be boycotted.