KOUCHNER AND THE PALESTINE-ISRAELI STRUGGLE
Source: Dar Al Hayat, 8 October 2008, http://english.daralhayat.com. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Dar Al Hayat.
After his visit to Jenin accompanied by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner became more optimistic, despite the existing tribulations in the Palestinian territories. Fayyad is a trustworthy official. He has undertaken many reforms despite the tragic conditions under occupation. Kouchner has had the chance to see on the ground in Jenin how France and the international community are helping to create better conditions, despite the very difficult existing ones.
Kouchner’s trip to the Palestinian territories and Israel highlighted how important it is to ensure a continued involvement by Europe and the new US administration in pushing the peace track forward in order to solve the Palestinian-Israeli struggle. The French minister wants to push his European colleagues, before the end of France’s presidency of the EU, to produce a united paper that refers to the promises made at the Annapolis Conference. This would be relayed to the new European presidency, which goes to the Czech Republic, at the beginning of the year. France wants to speed things along, pressing the new US administration to promote the peace process at the soonest, instead of waiting until the last year of its term or its second term.
Kouchner is enthusiastic by temperament and says what is on his mind; he refuses to surrender to the status quo. He wants to move things along, and Salam Fayyad is amenable to such a policy. Despite the doubts about the establishment of a Palestinian state, Fayyad has been striving to show his persistence about “removing the occupation and defeating the obstacles,” something he has always supported.
Certainly, ever since French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, French policy has always been balanced vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. This is despite Sarkozy repeating, during every meeting with Arab officials, that he is a friend of Israel.
And Kouchner is Sarkozy’s friend; he manages French diplomacy based on the belief that, sooner or later, a Palestinian state will be established, despite the obstacles and daily human rights violations from which Palestinians suffer. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti laid this out in realistic terms for Kouchner when he showed him pictures of Palestinian children wounded by the Israelis.
However, Paris is aware that the difficulties are tremendous, and that the Israeli policies of expanding settlements and increasing roadblocks are unacceptable; however, Kouchner refuses the claim that nothing is improving in the Palestinian territories, or that on the contrary, things are getting worse. He wants to present a better picture of this situation that remains extremely dire, despite all his statements to the contrary. As a matter of fact, the majority of Palestinians are 15 or younger; they do not know the Israelis as a result of the roadblocks and closures, and live under tragic conditions. So, how can there be a future of coexistence under such conditions?
At the same time, Israeli practices boost the popularity of Hamas in Gaza, amid a discouraging situation in the region, due to the fear of an Israeli strike against Iran. Paris is aware of this danger and the risk that Iran will use Hezbollah in Lebanon in such an eventuality.
Paris is making huge efforts to tell Syria it must stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah. Kouchner and his team were told by their Israeli interlocutors that they were anxious about the weapons reaching the resistance group in Lebanon, hence the need for Syria to interrupt this flow.
Despite the paralysing conditions with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, and on the Iranian nuclear front, Paris is making huge efforts to ensure that America’s concern with pushing the peace process forward in the coming period is not a side-issue. France believes that a solution to this struggle should be a priority for all sides in the region and the world, especially the new US administration.
*Randa Takieddine is the bureau chief for Dar Al Hayat in Paris. This article is