Foreign Ministers in Paris: Israelis, Palestinians Must Show 'Genuine Commitment' to Peace

Summit participants agree to hold an international peace conference by the end of the year; French FM says a package of financial incentives and security guarantees will be presented to the sides at the conference; Israel says Paris summit will only push peace away.

French FM Jean-Marc Ayrault (left), French President Francois Hollande and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pose prior to a meeting in a bid to revive the Mideast peace process, in Paris, on June 3, 2016.
Stephane de Sakutin, AFP

PARIS - Foreign ministers from 29 countries convened here on Friday to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Upon the conclusion of the five-hour debate, the ministers released a statement saying that the international community expects Israel and the Palestinians to demonstrate "with policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution in order to rebuild trust."

The joint communiqué also asserted that the two-state solution represents the only path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The foreign ministers said they were "alarmed that actions on the ground, in particular continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, are dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution."

Participating representatives also stressed that "the status quo is not sustainable," and that conditions must be created "for fully ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and resolving all permanent status issues through direct negotiations based on resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973)."

The closing statement also took note of the Arab Peace Initiative's "potential for regional peace and security."

The foreign ministers agreed in principle to hold an international peace conference by the end of 2016, but did not set a date. In a press conference held after the meeting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he intends to call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday and brief them on the summit's results. 

"We extended our hand to the Israelis and Palestinians and we hope that they will respond positively and take action to renew the peace process," he said. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center) shakes hands with Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende prior to an international meeting to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in Paris on June 3, 2016.
Saul Loeb, AFP

According to the closing statement, the foreign ministers discussed how the international community can incentivize the sides to advance the two-state solution. France will coordinate this effort. 

Ayrault told reporters that teams will be set up by the end of June to devise a package of trust-building measures, security guarantees and financial incentives. The package is to be presented at the international conference. 

The closing statement did not mention principles for addressing the core issues, including the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations, and neither did it mention the French proposal for a set timeframe for future talks. Nevertheless, the French foreign minister said at the press conference that a schedule should be set for the negotiations and that many of the foreign ministers in attendance have stressed the importance of such a timeframe. 

"Only the sides can make peace, but we have to help them," Ayrault said. "We don't want to replace the sides or force solutions on them. There is an agreement that in light of the stalemate it is important to create conditions to bolster trust and renew negotiations."

After the meeting concluded, Israel called the summit a "missed opportunity." 

"Instead of urging Abu Mazen [Abbas] to accept the prime minister's repeated calls for immediate, direct negotiations without preconditions, the international community accepted Abu Mazen's demands and allowed him to continue and evade direct, bilateral talks," Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said. "The pages of history will show that the summit in Paris only hardened the Palestinian positions and pushed peace farther away."

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini attends the Mideast peace summit in in Paris, France, June 3, 2016.
Stephane de Sakutin, Reuters

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat on Friday called the Paris summit "a window of opportunity" and said that the Palestinian leadership expects the international effort to result in a firm timetable and a framework for future negotiations.

"We have no illusions that such a conference would lead to a miracle and to an immediate settlement freeze, but we do expect the international community to take action and press Israel to accept the two-state solution as the only option before it's too late."

 'Hope is fading'

Netanyahu, who has officially rejected the French initiative and prefers Egypt's recent regional initiative, called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday night and asked for his help to soften the tone of the concluding statement.

Western diplomats told Haaretz that the United States and the European Union blocked on Thursday an Arab League push for a harsh closing statement to the conference. Instead, the diplomats said, the closing statement would be general in its tone and emphasize the threat to the two-state solution.

French President Francois Hollande opened the summit earlier on Friday by saying that "this initiative has one aim – to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"Violence is growing and hope is fading – that's why we want to try and revive the peace process. We must work to realize that in the regional context and diplomatic vacuum will be filled by extremism and terror," he said.

"The only ones to benefit from the continuation of the status quo are the extremists who oppose peace. A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include the countries of the region. Things have changed in recent years. Nowadays there's war in Syria and in Iraq and terror in the regions. There are those who interpret this as a chance to abandon the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but I claim the opposite," the French president said.

"Only the sides themselves can take the brave step toward peace. We can't do it for them, but only assist them and provide them with guarantees," he added.

The summit, Hollande said, must stress that peace can be achieved through the establishment of two states living side by side in peace.

EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said at a press conference she convened at the summit that any renewal of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians should take place in a regional framework involving Arab states.

The summit in Paris was not meant to force anything on the two sides, she said, but create an international and regional framework for the renewal of peace talks.

"Without a regional and international framework, the parties will not come to the table themselves. It is about creating the space and the possibility for the parties to reengage seriously and revert the current trends," she said.

Mogherini added that the security situation in the Middle East has created a new opportunity, and that it would be a mistake not to make use of it.

"This is an opportunity to deal with two issues at once – with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the conflict between Israel and the Arab world," she said. "I believe that in this context it will be possible to start the process over again."

Mogherini also spoke of the deteriorating security situation in Israel and the West Bank.

"The deteriorating security situation in the Middle East makes us more worried about the peace process. The deterioration of the situation on the ground with the policy of settlements expansion and violence and incitement shows us that the path opened by the Oslo process is under a risk of fading away – this perspective is at risk," she said.

"There is a need for regional actors and international community to try and facilitate serious talks between the parties."

Netanyahu held a political-informational consultation  on Thursday night ahead of the event. Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold then held a press conference in which he compared the French peace initiative to the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided up the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. He stressed that any effort by the international community to impose a solution would fail.