Paris forum has message for Trump, Israel

A billboard in Tel Aviv saying "Soon we will be the majority". It is part of a campaign by the Commanders for Israel's Security, a group of Israeli former security officials that supports the two-state solution.
A billboard in Tel Aviv saying "Soon we will be the majority". It is part of a campaign by the Commanders for Israel's Security, a group of Israeli former security officials that supports the two-state solution.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Leaders back idea of 2-state solution in Mid-East conflict

PARIS/JERUSALEM • In a diplomatic gambit that at times sounded as though the clock was about to run out, envoys from some 70 countries have called on Israel and the Palestinians to recommit to the goal of two states for two peoples, before the possibility slips away.

But there was someone else they hoped to persuade, too: United States President-elect Donald Trump.

A two-page statement issued by the Middle East peace conference in Paris on Sunday was intended to send a message from the international community, including Europe and the Arab states, to the incoming Trump administration of the global desire to keep hopes alive for a two-state solution to the long-running conflict in the Middle East.

Though Mr Trump was not mentioned by name, there was widespread concern in Paris that the new administration will be so pro- Israel that its policies could threaten the idea of two states living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as their shared capital.

Palestinian officials welcomed the closing statement but Israel criticised the summit, terming it "futile" and warning that it would distance prospects of peace with the Palestinians.

The joint communique called on both sides to avoid "unilateral steps" and incorporated references to previous blueprints for peace talks, including last month's United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, and incitement and terrorism that Palestinians have been accused of fomenting.

It also commended outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry's speech two weeks ago laying out principles for negotiations to resolve the seven-decade-old conflict.

The final statement reaffirmed that Israel's 1967 borders should be the basis for any agreement, offered incentives to both sides and told them to avoid steps that work against that solution.  It welcomed the Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, but did not call for any follow-up action at the UN.

US officials believe that the diplomatically worded "welcome" for previous initiatives amounted to an implicit acknowledgment by the Arab nations that Israel will be a Jewish state and that a million or more Palestinians who have demanded the right of return to Israel will never come back.

Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attended the conference. Mr Netanyahu declined an invitation to be briefed in Paris during the meeting, calling the conference "rigged" and meant to impose conditions on Israel.

Mr Kerry had spoken by phone with Mr Netanyahu earlier in the day, with Israeli media reporting that he had assured Mr Netanyahu that the US had worked to "soften" several provisions in the communique deemed unfair to Israel and promising there would be no further action in the Security Council.

But later, Mr Kerry rejected the "soften" characterisation, saying the US has always vetoed resolutions that it considers unfair and delegitimising of Israel.

"We did what was necessary to have a balanced resolution," he said.

Mr Abbas is to meet French President Francois Hollande in the coming weeks to discuss the conference outcomes.

Mr Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official and former peace negotiator, applauded the diplomatic effort.

"They have again created a momentum in rejection to the Israeli occupation and its settlement enterprise on the land of Palestine.

"It's a message to Israel, the occupying power, to abide by international law and international humanitarian law," he said.

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Paris forum has message for Trump, Israel'. Print Edition | Subscribe