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Talks begin in Paris to set framework for upcoming peace conference

June 3, 2016 1:29 P.M. (Updated: June 5, 2016 6:04 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- An international conference began in Paris on Friday to set the framework for upcoming French-led Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, a day after the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry equated the proposed peace process to a form of colonialism.

Representatives of nearly 30 countries, including representatives from the the United Nations, European Union, and the Arab League, attended the meeting to plan for the international summit expected to be held by the end of the year.

French President Francois Hollande said at the start of the meeting that the “regional upheaval” in the Middle East had made finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even more urgent, and stressed that peace talks must consider the needs of the entire region, according to the Israeli media outlet Ynet.

Ynet also reported that a senior state department official said “we haven’t made any decisions about what, if any, our role would be in the initiative going forward.”

Israeli and Palestinian representatives were not included in the meeting.

Meanwhile, Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Dore Gold reiterated the sentiments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement on Thursday, stating that the only way to build peace in the Middle East was through direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and not through state parties originating outside of the Middle East.

“A century ago, Sykes and Picot tried to dictate a new order in the Middle East,” Gold said, referring to the colonial project to map the Middle East in 1916. “That was at the high point of colonialism in our region. It failed then and it will fail today as well.”

“We believe the Arab states would give backing to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Therefore, we prefer a Middle Eastern process and not a process that someone is trying to create in Paris,” he added.

Gold also expressed his support for the Arab Peace Initiative (API), first proposed in 2002, as a political avenue to hold direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis, stating that a lot had changed since the initiative’s creation, but that the API had “elements we can work with.”

Netanyahu first rejected the French initiative in April, saying the “best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is through direct, bilateral negotiations," and instead voiced his support for Egyptian President Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi’s trilateral initiative aiming to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders face to face and create steps towards the unification of Palestinian political factions.

The Palestinian Authority, however, has expressed support for the French initiative, and in April shelved the submission of a new anti-settlement resolution to the UN out of fear that doing so could thwart progress of new French proposals.

Newly-appointed Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu recently issued a joint statement in support of reviving the API for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which called for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territory in exchange for full normalization of ties with Arab states.

Netanyahu and Lieberman also reiterated support for al-Sisi's initiative, and threw their support behind the two-state solution.

All past efforts towards peace negotiations have failed to end the decades-long Israeli military occupation or bring Palestinians closer to an independent contiguous state.

The most recent spate of negotiations led by the US collapsed in April 2014.

Israel claimed the process failed because the Palestinians refused to accept a US framework document outlining the way forward, while Palestinians pointed to Israel's ongoing settlement building and the government's refusal to release veteran prisoners.

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