By Rina Bassist and Herb Keinon, JPost—
The Middle East parley scheduled in Paris on Sunday is a “rigged conference” that will do nothing to promote the cause of peace, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
Netanyahu’s comments came before a meeting with visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Bende, who is among the 40 foreign ministers expected to attend. All told, some 75 counties are expected to send delegations, with Secretary of State John Kerry leading the US delegation.
A Palestinian delegation will be in Paris, but is not necessarily expected to be at the summit. Israel has opposed the meeting, insisting that the only way to achieve a twostate solution is through direct talks.
“We’re all faced here with a great challenge against the forces of terrorism that not only seek to destroy Israel but seek of course to render any possibility of peace totally hopeless,” Netanyahu said alongside Brende.
“There are other such efforts that render peace hopeless and one of them is the Paris conference,” he said, repeating hislong-standing, harsh opposition to the conference.
“It’s a rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians with French auspices to adopt additional anti-Israel stances,” he added. “This pushes peace backward. It’s not going to obligate us. It’s a relic of the past. It’s a last gasp of the past before the future sets in.”
The future that Netanyahu was alluding to is apparently the inauguration of US President- elect Donald Trump in the upcoming week.
Brende said that Norway will be at the conference and will “make sure there is a nuanced outcome.” The Norwegian diplomat met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in Amman to discuss the conference.
Abbas, who is expected to meet with the Pope in the Vatican on Saturday, is also expected to meet with French President François Hollande in Paris sometime this weekend.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who also met Brende, told him the conference was detached from the reality of what is happening in the region, and as such is irrelevant.
The minute you lose relevance, she said, you lose “influence.”
Kerry’s participation in the conference gave Hollande the much-awaited US seal of approval for the conference.
Israeli diplomats said that with US President Barack Obama set to leave office next Friday, this will be the administration’s last chance to reaffirm its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a position recently expressed through its abstention on the UN Security Council’s anti-settlement resolution, as well as Kerry’s 70-minute speech during which he criticized the policies of the Israeli government.
One government official in Jerusalem said that given Kerry’s speech two weeks ago, it was not surprising that he will attend the summit, despite Israel’s objections.
He said Israel was not overly concerned about Kerry’s presence in Paris, because both he and Obama will be leaving office just five days after the summit.
“There is nothing we can do about the summit,” the official said. “We can’t postpone it or stop it. It is going to happen, and as it is going to happen, it will be forgotten with time.
We are not really concerned too much.”
A top French diplomat, meanwhile, confirmed that UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and the six parameters Kerry laid down in his speech for moving the diplomatic process forward will be included in the final communiqué of the conference, though the statement will not enter into the details of Kerry’s parameters.
The diplomat rejected Israeli assertions that France is trying to impose a peace process or to encourage the Palestinians to seek the international diplomacy route instead of negotiating, adding that at this precise moment, before Trump takes office, it is important to stress international consensus about the two-state solution. The source said that France does not intend to seek another UN Security Council resolution following the conference.
Another top French diplomat confirmed that the conference team has been in contact with people within the new Trump administration, but noted that these contacts yielded little constructive results.
The statement at the end of Sunday’s upcoming conference is expected to include two parts: a political declaration, combined with an incentive package to both sides.
The participants will affirm their commitment to the two state solution, emphasizing that it is the only solution which could guarantee peace and security to Israel, the Palestinians and the region. It will refer to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, Security Council Resolution 242 (adopted after the Six Day War), Security Council Resolution 339 (adopted to bring an end to the Yom Kippur War), the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the latest Quartet report from July 2016 regarding the basis for a two-state process.
For the moment, it seems that France would rather not include the issue of two capitals within the statement, and would stick with the 1967 armistice lines for the two-state formula. Still, this issue will be discussed at a last-minute meeting of senior officials before the conference on Saturday, where the statement draft will be finalized.
The benefit package proposed to both sides is less controversial, and is expected to include three major elements including a call for both sides to open civil society dialogue channels, with an international civil society stakeholders forum in the near future; a concrete commitment by several countries to work with the Palestinians on governing and institution capacity building projects (several such projects were discussed in recent months), based on the Palestinian Statehood Strategy paper; and economic incentives, including the encouragement of private investments in the Palestinian Authority, and the possibility of upgrading Israeli and Palestinian economic relations with the European Union market.
This last element is actually the conference’s strongest card vis-à-vis Israel, offering Jerusalem and Ramallah the status of “privileged partners,” thus taking the trade association agreement between Israel and the EU to the highest level possible for non-EU member states.
Ambassador to France Aliza Bin-Noun told The Jerusalem Post that Israel will not cede to pressure from the international community.
“France is positioning itself as a principle player on the global arena, garnering both international and domestic dividends over this conference. But we have seen how the international community operates vis-à-vis Israel; with two anti-Israeli decisions at UNESCO, UN Security Council Resolution 2234 and different decisions by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva. This conference will not advance the two-state solution,” she said.