Could a Macron-led Middle East Peace Process Work?
French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter recently following a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It came as Abbas slammed the recent deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to normalize relations, a move widely praised by many Western governments, including Paris.
Macron’s Growing Role
The French leader has been playing an active role in Middle Eastern politics throughout his presidency so far. Last year, he was instrumental in drawing up a four-point plan to pave the way for replacing Barack Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal with a new one, as US President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018.
He also hosted the 2018 Paris summit to bring an end to the ongoing Libyan war.
Macron has also been calling for international aid to Lebanon to be tied to political reform following the devastating explosion in Beirut.
Macron’s Middle East Peace Efforts Haven’t Succeeded Yet
While these actions are admirable, many of the French President’s interventions in the Middle East have so far failed to produce any tangible results. However, if Macron plays his cards right in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he may be able to secure a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict.
Daniel Kurtzer of the Hoover Institution argues that peace is possible through people-to-people engagements, that is, activities that bring ordinary citizens together to overcome mutual mistrust and to build understanding at the grassroots level.
Last year, the Trump administration convened a workshop in Bahrain to try to mobilize support for its plans for the Middle East. Its economic plan focused on business investment and aimed to go beyond government-to-government engagement, and to try and encourage action by the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan is an Obstacle for Macron
Yet the issue that Macron faces is that he will have to deal with the consequences of the Middle East peace plan initiated by the US President earlier this year. Billed to as “the deal of the century,” the plan rejects a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, proposing instead a capital on the outskirts of the city.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the Israeli Government would immediately annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements while pledging not to establish new settlements in areas left to the Palestinians for approximately four years. However, these plans have been delayed by the recent Israeli-UAE agreement to normalize relations.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the suspension of the annexations “must become a definitive measure.” But the French President will have difficulty persuading the Israeli and American leaders to suspend the plan as they have both staked so much political capital on it.
Given Macron’s failure to persuade Trump to support his four-point plan for Iran, it is unlikely he will convince the US President to abandon a core element of his signature plan for the Middle East.
Macron Must Tread Carefully
The opposition of the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the United Nations to the plan has failed to strengthen the Palestinians’ hands during the aftermath of the peace deal, as the US and Israel have ignored all of them. This does not bode well for Macron’s attempt to rescue international efforts to secure peace in Palestine.
The plan also specifies that Palestine must commit itself to total demilitarization and abandonment of any legal action against Israel and the US. As long as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) enjoys the support of Turkey and Iran, they will feel emboldened to resist Israel’s attempt to end their military activities.
Although Macron has a diplomatic relationship with Iran, tensions between Ankara and Paris have escalated recently.
Senior Iranian officials have expressed an interest in destroying Israel in the past, so they will not support a peaceful solution that involves Jerusalem. Macron cannot achieve peace until Turkey and Iran end their tensions with Israel, which have only worsened as a result of the Israeli-UAE agreement.
Like with many of Macron’s attempts to intervene in the Middle East, the French President will encounter tremendous obstacles in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also risks alienating the support of two of France’s closest allies. The French leader should tread carefully if he is serious about defending Palestinian sovereignty.