Israeli diplomatic corps bracing for onslaught following Paris conference

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (GPO)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, current and former foreign ministry officials said Thursday that Sunday’s “peace” conference in Paris would do little but demonize Israel and push off the possibility of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Netanyahu called the conference “rigged by the Palestinians under French auspices to adopt additional anti-Israel stances” and said Israel would not consider itself bound by any decisions or statements to come out of the session.

The prime minister, who is also the foreign minister, came under fire last month following the ratification of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 that declared Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria illegal. Critics said Netanyahu failed to define a clear policy in the aftermath of the resolution and refused to convene Israel’s diplomatic corps before or after the vote in order to craft a unified foreign policy approach.

Ahead of Paris, however, foreign policy officials and professionals said that Ministry officials and professionals have issued clear directives to Israeli embassies, Jewish organizations and other support groups abroad in order to weather the storm that is certain to result from the conference.

“We are working on two levels in parallel,” said Emmanuel Nachshon, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. “One is to try to reduce the level of representation of the different countries participating in this summit. The lower the level of participation, the fewer senior diplomats who attend, the more negligible the conference, its impact and importance will be.

“The second level is trying to reduce the harmful affects of the conference. We know it isn’t going to be pro-Israel and it isn’t going to promote peace. It’s not going to be friendly, but we are trying to make sure there in nothing too extreme in it,” Nachshon said.

To accomplish that goal, the Ministry has issued policy briefings to Israeli embassies and and consulates and instructed diplomats to encourage their counterparts in international capitals not to participate in the conference. The message is clear: Far from being a “peace” conference, Sunday’s event will go a long way towards complicating peace efforts because internationalizing the Israel-Palestinian conflict or demonizing Israel serves to further support Palestinian intransigence.

“The more Palestinians believe that the world works for them the less they will be willing to sit and negotiate with Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “And if they don’t negotiate with Israel they will get nothing.”

Hotovely defended Netanyahu against the criticisms noted above that Israel’s foreign policy establishment “fell apart” last month, saying the prime minister actually took concrete, aggressive diplomatic steps following Resolution 2334: Summoning diplomats from the countries that voted in favor and conducting very tough conversations.

More recently, she said she has held “essential conversations” with each ambassador to a country that is expected to attend the conference, and drafted a country-specific plan of attack, both ahead of the summit and after. Those plans take into account the domestic politics in each country and focus on crafting specific work plans for each individual country.

“Still, it isn’t easy,” she said. “Some countries really understand [that talking aggressively at Israel is] not effective, especially with a new US president coming into office that doesn’t believe that settlements are the world’s biggest problem, who thinks that the whole dynamic is anti-Israel and, who doesn’t put any pressure on the Palestinians. So they understand that the rules of the game are about to change.”

Despite the efforts, however, ministry officials, Jewish organizations abroad and members of the diplomatic corps say they are preparing for the “worst-case scenario: A badly skewed declaration in Paris on Sunday, followed by another anti-Israel Security Council resolution later in the week – one that the United States could again refuse to veto, or perhaps even vote to ratify.

Asked how the ministry is preparing for that eventuality, Emmanuel Nachshon told TPS that the diplomatic community is “working on a number of alternatives” but said that he was not at liberty to divulge details.

“As you can imagine, the issue is all very sensitive right now. We don’t want to go public with our plans until we know what situation we’re trying to address,” he said.