France describes need for two-state solution at Israel, Palestinian conference

By Allen Cone  |  Jan. 15, 2017 at 10:17 AM
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PARIS, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- More than 70 nations' foreign ministers and senior diplomats convened Sunday in Paris for a conference to work out a peace plan between Israel and Palestinians.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault opened the session, noting a two-state solution is the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East.

"I am aware of the reservations around this conference and the doubt about if it should be held at this time," Ayrault said, but, he added, "France thinks it is important to renew the push for peace."

Israelis and Palestinians were not allowed to participate in the summit but have been invited to hear the conclusions of the meeting. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is not attending, called the conference "futile" at his Sunday cabinet meeting. Palestinian officials welcomed the meeting.

The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain -- as well as key European and Arab states, are attending the conference.

The last round of direct peace talks collapsed in April 2014. Last month, the U.N. passed a resolution denouncing Israel's settlement activity on occupied land.

Israel has been at odds with the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama, accusing the United States of directing the motion and enabling it to pass by abstaining and not using its veto power in the Security Council. The settlements are home to about 600,000 Israelis and are considered illegal under international law.

"U.N. Resolution 2334 reaffirmed the need for the two-state solution. Now is not the time to stop," Ayrault said.

President-elect Donald Trump opposed the resolution. Trump also wants to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Ayrault told France 3 TV on Sunday he thought that move would cause "extremely serious consequences."

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that such a move could "bury the hopes for a two-state solution."

Israel has opposed international involvement in the peace process and wants direct talks. Ayrault said that he and other senior French officials met with both sides in recent months, and said he is willing to travel to the region to present the conference's conclusions.

"The goal is to put an end to this conflict so that this region can live in peace and prosperity," Ayrault said.

Senior French officials also met a few weeks ago in New York with Trump's advisers and presented the program for the conference, Haaretz reported. Trump's team reportedly objected to the conference, especially five days before Trump's inauguration.

Netanyahu also alleged the conference was coordinated between the French and Palestinians.

"These are the death throes of yesterday's world. Tomorrow will look different," Netanyahu said Sunday.

But Israel's opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, said Sunday that Netanyahu should have attended the Paris peace conference.

Ayrault praised outgoing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his peace process effort.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. did not "want to see anything that attempts to impose a solution on Israel."

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