On Sunday, 15 January, members of the international community will convene in Paris for the “Middle East Peace” conference, which according to its mandate seeks to “fully [end] the Israeli occupation that began in 1967.” The conference marks the culmination of French efforts, beginning in June of last year, to revive the failed Palestinian-Israeli peace process and salvage the two-state solution — a solution the international community has been publicly wedded to irrespective of Israel’s intent and implemented policies as demonstrated by the “facts on the ground.”
While I commend the French, how can this be different in both substance and outcome than previous efforts? First, the international nature of the Middle East Peace conference is a welcome departure from the US-centered peace process, which prioritized politics over justice. Further, while some criticism has been raised that neither Palestinian nor Israeli officials will be at the conference, the previous bilateral negotiations framework has created a false pretense of power symmetry and unjustly equalizes the roles of Israel, the Occupying power, and Palestinians, the occupied protected population.
To be clear, foreign powers should not determine the fate of the Palestinian people; however, the approach of overlooking international law and respective duties and obligations, including that of third parties, has failed. These processes resulted in the signing of the PLO-Israel Interim Agreements 1995 (Oslo Accords), which while established as interim agreements on the path to a durable peace, have only served to further consolidate Israel’s control over occupied Palestinian territory. Under the guise of negotiated peace, Israel increased settlement activity, isolated East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, transformed the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison, while continuing to violate basic principles of international law and Palestinian rights.
Learning from history, there must be a change in approach for any just solution to be achieved. Namely, principles of international law and human rights standards, as recognized by various United Nations resolutions, including the most recent Security Council resolution, must form the basis for discussions during the conference, any future negotiations between the parties, and any just and lasting resolution to the conflict.
On this basis, the international community should use the upcoming conference as an opportunity to determine what role they have played in sustaining and enabling the occupation. Do they sell settlement goods in their domestic markets? Do their aid projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territory either cement Israeli policies or bear costs that should be on Israel as the Occupying Power? Have they taken steps to end Israel’s non-compliance with international law, including by participating in various United Nations mechanisms? Palestinians cannot be expected to return to the negotiating table while Israel continues to act with impunity and the world stands idly by.
The time has come to take on a new approach with Israel; one based on justice and law, and ensures the unsustainability of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land. The passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2106) provides those participating in the Middle East Peace conference, and the international community as a whole, with the opportunity to take appropriate action. The resolution reaffirms the illegality of the settlements under international law and the demands that Israel cease all settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem. If Israel continues to disregard international law and fails to comply with this resolution – a certainty given Israel’s habitual non-compliance with previous United Nations resolutions – it should face punitive actions for non-compliance.
Tried and tired approaches will not yield new results. With the occupation entering its 50th year, it is time for the international community to learn from the failures of previous peace and negotiation processes that have facilitated Israel’s continued violations of international law and denied Palestinians their fundamental right to self-determination. It is time to take concrete actions that will stop Israel in its tracks.