Can France Shake Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks To Life?

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has a plan that sets a strict 18-month deadline for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to find a lasting accord. If not, he says France will recognize Palestine nationhood anyway.

Laurent Fabius and Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah
Laurent Fabius and Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah
Piotr Smolar

PARIS â€" We've reached the point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where time can no longer be allowed to run its course. And so despite rampant pessimism, France is working to bring forward a new resolution with a strict deadline to the United Nations Security Council by the next General Assembly in September. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is expected to present the outline of the new peace plan on Sunday to leaders in the region when he visits Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The French resolution will propose to set both the parameters of a negotiated end to the conflict and a limited timeframe of 18 months for these negotiations to take place. But contrary to the demands of Palestinian Authority's President, Mahmoud Abbas, it doesn't include a date for the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The resolution calls for the creation of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders, with exchange of territories agreed by both parts. This Palestinian state would be demilitarized but Israel would pledge to pull out its troops, during a transition period.

As for the thorny issue of Jerusalem, the draft defines the Holy City as the capital of the two future states.

Finally, the text suggests a form of compensation for the Palestinian refugees' right to return, the implicit meaning being that demanding such return is all but ruled out.

But with the official June 30 deadline for the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, Paris' room for maneuver appears quite limited. France's previous efforts to draft a resolution had been thwarted by the Palestinian Authority's hardline. France decided to make a new attempt after the Israeli general election which saw Benjamin Netanyahu remain as Prime Minister with a coalition that leans even farther to the right.

The repeated failures of traditional bilateral negotiations, sponsored by Washington, a partner seen as partial, have rendered promises meaningless. Since 2009, Netanyahu has been saying that he supports the peaceful coexistence of two neighbor states, but he hasn't ceased to encourage the development of additional West Bank settlements.

This gap between words and actions has transformed the prospect of a Palestinian state into a mirage. So much so that Netanyahu now proposes to pick up the talks by starting to define the limits of the block settlements that will be annexed by Israel. The Palestinian Authority considers any such demand unacceptable and has since late 2014 chosen a new strategy by denouncing Israeli occupation on all fronts: courts, diplomacy and even sporting institutions.

But Paris also has an ultimate card to play in favor of pushing forward this plan. If after 18 months no deal has been reached, France will officially recognize the state of Palestine. The deadline (six months shorter than in the previous plan) matches with the 2017 French presidential election.

"France is the only country that actually tries to do something," a European diplomat notes. "But the window is tight and it's hard to see who could have a lever. The risk is to banalize what's going on by simply lightening Palestinian suffering here and there, allowing a little economic development to take place by bumping up the number of workers traveling through Israel."

The Iran factor

As an expert in managing the security aspect of the conflict, the Israeli government knows there are other priorities on the global agenda. France has yielded to the American demand to delay all public announcement until after the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

But beyond that, Paris is uncertain about the Obama administration's intentions. Will the U.S. break away from their long history of using their UN veto to block any resolution that would place Israel under pressure? It's a possibility that leaves experts very skeptical. "It varies, depending on the statements. We're keeping an eye on it," Laurent Fabius admitted in front of France's Foreign Affairs committee on June 9.

For the time being, Paris is content to just present its draft to its European partners and Egypt â€" the Arab League's leader on that issue.

What we know of the text's formulation shows how very cautious it is. In its November draft, Paris wasn't using the words "Jewish state." This time, the resolution seems to have given Israel a small concession by using the phrase "two states for two people," even though the Jews aren't the only Israeli citizens: There are also the 20% of Arabs. This compromise hasn't convinced the Arab League which prefers to save these semantic debates for the negotiations.

The Palestinians would also prefer the resolution referred to East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, so as to avoid endless debates about its perimeter. The starting point for them would be the 1949 "green line."

But on Jerusalem Day (on May 17), Benjamin Netanyahu left no room for doubt. "Jerusalem has always been the capital of the Jewish people alone and not of any other people," he said. "A divided Jerusalem is a past memory: The future belongs to a complete Jerusalem which will not be divided again."

In a recent op-ed piece in Israeli daily Haaretz, journalist Roy Isacowitz recommended France not "waste its time with the UN" and recognize the state of Palestine now. "What France appears to have forgotten in its visionary zeal is that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are deeply split over the future of the Palestinian territories and that neither is in a position to actually decide on anything."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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