World diplomats in Paris to urge renewed Middle East peace talks

A major international conference to try to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is under way in Paris.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. Picture; PA
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. Picture; PA

Fearing a new eruption of violence in the Middle East, more than 70 world diplomats gathered on Sunday to push for renewed peace talks that would lead to a Palestinian state.

The UK government displayed its determination to stay close to Donald Trump’s administration by refusing to send a high-level delegation to the conference organised by the French government. Neither a foreign office minister, nor the UK’s ambassador to France attended.

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The conference is meant to be a forceful message to US president-elect Donald Trump and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that much of the world wants peace and sees a two-state solution as the best way to achieve it in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“A two-state solution is the only possible one,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in opening the conference, calling it “more indispensable than ever” to solve the protracted conflict.

Netanyahu has snubbed Sunday’s conference as “rigged” against Israel, and Trump’s incoming administration isn’t taking part.

The gathering is an “empty summit” that was cooked up behind Israel’s back and is designed to force conditions on the country that are against its national interests, Netanyahu said.

French diplomats fear Trump will unleash new tensions in the region by condoning settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians and potentially moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem.

“Both parties are very far apart and their relationship is one of distrust – a particularly dangerous situation,” Ayrault said at the conference. “Our collective responsibility is to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Is there an alternative? No, there isn’t.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Paris defending American interests at the conference, in his last major diplomatic foray before he leaves office.

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.

The Israeli prime minister said the gathering would do little to promote peace and marks the “last flutters of yesterday’s world”.

“Tomorrow will look different and tomorrow is very close,” he said in apparent reference to Trump’s incoming administration.

According to a draft statement obtained on Friday, the conference will urge Israel and the Palestinians “to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution”.

It also will affirm that the international community “will not recognise” changes to Israel’s pre-1967 lines without agreement by both sides. The final conference declaration also may warn Trump against moving the embassy, a move that could be seen as recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after decades of insisting that the city’s status must be determined by direct negotiations.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have not negotiated even indirectly since a failed US-led peace effort in 2014.