French ambassador asks: ‘Does the Middle East need a new honest broker?’

AMMAN — France is willing to become one of the new honest brokers  in the Middle East especially after the wave of condemnation and regional tensions rooted from President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, French Ambassador to Jordan David Bertolotti told the audience in a packed auditorium at the Columbia Global Centres on Sunday during a lecture titled “Does the Middle East need a new honest broker?”. 

The Jordan Times
January 09, 2018

Read the full article by the Jordan Times here

by Mina Mohit

After President Trump’s decision, “which represents a deep departure from the established American policy on the conflict”, some members in the region say that the United States “can no longer pretend to be an honest broker”, said Bertolotti. 

Nevertheless, the French diplomat provided a nuance to his statement and said that despite public opinion, the US is still a “major play” and its role since the 1990s in any negotiations process between the Israelis and the Palestinians “cannot be ignored”.

He added: “Everybody knows that the US can bring to the table very significant contributions whether in terms of security guarantees or economic incentives and succeeding without those would be a challenge.” 

Therefore, to introduce France as a qualifying mediator, Bertolotti highlighted some of France’s successes in various mediating roles in the region, such as the nuclear deal in Iran, help during the Gulf Crisis with Qatar and diffusing the crisis after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned from Riyadh. 

The ambassador said that some have asked  France to “step in” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue to “equalise a two-state solution”.

“France and the European Union have strongly reaffirmed their commitment to a two-state solution: Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with recognised borders with Jerusalem as capital of both cities,” said Bertolotti, adding that ultimately it will be the Palestinians and the Israelis who will decide on its“final status” through negotiations. 

However, many members of the audience raised their hands in favour of a one-state solution. 

“We believe in one state!” shouted one woman from the audience, to which the French diplomat responded by saying that “nobody will continue to adamantly insist on the two state solution” if it is not the desired outcome of the Palestinians.

He acknowledged the “tremendous challenges” in both viable options citing the “geography, the borders and security” in the two-state solution, and the unlikeliness — especially with Israel’s current leadership — of “granting full civilian and political rights to the Palestinians in a single state”.

During the Q&A session, a member of the audience stood up with a comment that sparked a passionate round of applause from others in the auditorium. 

“I don’t think there will be any honest broker in the Middle East—including France — because we still remember mister Picot [referring to Francois Picot from the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement where they divided the Arab region into French and English areas of control]. We remember your approval of the Belfour Declaration.”

The French ambassador listened closely to the remarks and said that “Sykes-Picot will not inspire any of our leaders on how to make peace today, maybe it was a very unfortunate choice and maybe it led to catastrophes, but we are not trying to take a time machine and change Sykes-Picot, we are a hundred years from that, we are in [2018]... and although it is precious for a diplomat, or anyone, to know his or her history, that is not what enables you to find solutions for things happening today”. 

Finally, Bertolotti noted that if the Israeli/Palestinian conflict “spirals out of control”, especially if the American proposed plan is unaccepted and if violence erupts causing consequences for Europe, it will leave France with “no option” but to get involved.