“The claim that everything over the ’67 lines is Palestinian territory is incorrect, unrealistic, and will continue the deadlock,” said a senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem on Saturday night.
“There is nothing more absurd than defining the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter [of the Old City] in Jerusalem as ‘occupied Palestinian territory.’ “This is an unnecessary conference, you don’t make peace this way,” the source said, adding that Israel won’t be bound by its conclusions.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that according to a draft statement, the conference would state that the international community would not “recognize changes to Israel’s pre-1967 lines without agreement by both sides.”
The United Nations Security Council issued a similar statement in December.
A high-level diplomatic meeting took place in Paris on Saturday night to finalize the text for the conference, which is expected to be attended by representatives from some 70 countries, including US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Attending for the European Union will be its Foreign Affairs and Security Policy chief Federica Mogherini, as well as representatives from the United Nations and the Arab League.
Israeli and Palestinian representatives were not invited to the meeting, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in Paris with a delegation of PA officials. and will meet with French leadership right after the conference.
“We call upon the participants to take concrete measures in order to implement international law and UN resolutions,” Abbas said in a statement to the media Saturday night welcoming the French initiative. “It is long overdue for the Palestinian people to exercise their basic right to live in freedom and dignity.”
In New York, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon warned that “supporters of the Palestinians are looking for further anti-Israel measures at the Security Council,” and that they may attempt to advance them as soon as this week, based on the closing statement from the conference.
The UNSC is set to meet for its open monthly debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Tuesday.
On Monday, the EU council of foreign ministers in Brussels is expected to discuss the conference and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel has dismissed the French parley, stating that direct talks between the leadership in Jerusalem and Ramallah are the only way to achieve peace.
“International conferences and UN decision only distance peace and support continued Palestinian refusal to hold direct talks with Israel,” said a senior Jerusalem diplomatic source.
“The only way to achieve peace is through direct negotiations between the parties as was done with Egypt and Jordan.
“If the nations gathered in Paris really want to advance peace, they should pressure Abu Mazen [Abbas] to respond to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s invitations to hold direct talks,” the source added, explaining that settlements were not a stumbling block to peace and were best addressed within the context of negotiations.
The true root of the conflict is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, said the source, adding that the PA continues to teach its people to “hate and murder” Israelis.
French diplomats have, for the past several weeks, tried to lower expectations for the conference, mainly because of Netanyahu’s categorical rejection of the initiative. But the approval of UN Security Resolution 2334 at the end of December changed the international outlook, generating great interest around the world. A similar Paris conference in June attracted just 28 participants.
Sources in the French Foreign Ministry affirmed that at least 40 foreign ministers are expected to attend, with other countries sending lower- level representatives. The conference will be presided over by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and President Francois Hollande is scheduled to address participants at 2:30 Paris time.
Hollande is expected to stress that a two-state solution is the only path to assure a viable Palestinian state next to a secure Israel. He will also refer to UNSC resolution 2334, the speech by Kerry in December and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for a future Israeli-Palestinian arrangement along the 1967 lines.
With French presidential elections scheduled for the end of April, Paris cannot, for the moment, contemplate a third conference, especially since the leading candidate in the polls, Francois Fillon, has objected to a conference without Israel. Still, the French are hoping that the final political statement of the conference will become a term of reference, much like the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, for relaunching a two-state process.
Also, papers produced by the three Paris Conference working groups, Civil Society, Capacity Building and Economic Incentives, should constitute a solid base for continued work on these issues.
The final Paris Conference statement should include a reference to international engagement of preparing the Palestinian Authority to transit towards a sovereign state.
Several projects in this line are currently being developed by the group members and representatives of the Palestinian Authority.
Norway, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, together with the European Union, Japan, China and the US, have been deliberating an economic benefit package for both sides, designed to demonstrate the economic development advantages of a two-state solution.
The group had identified several projects in the fields of transportation, urbane infrastructure and energy, which the international community could support and invest in, through international mechanisms and also by private investors.
The package should include also the 2013 proposal by the European Union to grant a status of “privileged partner’’ to both Israel and the Palestinians.
A Japanese source noted that the group is to continue its work beyond the Paris conference.
In New York, Danon spoke out against the conference, stating that it was “a reward to the Palestinians for continuing to avoid negotiations while promoting terrorism.” He also said the Security Council meeting is “an attempt to promote a last minute initiative before the new US administration takes office.”
“The hypocrisy and the obsessive focus on Israel has reached new heights,” he said.
“These one-sided initiatives not only fail in bringing us closer to peace, but they actually encourage terrorism like we saw in last week’s horrific attack in Jerusalem.”
Several Jewish organizations, too, had expressed their opposition to the Paris conference earlier this month, especially in light of the passing of resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlement activity.
Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called for the French to cancel or, at least, postpone what they called an “ill conceived, poorly timed and damaging” event.
“It makes no sense that the next administration is precluded from participating in a discussion of an essential component of US foreign policy with which it will be engaged,” they explained. “Possible outcomes would add further uncertainty that will harm future prospects while unnecessarily inserting a new element of instability to the region.”
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris told the Post he “can’t see any possible reason to hold the Paris conference, all the more so days ahead of a change in US administrations.”
“History has amply shown that it’s not the way to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” he said.
Anything other than bilateral talks, Harris added, “simply convinces the Palestinians they can avoid the face-to-face bargaining table, while persuading the Israelis they’re dealing both with Palestinian avoidance and international mischief in the guise of ‘do-gooderism.’”