This week, the French government, which has long tried to help broker a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, will launch its latest attempt with an international conference in Paris. The summit has made headlines not because of its substance but because of its unusual format: neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were invited. Instead, officials from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East will gather to lay the groundwork for future direct talks between the two parties on a two-state solution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as other Israeli officials, contend that little good can come from a multilateral initiative that excludes Israel. Netanyahu argues that only direct negotiations can resolve the conflict, and has countered with an offer to resume bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians.
But for the Palestinians, the conference represents a twofold victory. For one thing, it shrinks the role of the United States from chief mediator to mere participant. In the broader international community, the logic goes, the Palestinians believe they will find a more sympathetic audience, especially among their European allies. Their overwhelming 138–9 victory in the 2012 vote to upgrade their status at the UN General Assembly only furthers this belief. And as Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah party official, said in February, “Anything is better than American control of the negotiations.”
For another thing, by moving the peace process away from bilateral negotiations and toward a multilateral forum, the Palestinians hope the conference could result in binding international parameters for a future Palestinian state. As a collection of senior Fatah and Palestinian Authority officials known as the Palestine Strategy Group argued in a 2015 report, an “internationalized route” would make sure that “any future negotiations play the role of implementing what has already been internationally endorsed.” Similarly, last September, the Palestinian leader President Mahmoud Abbas called for a “collective, multilateral peace process” that would resemble the “difficult negotiations for the Balkans, Libya, and Iran.” In other words, the Palestinians hope that the Paris conference