WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State John Kerry will attend a Middle East peace conference in Paris on Sunday, in a move likely to dismay an already angry Israel.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinian leadership will attend the talks, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the meeting will only widen the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians.
Just weeks after the UN Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlement building, the talks are meant to underline global support for a two-state peace deal.
Washington abstained on the UN vote rather than casting its usual veto, and last month Kerry made a major speech laying out proposed parameters of a two-state solution.
Netanyahu insists that outside powers cannot impose a settlement on Israel and the Palestinians and has called for direct talks between the parties.
Ties with the outgoing US administration have fallen to a new low, but Israel is looking for a more sympathetic hearing from Donald Trump after he takes power on January 20.
That leaves Kerry with just over a week if he wants to have a lasting effect on the moribund peace process, and the French conference is one venue for that.
Around 70 countries will gather for the conference and they are expected to throw their weight behind calls for a halt to settlement building and a negotiated peace.
France has been planning to hold a conference for months, but Washington had refused until Tuesday to confirm that its top diplomat would attend.
Diplomats have played down rumors the foreign envoys could draft a new UN resolution to codify plans for two states in international law.
But even a strongly worded statement would underline Netanyahu’s loss of support.
Sunday’s stop in Paris, at a conference chaired by President Francois Hollande, will come halfway through Kerry’s last foreign trip as secretary of state.
His tour will begin in Vietnam, where he is due to give a lecture and meet local officials, and after Paris he will head to London.
Following talks with Prime Minister Theresa May’s government there, Kerry will drop in on the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland before flying home.
Kerry leaves office when President Barack Obama hands the keys to the White House to Trump, and he is expected to be replaced by former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.