US, European and Arab diplomats were meeting in Paris on Friday for a French-led effort to revive the Mideast peace process, despite Israel’s dismissal of the proceedings.
Prime Minister Benjamin 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 in the French capital.
Direct negotiation “doesn’t work,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault insisted ahead of the conference.
“Currently everything is blocked. We don’t want to act in the place of the Israelis and Palestinians, but we want to help them,” he told France Info radio.
France persuaded US Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and foreign ministers and officials from close to 30 other countries and international organizations to join Friday’s meeting to try to prevent an escalation of Mideast violence.
Israel and the Palestinians are not taking part, but the French hope this meeting could lead to eventual direct talks.
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.” Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah welcomed it.
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.
France’s President Francois Hollande, who was opening the conference, said in a statement Thursday that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict faces a “dangerous deadlock.” The meeting will allow participants to “reaffirm their commitment to the two-state solution and their determination to create the conditions for resumption of direct talks,” he said.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, prefers a regional summit with Arab states, who have more sway with the Palestinians than France, PMO sources told Army Radio.
A day before the meeting, Ayrault warned that if upcoming French efforts to jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process did not bear fruit, the region was “heading for disaster.”
France’s Ayrault envisioned two outcomes for Friday’s conference.
First, the prospect of another peace conference that would include the Israelis and the Palestinians by the end of the year, he told Le Monde newspaper Thursday. Second, the creation of working groups to prepare for potential direct talks. One would focus on economic incentives, another on security guarantees that could help convince the two parties to come back to the negotiation table.
The core issues of the conflict will not be discussed during Friday’s conference.
France hopes to start a “pragmatic” process in hopes of make progress “step by step”, a French diplomat said, praising a “modest approach”.
Another French diplomat added: “We know the path is difficult, the goal will be hard to reach. But we considered it’s worth trying”.
Both officials were speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to disclose content of talks ahead of the conference.
The most recent round of talks broke down two years ago. The Palestinians, along with much of the international community, have accused Netanyahu of undermining peace talks by continued settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — territories where they hope to establish an independent state. Netanyahu has said he will open talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas without preconditions at any time, and that he seeks a two-state solution under which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.