The much-discussed Paris Middle East Conference ended Sunday with a rather bland statement reaffirming support for a two-state solution, and a call to stop violence and “ongoing settlement activity.”
Some 70 countries and international organizations, including the foreign ministers of more than 30 states, attended the conference, which included neither Israeli nor Palestinian participants.
Israel adamantly opposed the conference, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeating on Sunday that he felt it was “futile” and a relic of an approach to the Middle East that will end on Friday with the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump.
The conference represents the “final palpitations of yesterday’s world. Tomorrow will look a lot different, and tomorrow is very close,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
The final statement did, however, adopt the anti-settlement UN Security Resolution 2334, as well as the six principles that US Secretary of State John Kerry laid out in his December 28 speech.
Kerry, who attended the parley, called Netanyahu from Paris and said the United States will oppose any efforts to codify the Paris declaration into another Security Council resolution.
Israeli sources said Kerry called Netanyahu from the conference to brief him on the efforts the US was taking there to soften the language of the final statement.
According to the sources, Netanyahu told Kerry that damage had already been done to Israel by the anti-settlement resolution that the US allowed to pass in the Security Council last month, and that no more harm should be allowed to be caused from the Paris summit.
Kerry assured Netanyahu that there would be no follow- up to the Paris conference in the Security Council, according to the sources.
And, in fact, the statement made no reference to a further Security Council resolution, but did call for a follow-up conference by the end of the year “to support both sides in advancing the two-state solution through negotiations.”
The declaration also included a “call on each side... to refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final-status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees and which they will not recognize.”
A French diplomatic source said there had been tough negotiations on that paragraph.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said intensive efforts by Israel over the last few days were successful in softening the language of the statement, which – for instance – did not include the language of Resolution 2334 in referring to east Jerusalem as “occupied territory.” They also noted that there would be no follow-up in the Security Council, and attributed this largely to Israel’s furious reaction to the US failure to veto that resolution.
The final communique also shied away from explicitly criticizing plans by Trump to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, although diplomats said the wording was meant to send a “subliminal” message.
Sources told The Jerusalem Post
Kerry’s discussion with Netanyahu on Sunday tipped the balance on this matter, with Kerry objecting to any mention of Jerusalem as capital of both Israel and “Palestine,” or to a specific follow-up mechanism.
He said it would have been inappropriate to include in a communique from a meeting held in Paris on Israeli-Palestinian peace a mention of plans by the Trump administration to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
“It is being debated publicly at home and does not belong within international fora at this moment in time. It’s inappropriate,” Kerry told reporters.
French Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault said at a press conference after the meeting that while the Paris declaration will not be adopted at the Security Council at a meeting it will hold on the Middle East on Tuesday, it will certainly be discussed at Monday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
Ayrault said he would go to Washington once Trump takes office, and – among other issues – discuss the conference’s resolutions with the new administration.
He said all the countries and organizations that took part in the conference shared a sense of urgency vis-à-vis continued settlement activity and the increase in violence on the ground, in Jerusalem and elsewhere, elements that are threatening hopes to achieve a viable two-state solution.
According to Ayrault, the international community as a whole must firmly condemn the terrorist attack in Jerusalem last week.
He also stressed that the international community was united behind the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.
Ayrault said he is ready to invite Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Paris, or to go to the region and discuss the conference declaration with them.
French President François Hollande told the conference the two-state solution was threatened on all fronts; on the ground, by the continued settlement enterprise; on the political level, as the peace camp weakens; and on the moral level, with growing mistrust between the sides, and with the terrorists acting against it.
This threat, and the wars raging in the region, have driven many to abandon this vision in favor of the status quo, said Hollande, who emphasized that “the presence of 70 states and organizations here prove that we are not giving up.”
Hollande rejected the assertion made by Israel that France was trying to impose a solution on the sides, stating, “We have no intention to dictate any parameters of a solution. Only direct negotiation can lead to peace.
No one can do it in the stead of the leaders of both sides.” Without mentioning Netanyahu or Abbas by name, he said, “Only the leaders of both sides can convince their own peoples.”
Hollande’s speech addressed both Israelis and Palestinians, when he said, “There are always those who are skeptical. Those who refuse. I am fully aware of accusations by which our initiative is naïve, and that one cannot talk peace when war is tearing the region apart. But it is naiveté to believe that Israel can build relations and get closer to its neighbors without an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”
French diplomatic sources expressed disappointment that New UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres didn’t attend the conference, especially since France actively backed his candidacy to the post. Arab countries participating all sent their foreign ministers, and so did most of the EU countries, with the noticeable exception of Britain, which sent Michael Howells, head of the Mideast desk in the foreign office, and two diplomats in its embassy in Paris. Russia, as well, was “only” represented by its ambassador to France, and not by its foreign minister.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat issued a statement, saying, “We welcome today’s statement by the Paris Peace Conference, which stressed the need to end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 as per international law and international legitimacy resolutions; including the recent Security Council Resolution 2334.”Adam Rasgon and Reuters contributed to this report.