Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the French government Thursday and the Palestinians in connection with the peace conference set to meet in Paris on Sunday with the participation of foreign ministers and senior diplomats from 70 countries and international organizations.
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"It's a rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians with French auspices to adopt additional anti-Israel stances," said Netanyahu at the beginning of a meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borg Brende.
Netanyahu stressed that not only terrorist organizations are trying to destroy any chance for peace, but that they have also undertaken political efforts that destroy any chance for peace, like the Paris conference. "This pushes peace backwards. It's not going to obligate us," Netanyahu said. "It's a relic of the past. It's a last gasp of the past before the future sets in."
The Norwegian foreign minister replied to Netanyahu that he will participate in the conference and promised that there would be a balanced outcome.
French President Francois Hollande said in a speech Thursday that the aim of the conference was to restate the international community's support for the two-state solution and ensure that it remained a reference.
"I can see that this has been weakened on the ground and in the minds. If we let it whither away then it would be a risk for Israeli's security to which we are resolutely attached," said Hollande. "However, I am realistic on what this conference can achieve. Peace will only be done by the Israelis and Palestinians and by nobody else. Only bilateral negotiations can succeed."
Earlier in the week, Haaretz revealed the draft closing statement of the conference that says dozens of foreign ministers who will participate in the event in Paris on January 15, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, are likely to call on Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to declare anew their support of the two-state solution and shake off officials in their governments who oppose it.
Western diplomats who are involved in preparations for the conference but wished to remain anonymous due to the political sensitivity of the matter, said that this clause in the final statement specifically addresses Israeli ministers like Naftali Bennett who call to abandon the two-state solution, and to senior individuals in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah who are involved in incitement to violence against Israel.
According to the draft, the countries that will participate in the conference will stress that they don't recognize any change to the borders since June 4, 1967, including in Jerusalem, excluding changes agreed upon by the two sides in negotiations. The participating countries will also declare that they are committed to differentiating, in all their actions, between Israeli territory and and the settlements in territory captured by Israel in 1967.
The participants will “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.The Paris peace conference will convene as part of the peace initiative announced by former French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in January 2016, which his successor Jean-Marc Ayrault continued to promote on behalf of French President Francois Hollande.
As part of the French initiative, foreign ministers from 30 countries convened in early June 2016 - without the presence of Israeli or Palestinian leaders - after which the need to preserve the two-state solution was emphasized.
Since June, the French continued to promote the initiative with the intention of holding an international peace conference by the end of 2016. The French hoped that Netanyahu and Abbas would attend the conference and spark the renewal of direct negotiations between the parties. Abbas expressed his willingness to attend the conference, but Netanyahu has made clear several times in recent months that he opposes the initiative.
Last month, Hollande invited Abbas and Netanyahu to meet with him in Paris the day after the conference. French diplomats noted that Hollande's call was a response to Netanyahu's declarations on his desires to meet with Abbas.
Abbas responded positively to the proposal, but Netanyahu once again rejected the offer. Netanyahu called the French president to inform him that he would not be receptive to invitations regarding a tripartite summit in Paris if it would be part of the greater French initiative. Netanyahu stressed to Hollande that he would meet Abbas without preconditions if France canceled the conference.
Despite Netanyahu's opposition, the French have opted not to cancel the conference and continued to promote their initiative. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements provided an additional boost for the Paris conference. Netanyahu is concerned that the concluding statement of the conference on January 16 will be adopted by the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union and by the foreign ministers of the Quartet - the U.S., Russia, the UN and the EU. Further, it may lead to yet another UN Security Council resolution on January 17, when it will convene to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue.