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Macron’s Peace Forum Adds to ‘conference Overkill,’ Critics Say

A lack of focus has left some wondering what the Paris Peace Forum can achieve on Gaza and its long list of other agenda items.

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has a dizzying to-do list this week: fix the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, stop melting ice-caps, and straighten out the challenges of artificial intelligence.

And that’s just a glimpse of the agenda of this week’s diplomatic marathon in Paris that brings together leaders, diplomats and NGO workers from across the world.

But what exactly Macron can achieve is less than certain.

Delegates are meeting for the Paris Peace Forum, an annual assembly and one of Macron’s many pet diplomatic projects; its ambitions include tackling global challenges from migration to climate change.

Solving the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is the latest addition to the gathering’s agenda.

On Thursday, heads of state and foreign affairs ministers will discuss “concrete ways” to improve access to humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip and answer the population’s need of water, food, medicine and fuel, according to one of Macron’s aides. But with barely a week to prepare the summit, and access to the Palestinian enclave still dependent on Israel, there is skepticism over what can be achieved in Paris, according to several foreign diplomats.

Making progress on the other topics under discussion also looks difficult. A French push to get a global green transition tax off the ground has stalled, while Russia’s absence is the elephant in the room in talks on saving the Arctic’s ice.

“There’s an international overkill of conferences with similar participants. It’s a lot about France’s visibility on the global stage,” said an EU diplomat, who like others quoted in this article was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.

Macron is not the only leader contributing to this global summit traffic jam: This month, U.K. PM Rishi Sunak organized a summit on AI, while Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez offered to host a peace conference between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Getting aid into Gaza

With aid organizations warning of food running out and hospitals lacking anesthetics in the Gaza Strip, the pressure is mounting on Western countries to respond to the humanitarian crisis there. On Tuesday, Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry said over 10,000 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s military operations.

Macron’s Gaza conference will be a moment for Western countries to send the message that they care for Palestinians.

“I see the interest for France, it’s very timely, focuses on Gaza at time when everybody wants to redress the balance of attention,” said the same EU diplomat, referring to accusations the West is overlooking Palestinian loss of life while supporting Israel’s right to retaliate against Hamas attacks.

“But given the late organization, lack of information … wouldn’t it have been better to do the conference a week later so that people are better prepared?” the diplomat asked. Another Paris-based foreign diplomat added he had “mixed feelings” ahead of the conference. “France has this ambition of grandeur but then has to deal with the reality” that the U.S. “has the lead” in the Near East, the diplomat said.

Macron’s Gaza conference illustrates the broader difficulties Europe faces in trying address a conflict over which it has little sway.

The gathering in Paris is partly a response to the U.N.’s call for more funds for Gaza, which needs an estimated $1.2 billion. It hasn’t been billed as a pledging conference, however, and only a couple of countries, including France, will make announcements on new aid packages.

The conference will also look at “concrete ways” to deliver aid, but on that score Elysée officials downplayed the prospect of a quick outcome. “It’s no secret that access to Gaza for medicines, aid, is difficult, our aim will be work together with participants and with Israel and improve that access,” said an official for the French presidency.

Except that Israel wasn’t invited, and isn’t particularly happy about the conference in the first place.

“Like many, we do not understand what’s going to happen there. We only hope that it will not turn into a kind of anti-Israeli platform to criticize Israel, to call for a cease-fire,” Israel’s envoy to the EU Haim Regev told POLITICO.

According to Michel Duclos, a former French ambassador to Syria, inviting Israel would have inflamed tensions with neighboring countries. “If Israel had been invited, Arab countries would have been obliged to protest, criticize and maybe not come. So it’s a way of defusing the issue,” Duclos said.

World leaders attending the gathering include the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Talking peace

Gaza is not the only topic of discussion at the Paris Peace Forum, where delegates will also discuss reining in artificial intelligence, climate finance, and saving the world’s melting ice caps and glaciers.

But there, too, tangible outcomes are unlikely. On melting glaciers and ice caps, participants will agree on a “Paris appeal” that will send a political message, with some concrete measures thrown in.

This year the forum has taken on the extra task of following up on the initiatives Macron launched during his June summit on a new global financing pact.

At that summit, Macron proposed to introduce new forms of international taxation to finance the green transition, a priority shared by the 38 other countries that signed a “Paris Pact.” But the principal progress achieved on that file has been the creation of a dedicated task force to be launched publicly at the forum on Friday.

At stake is perhaps the very purpose of the Paris Peace Forum, a 2017 Macron brainchild that focuses on global issues rather than on conflicts. The world now faces real wars, however, including Russia’s war in Ukraine as well as conflicts in the Caucasus and in the Near East.

“Today this line is harder to hold. Global issues have been disrupted by geopolitical crises, it’s difficult to separate the two… the challenge is to take the crises into account and not be submerged by them,” Duclos said. The forum, he added, offers precious space for delegations from rivals countries such as the U.S. and China to meet in informal settings.

Source: Politico