Reprinted from The National
In a familiar muddying of the waters, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spent the past week talking up peace while fiercely criticizing Friday's summit in France -- the only diplomatic initiative on the horizon.
As foreign ministers from 29 nations arrived for a one-day meeting in Paris, Mr Netanyahu dusted off the tired argument that any sign of diplomatic support for Palestinians would encourage from them "extreme demands."
France hopes the meeting will serve as a prelude to launching a peace process later in the year. French president Francois Hollande said he hoped to achieve a "peace [that] will be solid, sustainable and under international supervision."
With astounding chutzpah, Israeli official Dore Gold compared the summit to the "height of colonialism" a century ago, when Britain and France carved up the Middle East between them.
Earlier, Mr Netanyahu and his new defense minister, the far-right Avigdor Lieberman, had publicly committed themselves to an "unceasing search for a path to peace."
In a two-minute interview on CNN, spokesman David Keyes managed to mention the formula "two states for two peoples" no less than five times.
Rather than the French initiative, Mr Netanyahu averred, Israelis and Palestinians should be left to engage in the kind of face-to-face talks "without preconditions" that have repeatedly failed. That is because Israel, as the much stronger party, has been able to void them by imposing its own conditions.
Mr Netanyahu, it seems, is keen on any peace process, just so long as it's not the current one launched in Paris.
Part of the reason for bringing Mr Lieberman into the government was to provide more diplomatic wriggle room. With Mr Lieberman cementing Mr Netanyahu's credentials with the far-right, he is now free to spout vague platitudes about peace knowing that his coalition partners are unlikely to take him at his word and bolt the government.
But while the domestic front has been secured, rumbles of dissent reverberate abroad.
Europe is increasingly fearful that an emboldened Israeli government may soon annex all or major parts of the West Bank, stymieing any hope of creating even a severely truncated Palestinian state.
The Paris conference is a sign of the mounting desperation in Europe to restrain Israel.
While France is not about to engineer a breakthrough, Mr Netanyahu is nonetheless worried.
It is the first time Israel has faced being dragged into talks not presided over by its Washington patron. That risks setting a dangerous precedent.
Although US secretary of state John Kerry attended, he was decidedly cool towards the summit. Yet Mr Netanyahu worries that this time Washington may not be able -- or willing -- to watch his back.