Israel/Palestinian Territories/recognition of the State of Palestine/debate in the National Assembly
Paris, November 28, 2014
Ladies and gentlemen deputies,
Next Tuesday, after this debate, you’re going to cast your votes on the recognition of the State of Palestine.
Such a debate, followed by a ballot, is unusual: recognizing a state is actually a prerogative of the government, and it’s rare for such an issue to be referred to Parliament. But the situation itself is exceptional: the interminable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, France’s commitment to both peoples and our country’s desire to see peace finally established there explain your shared determination – albeit manifested in a variety of stances – to contribute to a political solution.
FRANCE’S SUPPORT FOR PRINCIPLE OF PALESTINIAN STATE
I’ll begin on the subject with something obvious: France is a friend of both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. And this should guide the underlying basis and the tone of any stance. Our only enemies in the region are the extremists and fanatics on either side, who obstruct the march towards peace with what I’ll call their “spiral of retaliation”.
In this quest for peace, our country has for a long time expressed support for the two-state solution. On 29 November 1947, in the United Nations General Assembly vote on the creation of two states, France contributed its decisive voice. Let me remind you of the text of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947: “Independent Arab and Jewish States… shall come into existence… not later than 1 October 1948.”
France was one of the first, after the USSR and the United States, to recognize the young State of Israel, which fought hard to win its right to independence. This was also the position of General de Gaulle, of his successors and – in a speech that remained famous, delivered in the Knesset in 1982 – of François Mitterrand, who showed the way forward by recognizing the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspiration to statehood.
Regardless of changeovers of political power, this has been French diplomacy’s steadfast position. France’s recent votes in favour of Palestine as a member of UNESCO and as a non-member observer state at the UN were steps in the same direction. It’s also the stance of President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls; I reaffirm this position. Our firm belief is that only through the coexistence of two sovereign and independent states will it be possible to bring about a definitive resolution of the conflict and the advent of lasting peace in the Middle East. The logical consequence of this position is clear – and I’m expressing it clearly: France will recognize the state of Palestine. This recognition, as I’ve said, isn’t a favour or a privilege, it’s a right.
So the question we face isn’t about principles, because that’s been decided, but about practicalities: when and how? More broadly, what method [can be used] to try and achieve peace in practice? That’s the debate called for by the proposal submitted to your Assembly.
PRACTICAL OBSTACLES TO PALESTINIAN STATE
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, no one can deny that the hope of peace in the Middle East is under greater threat than ever.
In the face of the conflict, we all share a feeling of urgency. We’re aware of the gravity of the situation. We know the ravages created, on both sides and elsewhere, by the lack of a concrete prospect of a solution. We see the scale of human tragedy and ever more worrying attacks on the two-state solution.
This is also why more than 130 countries in the world have recognized Palestine. It’s also why, in recent weeks, several neighbouring countries and parliaments have taken similar initiatives: Sweden and the parliaments of Britain, Ireland and, very recently, Spain. They wanted to say that, in the face of the current deadlock, they rejected fatalism and inertia. We ourselves are convinced action must be taken to further peace.
For a long time we’ve known what form peace must take. It must be based on the existence of two sovereign, democratic states living side by side in peace and security, on the basis of the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as the capital. This, moreover, is the tragic paradox of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what distinguishes it from other conflicts: the basic terms of its resolution are already known, and yet for decades it has appeared to symbolize insoluble conflict.
For it’s true that there’s strong mistrust between the two sides, even though the majority of the public on both sides favour the two-state solution. Israel’s illegal pursuit of settlements in the occupied territories since the 1970s is, in the increasingly short term, threatening the viability of a Palestinian state, while the position of certain Palestinian groups such as Hamas – which call for the destruction of Israel, reject the Oslo Accords and glorify violence – is clearly contrary to the desire for a solution and to our choices.
In short, the number of obstacles to a necessary and hoped-for peace is increasing.
The negotiation process between the two sides, which American Secretary of State Kerry tenaciously sought to revitalize at the beginning of the year, seems to have stalled.
The flare-up of violence is creating fear, with, only recently, the barbaric attack committed against Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue and, in the summer, the intolerable tragedy that hit the inhabitants of Gaza.
And in Gaza nothing has been resolved; in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, everywhere, tension is mounting: at any moment, a spark may lead to a widespread conflagration.
This tragic situation is both the expression and result of decades of tensions, with the periodic commitment to negotiations and periodic failure of those same negotiations, to such an extent that, over the years, this conflict has become a sort of rock of Sisyphus in international relations. Each time discussions are resumed, hope is rekindled; but when the goal draws near, when everyone hopes that the two parties can and will reach their destination, things sadly fall away again.
In Madrid, then during the Oslo Accords, peace seemed within reach; and during the Camp David and Taba summits, where the solution seemed imminent. But peace always ended up slipping away, making those who believed in it more bitterly and brutally disillusioned each time.
Given this deadlock, the international community – particularly France, a power for peace and a traditional friend of Israelis and Palestinians – is duty-bound to react, even though we know that the task is and will be very tough.
FRENCH CONSTITUTIONAL PROCEDURE
Ladies and gentlemen deputies,
The text being submitted to you affirms “the urgent need to reach a definitive settlement of the conflict, allowing the establishment of a democratic, sovereign state of Palestine, in peace and security alongside Israel”. It affirms that “the two-state solution, steadfastly promised by France and the European Union, presupposes recognition of the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel”. And it “invites the French government to recognize the State of Palestine with a view to bringing about a definitive settlement of the conflict”.
Some of you believe that, for constitutional reasons, you can’t take a favourable stance, or indeed any stance, because this would encroach on the executive’s powers. I want to be clear: what the Constitution prohibits in Article 34-1 is Parliament including on the agenda draft resolutions containing “injunctions” to the government. Yet the draft [resolution] being examined is not an injunction but – this isn’t a semantic dispute – an invitation to the government. So, no ambiguity: on the question of recognition for the State of Palestine, Parliament can give its opinion, which it’s going to do, but under the terms of our Constitution the executive – and it alone – assesses the political expediency.
FRENCH POSITION ON RECOGNITION OF PALESTINIAN STATE
Ladies and gentlemen,
What is the most effective way possible of serving the cause of peace?
France has long defended the idea that the State of Palestine must be recognized in the framework of a comprehensive, definitive settlement of the conflict, negotiated by the two parties. There is a reason for this: we don’t want a symbolic recognition which would lead only to a vitual state. We want a genuine State of Palestine. After 25 years of a “peace process” with no results, we can’t make do with a façade of recognition, followed by no concrete effort.
But the desirable goal of recognition included in the framework of a comprehensive agreement makes sense only if the negotiations get under way effectively, if they make progress and if they produce results. In other words, we support the negotiation, but we reject this becoming a way of managing an unjust, untenable status quo. We reject a sham whereby the two parties, left solely to themselves, manage only to dwell on the same issues with no clear framework or deadline being given to the negotiation. In short, the negotiation accompanying the recognition cannot become a means, the means, of avoiding or impeding this recognition.
FRANCE’S DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS
It follows that, in view of the current deadlock, we think it’s legitimate to opt for an approach enabling us to give negotiation a genuine and perhaps a final chance.
We believe it’s essential to overcome a solitary standoff between the Israelis and Palestinians, an approach proven to be ineffective. Indeed, the historical lesson of recent decades is indisputable: alone, or even with the United States’ support, the two sides manage – with difficulty – to talk, but they don’t reach agreement. For reasons of domestic politics in particular, they don’t succeed in making the final concessions required for signing a compromise.
So we must try and develop this method. Support – some will say pressure – is required from the international community to help both sides make the final, essential gesture and take the ultimate step that will lead to peace.
That’s what the French government is focusing on right now.
At the United Nations, we’re working with out partners to try and ensure a Security Council resolution is adopted with a view to restarting and concluding the negotiations, for which a two-year period is most often mentioned. For its part, the French government supports this timeframe.
After so many efforts and failures, the result isn’t certain. But we don’t want to rule out any chance of peace. The goals of this hoped-for resolution are clear. To set a course: we want to avoid the pitfall of endless negotiations, which would take what has already been achieved over years back to square one. Clear parameters for resolving the conflict adopted by the international community in advance will provide the basis for future negotiations. And we must set a timetable, because in the absence of a timetable how can we persuade people this isn’t the umpteenth process with no real prospect of success?
In parallel to these negotiations at the UN, France is calling for the conditions to be created for a collective effort for peace. Experience teaches us, as I’ve emphasized, that the Israelis and Palestinians can’t achieve it alone. The decisions to be taken are so delicate that outside support is essential, with and even in addition to the United States, which has a major role to play. Other countries are also directly concerned by the solution of the conflict: I’ll mention in particular Egypt and Jordan, which for decades have been taking in many Palestinian refugees and have special responsibilities for the holy sites.
France would like to involve the European Union, the Arab League and the permanent members of the Security Council, including the United States, in this effort, in a collective mobilization for peace in the Middle East. An international conference could be organized to support this essential momentum. France is prepared to take the initiative for it. In this diplomatic negotiation, recognizing the Palestinian state will be an instrument for definitively resolving the conflict, and a lever for peace.
And what, people will say, if those efforts fail? What if this final attempt at a negotiated solution doesn’t succeed? Well, France will have to shoulder its responsibilities by recognizing the State of Palestine without delay. We’re ready for it.
Ladies and gentlemen deputies,
The French government’s position is intended to be both positive and balanced. There’s no question of a status quo, which in reality threatens the two-state solution. Nor is there any question of giving way on Israel’s security, or “importing” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into our country. In our minds, the votes that are going to be cast won’t pit those who support the Palestinians, on the one hand, against those who support the Israelis on the other: indeed, recognition of the State of Palestine is also necessary to ensure Israel’s development and security in the long term, so it should be supported by all the friends of Israel.
Conversely, we think being a friend of Israel in no way means being an enemy of Palestine. The common ground is the quest for peace, which entails recognizing the Palestinian state, according to the method and at the time most effective for peace. In climbing this steep path we’re sparing no efforts because, like you, we know time is running out for those people who sincerely want peace in the region and for the region./.