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Peace conference in Paris reaffirms foreign commitment to two-state solution

Jan. 15, 2017 1:38 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 16, 2017 2:03 P.M.)
(Photo: Ibrahim Hmouz)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an ) -- An international peace conference involving more than 40 foreign ministers and senior diplomats from 75 countries began in Paris on Sunday morning, aimed at renewing efforts to resolve the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the two-state solution, despite the final statement issued at the end of the day being seen with satisfaction by Israeli officials as a "significantly" weakened criticism of Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Paris conference has been welcomed by the Palestinian Authority, while the Israeli government has boycotted the summit for its exclusion of Palestinian and Israeli officials, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisting bilateral negotiations were the only viable option for peace talks.

The Israeli prime minister has also referred to the conference as “Palestinian deceitfulness under French auspices, aimed at adopting further anti-Israeli positions.”

However, French President Francois Hollande assured ahead of the conference that the aim was not to replace bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, a point he confirmed during his closing remarks Sunday evening when he said that a solution could not be imposed by on either party.

“With this conference I wanted to inscribe the two-state solution on the international agenda,” Hollande said, adding, in an apparent allusion to Netanyahu that “we do not want to impose any solutions… as some argued to dismiss our efforts.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had opened the conference saying there was no other solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than the two-state solution. "Today we need to say that there is no solution other than the two-state solution and see how we can contribute to relaunch of peace talks," reporters quoted him as saying. "The goal is to put an end to this conflict so that this region can live in peace and prosperity."

He reportedly also thanked US Secretary of State John Kerry for his "tireless efforts to promote the peace process," after Kerry recently gave a blistering speech condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The summit is being held weeks after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution reaffirming all Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory were illegal under international law.

"UN Resolution 2334 reaffirmed the need for the two-state solution. Now is not the time to stop," Ayrault reportedly said in his opening remarks.

The conference is notably taking place days before the inauguration of US President-Elect Donald Trump on Jan. 20, with French diplomats reportedly saying the timing was an intentional move to send a message to Trump about the importance of resolving the conflict.

Haaretz reported on Sunday that senior French officials met with Trump advisers a few weeks ago in New York, when Trump’s team staunchly opposed the program of the conference, and objected particularly to it being held so close to his inauguration.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told French daily Le Figaro on Saturday that the peace conference in Paris might be the last chance to implement the two-state solution, and warned that moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could result in the revocation of Palestine's recognition of a state of Israel.

Trump and his team have pledged to to move the embassy a number of times since his presidential campaign. Abbas said during the inauguration of the Palestinian embassy in the Vatican on Saturday that “any attempts at legitimizing the illegal Israeli annexation of the city will destroy the prospects of any political process, bury the hopes for a two-state solution, and fuel extremism in our region, as well as worldwide.”

Palestinian daily al-Ayam meanwhile published what it said was a final draft resolution for the Paris Conference, which reportedly called for an end to Israel's illegal occupation that began in 1967, and said that states participating in the conference would agree not to recognize any borders that were not reached through direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians -- including in Jerusalem.

Haaretz said it had obtained a copy of the draft, which calls on Netanyahu and Abbas to publicly renew their commitment to the two-state solution, and to renounce officials in their respective governments who oppose it -- believed to be in reference to statements made by Israeli leaders, inducing Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennet, who said recently that "the era of a Palestinian state is over."

At the end of the summit, however, the statement issued by the participating countries was watered down in its condemnation of settlements, with Israeli officials crediting Israeli efforts for the “significant weakening” of the final text, according to Israeli media.

Chief Negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization Saeb Erekat nevertheless welcomed the unfolding of the summit on Sunday.

“We appreciate the participation of each and every country and their commitment to the right of our people to establish our independent sovereign state to live side-by-side in peace and security alongside Israel,” Erekat said in a statement. “It is time to stop dealing with Israel as a country above the law and to hold it accountable for its systematic violations of international law and the rights of our people.”

Erekat went on to call on France to recognize Palestine as a state along 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital in order to “preserve the two-state solution.”

Meanwhile, Israeli NGO B’Tselem released a statement Sunday morning calling for the international community to “act to protect human rights and bring about an end to the occupation, which is a fundamental violation of human rights.”

“There are different paths to realize this future, but the continuation of occupation is not one of them. Israelis and Palestinians will one day end the occupation -- but this will not happen without decisive international action,” the group said.

The most recent spate of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, led by the US, collapsed in April 2014, as all past efforts towards peace negotiations have also failed to end the decades-long Israeli military occupation or bring Palestinians closer to an independent contiguous state.

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.

While the goal of the Paris conference is based on achieving a two-state solution, Palestinians say the prospect of such a reality has become dimmer, amid an increasingly right-wing Israeli government and public, and a surge in illegal Israeli settlement construction that has now obtained the stamp of approval by US President-Elect Donald Trump.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
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