Summit aims to revive Mid-East peace bid

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed the Paris Middle East summit as "futile" as leaders from 70 countries attempt to reinvigorate a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. VIDEO: REUTERS
Protesters opposed to the Middle East peace conference attending a rally in Paris yesterday. The meeting comes at a critical juncture for the Middle East, five days before Mr Trump, who has sworn unstinting support for Israel, is sworn in as US presi
Protesters opposed to the Middle East peace conference attending a rally in Paris yesterday. The meeting comes at a critical juncture for the Middle East, five days before Mr Trump, who has sworn unstinting support for Israel, is sworn in as US president.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Diplomats meet amid fears Trump will recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital

PARIS • Diplomats from 70 countries gathered in Paris yesterday to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts amid fears of a new escalation if the next US administration recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are represented at the conference, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed as "rigged" against the Jewish state.

Opening the meeting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the international community wanted to "forcefully reiterate that the two-state solution is the only solution possible" for the seven- decade-old conflict.

In a TV interview later, Mr Ayrault warned that moving the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would have "extremely serious consequences" and predicted US President-elect Donald Trump would find it impossible to do so.

"When you are president of the United States, you cannot take such a stubborn and such a unilateral view on this issue. You have to try to create the conditions for peace," he told France 3 TV.

Both Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been invited to meet President Francois Hollande to discuss the conclusions of the Paris talks.

Mr Abbas, who has backed the meeting, is expected to travel to Paris in the coming weeks, but Mr Netanyahu has rejected the offer, French diplomats said.

Three French Jewish groups called for a protest yesterday outside the Israeli Embassy in Paris to denounce the conference.

The meeting is mainly symbolic but comes at a crucial juncture for the Middle East, five days before Mr Trump, who has vowed unstinting support for Israel, is sworn in as US president. Israel fears the conference could produce measures that could be put to the United Nations Security Council before Mr Trump takes over.

The French have insisted they have no such plans.

"France has no other desire than to serve peace, and there is no time to lose," Mr Ayrault said.

Peace efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

Tensions are again running high after a wave of Palestinian attacks and Israel's ongoing expansion of settlements on land the Palestinians want for their state.

Last Saturday, Mr Abbas warned that peace could be dealt a mortal blow if Mr Trump moves the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising the contested city as Israel's capital, as he had indicated during campaigning.

Such a move would mark a radical departure from US policy and the UN's position that the status of Jerusalem can be decided only in negotiations.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who rebuked Israel recently over its settler activity on Palestinian territory, will join the talks on his farewell tour, along with delegates from the UN, European Union and Arab League.

A draft conference communique called on Israel and the Palestinians to restate their support for two states and to refrain from "unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Summit aims to revive Mid-East peace bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe