Paris peace confab set to end with call for ‘clear timetable’ for talks
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Paris peace confab set to end with call for ‘clear timetable’ for talks

President Francois Hollande to open Friday’s half-day parley, which will host 28 foreign ministers but no Israelis or Palestinians

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

French President Francois Hollande speaks to the media on January 20, 2016 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. (AFP/Stephane de Sakutin)
French President Francois Hollande speaks to the media on January 20, 2016 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. (AFP/Stephane de Sakutin)

Friday’s international peace conference in Paris will kick off with a morning speech from French President Francois Hollande, before participants — who do not include the Israelis or Palestinians — move behind closed doors to discuss how to advance the peace process between the two sides.

The half-day conference is expected to end with a universal vote of confidence in the two-state solution, and an urgent appeal to establish a “clear timetable” for the resumption of peace talks.

“I am targeting two outcomes for this meeting,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Thursday in an interview with Le Monde. “Confirmation of the prospect of a conference with the parties by the end of the year and the creation of several working groups, one of which will be on the theme of economic incentives, for example the offer of a special partnership with the European Union and an association agreement for the future Palestinian State.” A second group. Ayrault said, will focus on the “regional environment and security assurances.”

The foreign ministers of 28 countries — among them the United States, Great Britain, Russia, China, Germany and several Arab states — are expected to attend the meet, which is scheduled to last no longer than three-and-a-half hours. No Israeli or Palestinian officials were invited to the conference, which the French plan to follow up with a large summit toward the end of the year to be attended by the two parties.

“Time is not a neutral factor, given the steady erosion of the two-state solution. An open-ended approach would be oblivious to the reality on the ground and the constant risks of escalation,” reads an internal document the French Foreign Ministry sent to participating nations. “Ministers will agree on the principle that a clear timetable will need to be established for the negotiations when they restart, and that some interim review might be necessary to gauge the seriousness of the process.”

This document, first revealed in Haaretz, calls on the international community to explore the core issues of the conflict and thus “help devise solutions, and offer assistance and guarantees for their implementation. It can provide a framework to accompany them to their conclusion.”

The foreign ministers are encouraged to “agree (a) on a common assessment, that the two-state solution is the only option, that it is severely threatened and needs to be preserved; (b) on the reaffirmation of the concrete support that they would be ready to bring to facilitate the preservation of the two-state solution and its implementation; (c) on a common view of how to re-energize the peace process, and what a conference should aim at; (d) on a series of taskings and actions to be carried out in the run-up to the conference; (e) on a method and a timetable for the conference.”

According to the French Foreign Ministry, the invited foreign ministers, as well as representatives of international bodies such as United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League, will start off by reviewing “the situation on the ground.” Subsequent discussions will focus on the “details of organizing an international conference, to take place by the end of the year, with the Israelis and Palestinians,” the ministry explained.

An official fact sheet about the conference distributed by the French government this week explains the rationale behind the move, singling out Israeli settlement expansion as the key reason for the deterioration of the situation on the ground. “The two-state solution is under increased threat, particularly with regard to continued settlement activities,” the document states.

‘Our aim is to mobilize the entire international community so that it can actively support relaunching the peace process’

“The crises engulfing the region have in no way reduced the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is up to us to take action to recreate a political outlook which encourages renewed bilateral negotiations between the two currently deadlocked parties,” the fact sheet continues.

Paris is “well aware of the difficulties” of advancing the stalling peace process, “but we cannot afford to do nothing,” the document states. “All our partners agree that the two-state solution is falling apart and that the current situation is dangerous. Our aim is to mobilize the entire international community so that it can actively support relaunching the peace process.”

Specifically, Paris would like to explore which “concrete contributions” its international partners are willing to make in the areas of politics, security and economy to restart negotiations that can be brought to a successful conclusion.

At the close of conference, Ayrault is scheduled to hold a press conference. It is scheduled for 12:30 P.M., merely three and half hours after the start of the gathering.

Additionally, delegates are expected to issue a joint statement that will reiterate the international community’s position that only the two-state solution can solve the conflict and urge the Israelis and Palestinians to renew bilateral negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 during a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Pool/Menahem Kahana)
PM Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with French FM Ayrault on May 15, 2016 during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Pool/Menahem Kahana)

The conference, which has been embraced by the Palestinian Authority but fiercely rejected by the Israeli government, aims to formulate a “framework” for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and discuss ways in which the international community can provide incentives for the two sides to reach an agreement.

The head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, said Thursday that the French initiative was “doomed to failure.”

The French document further urges participating parties to “create incentives to show the parties and their populations that they can both concretely benefit from peace. It can try to create an environment in which future talks can take place.”

Israel has been adamant in its utter rejection of the conference, arguing that only bilateral talks can lead to progress.

“The way to peace does not go through international conferences that seek to impose agreements, make the Palestinians’ demands more extreme and thereby make peace more remote,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday. “The way to peace is via direct negotiations without preconditions between the sides. This is how peace was achieved in the past with Egypt and Jordan and this is what needs to be with the Palestinians.”

If the countries gathering in Paris really wanted to promote peace, they should urge Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct bilateral talks with Israel, Netanyahu added. “This is the way to peace — there is no other.”

Both the PA and the Arab League have endorsed the French initiative, while Hamas dismissed it as a “distraction.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to journalists before a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, in Paris, May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to journalists before a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, in Paris, May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

US Secretary of State John Kerry “looks forward to being a participant” in the conference, State Department spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday. America’s top diplomat is “not going to turn up his nose at any good ideas that could get us closer to seeing a two-state solution in place. And so he looks forward to discussing all manner of options and alternatives that might come up on Friday.”

Kerry remains keenly interested in the Middle East peace process and will “talk to anybody that might be able to come up with viable alternatives and solutions to get us there,” Kirby added. “Ultimately, though, it’s going to take leadership there on all sides to take the kinds of affirmative steps that are necessary to ease the tensions and to get us closer to a two-state solution. It has to start there.”

Although President Hollande is fully backing the conference, he will not stay there for very long. His opening address is scheduled for 9:20 AM. Forty minutes later, he is slated to meet NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, according to Hollande’s public schedule.

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