Growing Tensions in the Middle East

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being subsumed by wider conflicts in the region

Dominque de Villepin at Tufts

For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the central issue of the Middle East, seeming to defy solution. It is still a thorny issue, and no closer to solution than before, but is being overshadowed by larger conflicts in the region, former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said at the Issam M. Fares Lecture at Tufts on March 6.

The French minister of foreign affairs from 2002 to 2004 and minister of the interior from 2004 to 2005, de Villepin “has always been known and revered . . . for his support for the United Nations, for his support for a global world order, well known for his opposition to the war in Iraq, and the stirring speech he gave at the U.N. in 2003 in that regard,” said Fletcher Dean James Stavridis, F83, F84, in his introduction.

Stavridis described the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a perennial one—he studied it his first year at Fletcher in 1980-81, he said.

De Villepin agreed. “It is a key crisis of our world, even if we are talking about a very small portion of territory,” he said. He ascribed the standoff to a perilous state of democracy in Israel and the lack of a “credible partner for peace in Palestine.” At the same time, the U.S. has lost much credibility as a mediator of the conflict, starting, he said, during the Obama administration, and continuing now with the Trump administration.

“There is no viable two-state solution on the table anymore,” de Villepin said, because “there are no partners for peace.” And while the two-state solution isn’t workable, he said, a one-state solution—having the entire territory of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza under Israeli control or in a confederation—“would be rife with conflict,” de Villepin said.

The third option, annexation of the Gaza Strip by Egypt and of the West Bank by Jordan, would simply be going back to the situation in 1947, and an acknowledgement of the failure of the creation of the Palestinian state. “There are no good scenarios on the table,” he concluded.

After his speech, Dominque de Villepin sat down for a conversation with Fletcher Dean James Stavridis. Photo: Alonso Nichols After his speech, Dominque de Villepin sat down for a conversation with Fletcher Dean James Stavridis. Photo: Alonso Nichols
What has changed is the transformation of the Middle East with the rise of the regional powers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, each with their own agendas. Likewise, de Villepin added, now there are two alliances fostering regional frontline conflict: Russia, Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon versus the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Turkey is in the middle, not yet committed to either side.

“Palestine is becoming a secondary battleground of a much larger confrontation, and this is changing completely how we should look at the conflict,” said de Villepin.

“We have to face the fact that the danger in the region is getting greater,” he said. “Today the choice is even more between war and peace,” with what feels like a move back “to something like the Cold War.”

“I believe our duty today is to avoid war at all costs, and in this regard we must avoid diplomatic temptations,” said de Villepin—such as, he said, the temptation of the “blame game,” which he sees in the Kushner-Greenblatt plan for the Middle East.

“In a nutshell, as a European, I believe today the narrow but important path is to avoid confrontation of blocs when possible, and to make the best of this new Cold War that is rising when it is necessary.”

Taylor McNeil can be reached at  

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