Paris meet sends message to Israel, Trump

Jan. 16, 2017


 PARIS: Sending a forceful message to Israel’s prime minister and the incoming Trump administration, dozens of countries Sunday called on Israel and Palestine to revive work toward long-elusive peace – including an independent Palestinian state.

The closing declaration at a Mideast peace conference in Paris urged both sides to “officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution” and disassociate from voices that reject this.

It also warned them against taking one-sided actions that could hurt talks, an apparent reference to Israeli settlement construction.

While Palestine welcomed Sunday’s declaration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the conference “rigged” and cooked up behind Israel’s back to force it to accept conditions against national interests. The French organizers argued the conference was necessary to keep hopes alive for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine – the solution favored by the international community for the past two decades.

Britain cited “reservations” over the conference and refused to sign the joint statement that called for the negotiated two-state solution.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the British had “particular reservations” about the meeting in Paris taking place without Israeli or Palestinian representatives, “just days before the transition to a new American president.” Britain had therefore attended the talks as an observer only, the spokesman said.

Many members of Netanyahu’s coalition want to abandon the two-state solution and expand settlements, and some have even called for annexing parts of the West Bank.

Trump’s election campaign platform made no mention of Palestinian independence.

In a nod to Israel, the final declaration of Sunday’s conference included criticism of incitement and “terror,” a reference to Palestinian attacks. And some of the pro-Palestinian language in an earlier draft was removed after diplomats huddled in Paris Sunday. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been increasingly critical of Netanyahu, represented the U.S. at Sunday’s talks and defended the effort. He rejected Israeli criticism of the conference, saying the concept of a two-state solution to the conflict is “threatened” and must be reinforced if it is ever to happen. The communique, he said, endorses that without imposing a resolution.

“Given where things are going and what is happening, that is particularly important,” he said.

He also warned that it’s too early to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem, as proposed by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. “This is not the right time,” he said. “We think it’s ill-advised.”

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Sunday’s statement amounted to a rejection of Israel’s occupation and settlement construction in captured territories. He said it sent a message that Israel “cannot achieve peace and stability” without ending its occupation.

France and others expressed concern that the Trump administration could unleash new tensions in the region by condoning settlements on land claimed by Palestine and moving the U.S. Embassy.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said such a move would be a “provocation” and could spark new violence. But the issue wasn’t mentioned in the final declaration.

French President Francois Hollande said he was sounding an “alert” that peace talks should be revived for “the security of Israel, security of all the region” before violent extremists and Israeli settlements destroy any hope of a two-state solution.

“It is not a question of dictating to the parties,” Hollande insisted. “Only direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians can lead to peace. No one will do it in their place.”

“The world cannot, should not resign itself to the status quo,” he told the gathered diplomats from across Europe, the Mideast and other regions, as well as from the United Nations, the Arab League and other international organizations.

Hollande urged them to support peace efforts by offering economic incentives to Israelis and Palestinians.

Netanyahu declined an invitation to a special meeting after the conference, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was initially expected, but his visit to Paris was postponed.

Palestinian officials hope the conference can lay out terms for eventual negotiations, notably on how to share Jerusalem and the need to stop Israeli settlements. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have not negotiated even indirectly since a failed U.S.-led peace effort in 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2017, on page 1.

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