A one-day Israeli-Palestinian peace summit in Paris — to which the Israelis and Palestinians were not invited — concluded Friday with a warning that violence and settlement activity are imperiling a two-state solution, and a call for an international conference on the issue before the end of the year.
“We must act, urgently, to preserve the two-state solution, revive it before it is too late,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after the meeting.
The closing communique did not set a firm timetable for further efforts, however. And while France portrayed Friday’s meeting as a first step by the international community to weigh different options, the Americans have been chilly towards the talks, although Secretary of State John Kerry attended, and Israel has flatly opposed to French efforts, calling instead on the Palestinians to enter direct peace talks without conditions.
The closing communique was less harsh toward Israel than members of the Arab League had sought, and its general emphasis on the two-state solution represented a compromise in which the United States and the European Union tempered an effort by the Arab League to make a statement that was more critical of Israel’s policies, Western diplomats told Haaretz.
“We have chosen to extend a hand to the Israelis and the Palestinians. We hope that they accept it,” Ayrault said. He warned that a solution which would see Israelis and Palestinians living side by side was “getting further away each day.”
Israel quickly dismissed the gathering as a “missed opportunity,” claiming its participants had caved to Palestinian demands. The Palestinians, by contrast, welcomed what they called a “significant step” against Israel’s “apartheid policies in occupied Palestine.”
In their closing communique, the more than two dozen participating nations reaffirmed that “a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace, with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.” They expressed alarm that “actions on the ground, in particular continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, are dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Calling for an end to the “Israeli occupation that begin in 1967,” the participants said they had “discussed possible ways in which the international community could help advance the prospects for peace, including by providing meaningful incentives” and “highlighted the potential for regional peace and security as envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative.”
EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini stressed that the aim of the summit was not to impose terms, but rather to create conditions in which substantive negotiations could resume. “The policy of settlement expansion and demolitions, violence, and incitement tells us very clearly that the perspective that Oslo opened up is seriously at risk of fading away,” she told reporters.
The closing communique also highlighted the key role of the Quartet and key regional stakeholders. “They welcomed the interested countries’ offer to contribute to this effort. They also welcomed France’s offer to coordinate it, and the prospect of convening before the end of the year an international conference.”
The foreign ministers of the United States, European nations, and several Arab states were among those attending the meeting. No Israeli or Palestinian officials were invited.
French President Francois Hollande kicked off the summit by calling on both sides to make the “courageous choice” to advance peace. “This initiative has only one goal, peace in Middle East. It was desirable and became necessary,” Hollande said at the opening session of the conference. “We can’t take the place of the parties,” he said, acknowledging the absence of both Israeli and Palestinian officials. “We can only make sure that peace will be solid, lasting and internationally safeguarded.”
Ahead of the summit, an internal document sent by the French Foreign Ministry to participating nations had anticipated that “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.”
The head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, said Thursday that the French initiative was “doomed to failure.”
Israel has been adamant in its utter rejection of the French initiative, arguing that only bilateral talks can lead to progress. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he seeks a two-state solution, with a demilitarized Palestine that recognize Israel as the Jewish state.
Netanyahu’s office on Friday doubled down on its criticism of the summit, asserting that it was bound to fail. “We need direct negotiations, and for that we don’t need to go as far as Paris,” an official from the Prime Minister’s Office told Army Radio just a few hours before the conference kicked off.
Israel’s Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said what was happening in Paris was “surreal,” since it was entirely unrealistic to believe that anything said or done there could change things for the better on the ground. The only way to solve the conflict was via direct talks, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “has been boycotting Israel for the past seven years,” said Erdan, and has decided to spend “the remainder of his days trying to damage Israel internationally.”
“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,” 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 Abbas to enter direct bilateral talks with Israel, Netanyahu added. “This is the way to peace — there is no other.”
Kerry “looks forward to being a participant” in the conference, State Department spokesperson John Kirby had 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.
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.”