PARIS - Senior French officials met a few weeks ago in New York with President-elect Donald Trump’s advisers and presented the program for the international peace conference to be held Sunday in Paris, 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.
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The Paris conference is not expected to produce practical decisions, but rather to serve as declarative event of the international community’s intentions toward the Middle East peace process. According to French diplomats, the conference is being held at this time, a few days before the inauguration, to convey a message to the president-elect about the importance the international community ascribes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the extent of international consensus.
Representatives from some 70 countries and organizations are to attend the conference, including 40 foreign ministers from several Arab and Western countries. For outgoing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, this is expected to be the last international event he will be attending before his term ends on January 20. The conference, which will be attended by neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives, is to focus on a call by the international community to preserve the two-state solution and renewal of direct negotiations between the parties.
The conference will open at at 10:30 A.M. Israel time with a speech by French President Francois Hollande. Recommendations will then be presented that were formulated over the past few months by three working groups as part of the French initiative. The groups worked on economic incentives for the Israelis and the Palestinians, building the institutions of the future Palestinian state and strengthening groups in civil society working for peace.
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.
“We call on each side to independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution and refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of final-status negotiations, in order to rebuild trust and create a path back to meaningful direct negotiations,” according to the text.
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. Senior Israeli officials slammed the French government and the conference on Saturday, calling it “futile.” The senior Israeli officials added that Israel would not consider itself bound by a single word of the closing statement.
“International conferences and UN resolutions only make peace more distant because they encourage the Palestinians in their continued refusal to negotiate directly with Israel,” the senior Israeli officials said. “The only way to reach peace is by direct negotiations by the parties, as was done with Egypt and Jordan. If the countries meeting in Paris want to move peace ahead, they have to press Abu Mazen [Abbas] to respond to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s invitation to enter direct negotiations,” they added.
The senior Israeli officials said that concluding statement’s draft that notes that everything outside the 1967 borders is Palestinian is “incorrect, unrealistic and will continue to lead to a dead end.” They added that, as opposed to the draft statement, Israel believes that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace, and are only an excuse for the Palestinians to avoid negotiations.