An international peace conference convened in Paris on Sunday morning, attended by foreign ministers and senior diplomats from some 70 countries and international organizations.
The conference opened with comments by French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault, who noted that he was aware of Israeli reservations about the summit, but that the international community must make clear that there is no solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than the two-state solution.
Ayrault said that the was ready to make his way to the Middle East right after the conference to present its conclusions to the Israelis and Palestinians.
"I am aware of the reservations around this conference and the doubt about if it should be held at this time," the foreign minister said. But, he added, "France thinks it is important to renew the push for peace."
He also said that the only aim for France and the other participants in the conference was to reach peace, adding that the situation on the ground showed that time was of the essence.
Ayrault thanked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his ceaseless efforts to promote the peace process, but emphasized that the French peace initiative put the Israeli-Palestinian issue back on the international agenda following two years in which it wasn’t taken care of.
"UN Resolution 2334 reaffirmed the need for the two-state solution. Now is not the time to stop," he said, referring to the recent UN vote against Israel's settlements.
The French foreign minister said that the aim of the conference was to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, and that its concluding statement would emphasize that there is no solution other than the two-state one, and that the international community wants to examine how it can help the resumption of peace talks.
"The goal is to put an end to this conflict so that this region can live in peace and prosperity," Ayrault said.
According to Ayrault, France acted with complete transparency with Israel and the Palestinians about the peace initiative since it was launched a year ago. He said that he and other senior French officials held talks with both sides in recent months, and that he would be willing to travel to the region to present the conference's conclusions to the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out against the Paris conference at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, calling it a "futile summit." Netanyahu claimed that the conference was coordinated between the French and the Palestinians, and that it is driving the prospects of peace away.
"These are the death throes of yesterday's world. Tomorrow will look different," he said.
Opposition head Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said on Sunday that Netanyahu should have attended the Paris peace conference rather than boycott it.
"Netanyahu should have presented a clear position on Israel's policy on the conflict and not run away from the battleground," Herzog tweeted.
Senior French officials met a few weeks ago in New York with President-elect Donald Trump’s advisers and presented the program for the conference, Haaretz has learned. Trump’s team was said to have objected strenuously to the very holding of the conference, especially at this time, five days before Trump’s inauguration.
At the close of the conference, scheduled for 7 P.M. Israel time, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will present a concluding statement to the press. Senior diplomats from 10 of the participating countries met Saturday in Paris to debate the concluding statement. Some demanded that certain clauses be softened, while others demanded certain clauses be toughened.
Last week Haaretz published a draft of the conference’s closing statement, which included a call by the participating countries on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reconfirm their commitment to the two-state solution and disavow officials in their government who oppose it.
In an interview to the French daily Le Figaro, Abbas said that the peace conference in Paris might be the last chance to implement the two-state solution. The Palestinian president warned against a possible American decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which he said could lead to a change in the PA position recognizing Israel. The year 2017, Abbas told Le Figaro, “must be the year the occupation ends and the year of liberty and justice for the Palestinian people.”
Israel decided a few months ago to boycott the conference and maintained its position despite French efforts to persuade it otherwise.
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