Leaders have met in Paris to discuss peace between Israel and Palestine, but decades of mistrust and the changing US presidency spell trouble in the coming days. Mideast expert Harel Chorev talks to DW.
DW: What do world leaders want to achieve through this summit?
Harel Chorev: The French are being very serious about their efforts to set some sort of a framework of principles that will encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to reach an agreement or to give a push to the stagnating peace process. However, as you know, Israel is opposing the preconditions that the Palestinians have set and generally speaking, Israel prefers to do it through mechanisms of direct negotiation.
What are the preconditions that Palestine has put forward?
There is nothing specific at the moment, but for example, they have set withdrawing to the 1967 line as a precondition for any negotiation.The main issue by the way, if we see history, is that the Palestinians have refused to acknowledge the Jewishness of Israel. It sounds pretty simple, but it is a major barrier that none of the sides have managed to overcome.
What exactly do you mean by "recognizing the Jewishness of Israel?"
Palestine has not recognized Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. One might ask, why do you care, do you need approval from the Palestinians that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people? But on the other hand, if it is not a problem, how come none of the sides are ready to withdraw from this issue?
What do the Palestinians say?
They say, it's not our job to define what is Israel and we refuse to acknowledge it as the homeland of the Jewish people. The fact that they are refusing says a lot about their opinion and it shows it is an important issue.
Do you think it is because the Palestinians see the territory currently in Israel as having been part of their own territory before 1948?
This is the major thing between the two camps. Justifiably, in this case, Israel is willing to acknowledge that the Palestinians are a national movement today. However, the Palestinians still don't acknowledge the fact that the Israelis represent a national movement from their own side. It is still treated as a colonial force - and we're not talking about the 1967 lines, we're talking about the 1948 lines, namely, the old territories of Israel. And it is a fundamental issue between the two sides.
How would you evaluate the status of the Israel-Palestine peace process as it stands today?
Unfortunately, it is at a very bad point. It doesn't look like the stagnation is going to end, to begin with. Both sides are keeping to their old stance regarding the issues. And we cannot overlook the fact that the instability of the whole region is contributing a lot to this. The ISIS ["Islamic State"] is always somewhere in the background and the Israeli fear that the instability within the West Bank will increase.
And not only ISIS, but also the Hamas, which has proved so many times that it has no intentions to advance in the area of peace with Israel. On the one hand, Israel is very suspicious of the PA [Palestinian Authority] - especially in terms of incitement - which is a major buzzword today. Incitement as in agitating, incitement in the educational system and on social networks against Israelis.
Is this the reason for the deadlock?
This has contributed a lot to the mistrust. The main problem between Israelis and Palestinians is mistrust, which began to develop after the Oslo Accord was ruined by Hamas' terror attacks. They exploded buses in the mid-nineties and on the other hand, the mistrust was compounded by Israel's settlements in the West Bank - not that I am comparing between the two.
Why is neither Israel nor Palestine participating in the talks?
I can tell you from my Palestinian sources that they don't have too many expectations. Basically its just another milestone in the diplomatic struggle. But the Palestinians don't expect the Paris convention to succeed mainly because of Trump.
The US President-Elect Donald Trump has said he wants to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, do you think that will create a problem?
I don't think it will create a problem because I don't think anyone has a problem with the fact that Israel is the legal ruler of the west Jerusalem side. If the Americans choose to build their embassy in the middle of Old Jerusalem city, that would be something else, because that is a territory claimed by the Palestinians too.
The whole thing is very symbolic and we know that in this area of the world, symbolism and rumors could create a problem. But the Palestinians are including Trump in their calculations and they are not expecting much. They know that the Security Council resolution 2334 was maybe very encouraging - something to blow some air into the sails of Mahmoud Abbas, but the Palestinians are aware that the whole setting is changing this Friday.
What is Israel's attitude towards the new shift in the US government?
I think they are trying to stay polite to the old US administration because Obama, despite all criticism, was a great friend of Israel. However, I think they perceive Trump as somebody who will be more friendly in understanding specific Israeli concerns, both on the Iranian issue and the Palestinian issue.
What does the future look like - for the peace process?
We were so optimistic many times. When people were unaware that things were happening, many things happened under the surface, including during Netanyahu's time. Unlike his image, he negotiated with the Palestinians many times. However, things seem to be really bad at the moment. And Mahmoud Abbas is not getting younger. He's almost 83 and it sets a lot of other future problems because when he leaves the problem could even increase, unless there is someone from the Palestinian side who is strong and decisive enough to lead. And finding an Israeli counterpart is also a problem. That will take a lot of time.
Dr. Harel Chorev is the head of the Middle Eastern Network Analysis Desk at Tel Aviv University.