France seeks to revive commitments to Middle East peace process

Diplomats from nearly 30 countries and organizations agreed Friday that "the status quo is not sustainable" in the Middle East, but could do little more than clear a path to possible peace talks given that Israeli and the Palestinians were not at the meeting.

Without the participation of the two main parties in the conflict, the participants in Paris agreed to work towards relaunching a peace process in the Middle East, with the hope of negotiating a two-state solution to one of the world's longest-lasting conflicts.

They also called for both sides' commitment to "ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and resolving all permanent status issues through direct negotiations."

French President Francois Hollande said at the start of the talks that it was particularly important to find a peace agreement in the context of widespread extremism and conflict.

France has been struck by two major terrorist attacks since January 2015, claiming more than 100 lives. Although the attackers had no direct links to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the decades-old conflict colours much of the politics of the wider region.

"In the context of the Middle East, vacuums will necessarily be filled by extremists, and terrorists can also gain a foothold," Hollande said. He added that a peace process can only move forward with the support of regional neighbours, but that success would ultimately depend on the Israelis and Palestinians.

Hollande's comments came a little more than two years after the last international bid to broker a long-lasting truce collapsed.

The French-led effort has been blasted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said that direct negotiations without preconditions - as opposed to multilateral talks with conditions - are the only way to move forward on a conflict that has been the subject of repeated peace deal attempts through the decades.

Nonetheless, diplomats said they hoped to relaunch broader talks with both sides before the end of the year.

In the statement, participants said that they would provide "meaningful" incentives to make peace. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters that participants had agreed to begin setting up working groups on specific topics, and said he hoped to finalize topics before the end of the month.

"We can propose a framework and support that will permit, at the right moment, direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. And so I proposed to start work on the guarantees that can be presented to the parties," Ayrault said.

The European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said that the two parties would not "spontaneously" come to the table and said it was the responsibility of the international community to create a framework that would allow them to start serious talks.

She added that the EU has "the means and instruments to create the conditions for incentives" to restart a peace process, underscoring the fact that Europe is the foremost trading partner of Israel and leading financial supporter of the Palestinian Authority.

The statement also "highlighted the potential for regional peace and security as envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative," a proposal to end the Middle East conflict developed by Arab countries and endorsed by the Arab League in 2002.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said his country believed, "that the Arab Peace Initiative is the best opportunity for resolving this long-standing dispute and we hope that wisdom will prevail in Israel and that the Israelis will accept this initiative."

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has called for parameters like a stricter timetable for the implementation of any agreements.

He also expressed scepticism about the outcome of direct bilateral talks with Israel. "We have been talking with the Israelis for 20 years and nothing has been achieved," Hamdallah said last month.

Palestinians have launched scores of deadly knife attacks against Israelis since October, protesting the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as perceived violations - denied by Israel - at a disputed Jerusalem holy site.

Last update: Fri, 03/06/2016 - 17:38

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