Pope Francis (R) talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience at the Vatican City, May 16, 2015..
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, just one day before France is scheduled to host an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abbas’ audience with the Pope, will be the third meeting between the two men since Pope Francis’ papacy began in 2013.
It also comes as Abbas is in the midst of a diplomatic campaign to halt any potential attempts by President-elect Donald Trump to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Abbas also discussed the Paris peace conference with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende when the two men met in Aman on Wednesday, according the Palestinian news agency WAFA. After the meeting Borge tweeted that he had a “very productive meeting” with Abbas on “efforts to reach two-state solution and regional issues.”
Borge then traveled to Ramallah, where he met with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah who warned the Norwegian foreign minister that relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem could cause “an explosion” in the regional security situation, according to WAFA.
In addition, Abbas is scheduled to meet with French President Francois Hollande in Paris over the weekend after his meeting with the Pontiff.
At least 70 nations are sending representatives to the Paris conference, including the United States, who will be represented by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been outspoken on his belief that Israel’s West Bank settlements are an obstacle to peace.
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 US President Barack 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.”
The one-day summit is seeking to find a way to preserve the option of a two-state solution until such time as direct talks can be held between Israelis and Palestinians. It is expected to build off of last month’s UN Security Resolution which called for a halt to all settlement activity.
A Palestinian delegation will be in Paris, but is not necessarily expected to be at the summit. Israel has opposed the meeting, noting that the only way to create a two-state solution is through direct talks.
The last round of talks, which were led by the US, fell apart in April 2014. The Palestinians have insisted that negotiations can only resume if Israel halts all West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
Israel has called for talks without preconditions. In Jerusalem on Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that Palestinian incitement and violence the true stumbling bloc to peace.
She spoke in the aftermath of Sunday’s vehicular terror attack in which a Palestinian truck-drive plowed into a group of young soldiers who stood by Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv promenade.
Holding a peace conference with the Israelis or the Palestinians, she said, is like hosting “a wedding with neither bride nor groom .”
“Peace will be achieved between the sides only through direct talks and not by external coercion." She stressed that "the conference won't bring peace; on the contrary, it will distance peace. Israel achieved peace with Egypt and Jordan through direct talks.”
“If the international community wants to advance peace it must first and foremost send a clear message that the education towards hatred and terror is the real obstacle to peace, not the settlements.”
"Jewish inhabitance of Judea and Samaria has deep and ancient roots” and the “focus on the settlements is morally wrong,” Hotovely said.
With regard to relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem, Hotovely said, it was a “natural” step and she urged “all countries to act in a similar fashion." Herb Keinon and Michael Wilner contributed to this report.
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