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Days before Trump takes office, US headlines Paris peace confab Sunday

Amid widespread skepticism about purpose of gathering, French FM Ayrault warns of ‘infernal cycle of radicalization and violence’

File: US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and France's Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault at a press conference after a meeting in Paris on December 10, 2016. (AFP/Patrick Kovarik)
File: US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and France's Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault at a press conference after a meeting in Paris on December 10, 2016. (AFP/Patrick Kovarik)

PARIS (AFP) – The US will join the international community in Paris Sunday in a new push for peace in the Middle East, just five days before Donald Trump, who has vowed unstinting support for Israel, takes office.

Foreign ministers and representatives from around 70 countries will seek to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which Palestinians warn would be dealt a further blow if Trump implements a campaign pledge to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians will be represented at the conference and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed the talks as “rigged” against the Jewish state.

The Palestinians, in contrast, have welcomed France’s bid for the conference to reaffirm global support for a two-state solution to the seven-decade-old conflict.

Peace efforts have been at a standstill since April 2014.

On Saturday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas warned that acute tensions could boil over again if Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Any attempts at legitimizing the illegal Israeli annexation of the city will destroy the prospects of any political process, bury the hopes for a two-state solution, and fuel extremism in our region, as well as worldwide,” Abbas said during a visit to the Vatican.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who rebuked Israel recently over its settlements policy, will attend the talks, along with delegates from the UN, EU, Arab League and other organizations.

The meeting is intended to back a UN resolution last month condemning Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Security Council adopted the resolution after the Obama administration — in what many took as a parting shot at Netanyahu — took the rare step of abstaining from the vote.

Netanyahu called the resolution “shameful” and has also lashed out at the Paris meeting, saying only direct talks between the two sides can bring peace.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures on January 6, 2017, in Beit Sahur, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures on January 6, 2017, in Beit Sahur, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

Abbas will meet French President Francois Hollande in the coming weeks to be briefed on the conference outcome, French diplomats said.

Netanyahu declined a similar invitation, they said.

‘More occupation’

Writing in Le Monde newspaper on Thursday, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France was not trying to impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians but to halt an “infernal cycle of radicalization and violence.”

Palestinians were seeing “their future state melt away” due to settlement expansion, Ayrault charged.

Israelis meanwhile were subjected to nearly daily violence by those who “harness frustrations to promote an agenda of hatred.”

Right-wing Israeli lawmakers, including some from Netanyahu’s Likud party, have said Trump’s win represents a “historic opportunity” to quash the chance of Palestinians getting an independent state.

Trump, who vehemently opposed the December UN vote on settlements, has said “there’s nobody more pro-Israeli than I am.”

His choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said he looks forward to working from “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

The city’s status is one of the thorniest issues in the conflict, which is why foreign embassies are currently based in Tel Aviv.

The Palestinians regard Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel proclaims the entire city as its capital.

Israel has said it fears the French conference could produce measures that could be put to the Security Council before Trump is sworn in on Friday.

The French, however, have insisted they have no plans for follow-up action.

Nathan Thrall, senior Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group, dismissed the conference, which the French began organizing nearly a year ago, as “inconsequential.”

“If there are no consequences, if nobody is listening, if they are repeating the same thing they said over and over again, it amounts to a charade,” he told AFP.

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