A New Leader for the Middle East Peace Talks

Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv[/caption]

One would think that, after six visits, Secretary of State John Kerry could have accomplished more than just “an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Kerry’s seemingly relentless drive for resumed negotiations between the two sides, with only a diplomatic pittance, is evidence of the United States’ increasing ineffectiveness in the area of Middle East peace talks. Bob Dreyfuss of The Nation wrote that “we’ll have to see if the two sides have agreed to talks, under pressure from Kerry, just to please the United States, or if they’re willing to move forward.” It would be easy to see why the Middle East talks have not progressed much of late under U.S. supervision (hint: it isn’t Kerry’s fault). The real reason for the American failure to help the two sides reach a deal is because the United States is seen more as Israel’s cheerleader, than a serious third party arbiter. A May poll from Pew shows that 83% of Israeli’s support U.S. policies in the Middle East, and only 16% of Palestinians agree. The same poll also showed that 95% of Palestinians believe that America’s Middle East policies favor Israel. Maybe there is a good reason for 61% of people who live in the Palestinian Territories to believe that Israel and an independent Palestine cannot co-exist peacefully. However, there can still be a solution in the Middle East, if the United States will step aside and allow one nation to begin managing the negotiations. That nation is France.

France has a demographic incentive to help resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. What could I possibly mean by this? Well, France is dealing with a growing population of Muslims, one that Pew estimates will reach over 10% of the total French population by 2030. Therefore, the country will have to make policy decisions that represent the interests of this ever-growing portion of the population. Helping broker a deal that leaves Palestinians as satisfied as possible would enable the French government to better serve the interests of its voters. The United States does not have this incentive, because Muslims are expected to be just under 2% of the total American population by 2030. Also, 53% of those polled in the United States said that they sympathized with Israel; only 14% said the same for the Palestinians. The United States is unable to facilitate a deal that treats the Palestinians fairly because its domestic politics won’t allow for it; France is more obligated to do so.

France has also diplomatically balanced between both sides in the Middle East conflict. For instance, when France voted for the Palestinian territories to be recognized as a “non-member state” in the United Nations, Israel’s ambassador to Paris said that the relationship between Israel and France remained “excellent.” The Palestinians would respect France as an arbiter in the peace talks because of French support for their statehood aspirations, and the Israelis would still be willing to engage in the negotiations as well.

Perhaps most importantly, the French people believe that a deal can be reached. A Pew poll shows that 40% of respondents in France sympathize with Israel, and 44% with the Palestinians. Despite this close divide, 71% of people in France believe that a deal can be reached, that Israel and an independent Palestine can co-exist peacefully. Only half of Americans believe the same. Why should America, pessimistic and ineffective and perhaps even biased, continue to facilitate the Middle East peace talks? Instead, room should be made for France, optimistic and competent and balanced. If the talks between Israel and the Palestinians are ever going to get anywhere, a third party moderator will need to manifest those three latter qualities. Right now, it seems as if French leadership of the talks may be the best way forward.