What does French vote really mean for Palestine?

To really make a difference, France must go beyond rhetorical statements.

A Palestinian man holds a poster as he calls on France to vote for the recognition of a Palestinian state [AFP]

On November 29, the French parliament convened to discuss a motion on the recognition of the State of Palestine by France. On December 2, it voted “yes” with 339 to 151 votes in favour of a symbolic motion to recognise Palestine as a state.

To understand the meaning of such a move, we must refer to the speech made to members of parliament by Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius: “Far from being a semantic quarrel, the current motion is not an injunction but an invitation addressed by the government. So, there is no ambiguity over the issue of recognising the State of Palestine. The Parliament has the powers to decide, and it will do so, but under our Constitution, the executive – and only the executive – is judge of the political expediency.”

To explain his thoughts, Fabius added: “Alone, or with the United States’ assistance, both parties always managed to negotiate succesfully, however, they failed to come to an agreement. Particularly for domestic political reasons, the two sides failed to reach the final concessions imposed by signing a compromise. Therefore, we need to re-evaluate this method. We need to engage with both parties. Some suggest pressure from the international community will help the two sides reach the indispensable final consensus and take the final step that will lead to peace.”

Fabius suggested an international conference to be held and a two-year time frame to be set, “because in the absence of a time frame, how could we be sure this will not be just another process with no real prospect of success?”

French intentions

This discussion clarifies the intentions of French officials. If negotiations fail in two years, Paris will not recognise the State of Palestine. What the minister did not say, however, is why and how the two-year time frame would change the situation.

French MPs recognise Palestine as state

It is worth mentioning here that the Oslo agreements set 1999 as the deadline for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The 2003 Roadmap sponsored by the Quartet also announced 2005 as the end of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The Annapolis summit in 2007, convened by US President George W. Bush, called for a Palestinian state by 2007 and in 2010, US President Barack Obama called for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2011.

Another element of Fabius’ speech is also worth highlighting. He argues that the cause of failure of the negotiations would come from the inability of the “two parties” to come to a consensus. Thus, it is not Israel that, for decades, has violated international law, expanded settlements, accentuated the Judaisation of Jerusalem and maintained Gaza’s blockade. Consequently, according to Fabius, both parties should be held responsible.

The recognition of the State of Palestine by France will constitute a step forward. In fact, the debate should be contextualised. It is about a solidarity movement with Palestine that has expanded after the Israeli aggression against Gaza last summer. Sweden was the first country in the European Union to recognise the State of Palestine (as well as some other countries, including the former Eastern bloc countries, before joining EU). The British Parliament and the Spanish Congress also voted for the motion. As for the European Parliament, it decided, under Israeli pressure, to postpone the vote that should have taken place on November 27, for several weeks.

The rallying of the French Socialist Party behind this recognition is an attempt to conceal the shameful statements made by President Francois Hollande during the recent Israeli aggression against Gaza.

Trying to cover for Hollande

The rallying of the French Socialist Party behind this recognition is an attempt to conceal the shameful statements made by President Francois Hollande during the recent Israeli aggression against Gaza. Hollande had then, in a phone conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed his solidarity and support to Israel’s right to defend itself, without saying a word about the Palestinian victims.

This illustrates the shift in French policy over the past decade. The words “love for Israel” spoken by Hollande on his trip in November 2013, has now become a pillar of French diplomacy. It is not just about philo-semitism, it is about a strong support for a country that is supposed to be at the forefront of the fight against radicalism, a spearhead of the West. It is also part of a new alliance with the United States, as The Economist magazine pointed out this week.

Considering this context, what change would the French parliament’s vote make? Little, even if it is a symbolic victory for the Palestinians. Why? Assuming that the two-state solution is still possible despite the colonisation, the question is whether the French recognition brings it any closer. When it neither stops the settlements’ expansion, nor the Judaisation of Jerusalem, while Palestinians suffer daily repression and the Gaza blockade continues.

To really make a difference, it is necessary to go beyond rhetorical statements and clearly point to the Israeli government’s responsibility in blocking the process. Thus, bear the consequences by imposing sanctions, as France did against Russia or Iran. In that sense, the EU, being the first partner of Israel, could impose a ban on all products made in the settlements.

Paris could also issue a directive rendering illegal any French company or citizens’ activity in the settlements, including serving in the Israeli army. General Charles de Gaulle, who had imposed a weapons embargo on Israel after the 1967 war, would not have hesitated in taking such measures. But Gaullist France is something of the past.

Alain Gresh is deputy director of Le Monde Diplomatique and a specialist on the Middle East.

This article was written in French by Alain Gresh and translated into English by Ali Saad.