Photo: Reuters
French President Hollande arrives to conference
Photo: Reuters

Hollande: Only sides can choose peace, France can only help guarantee accord

As some 30 countries gather in Paris for peace summit, US remains cool on French initiative, saying Kerry attending 'merely to listen to ideas.'

France's President Francois Hollande said Friday that only Israelis and Palestinians can make the "courageous choice" to achieve peace, noting that the French initiative can only help provide guarantees for a "lasting, solid accord."



Hollande, who opened a peace conference in Paris, explained why he thought the French initiative had something new to offer, noting that changes that have swept the Middle East mean that past efforts for peace between Israelis and Palestinians are no longer as relevant.


"The discussion on the conditions for peace between Israelis and Palestinians must take into account the entire region," Hollande said.


French President Hollande, right, arriving to the conference accompanied by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (Photo: Reuters)
French President Hollande, right, arriving to the conference accompanied by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (Photo: Reuters)


"The threats and priorities have changed. The changes make it even more urgent to find a solution to the conflict, and this regional upheaval creates new obligations for peace. We must prove it to the international community."


He noted that if the peace process fails, "the vacuum will inevitably be filled by extremists."


The European Union's foreign policy chief,  Federica Mogherini, told reporters in Paris on Friday that major powers had a duty to revive talks between Israel and Palestine and that the perspectives created by the Oslo accords in 1993 were at risk.


"The policy of settlement expansion and demolitions, violence, and incitement tells us very clearly that the perspective that Oslo opened up is seriously at risk of fading away," Mogherini said.


France has grown frustrated over the absence of movement toward a "two-state solution" since the collapse of the last round of talks in April 2014, arguing that letting the status quo prevail is like "waiting for a powder keg to explode."


In a statement ahead of the conference on Thursday, the French president said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict faces a "dangerous deadlock," noting that the meeting will allow participants to "reaffirm their commitment to the two-state solution and their determination to create the conditions for resumption of direct talks."


Israel and the Palestinians were not invited to the conference on Friday.


Instead, representatives of some 30 countries, as well as the United Nations, European Union, the Quartet and Arab League, will try and lay the ground for a fully-fledged peace conference to be held by the end of the year.


“Right now if we put Palestinians and Israelis around a table it is highly likely the discussion will last less than a few minutes,” said a French diplomatic source.


The meeting, the first international conference on the issue since Annapolis in the United States in 2007, will not touch on any of the chronic core differences between the two sides.


Its initial focus is to reaffirm existing international texts and resolutions that are based on achieving a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip co-existing with Israel, an outcome some say is becoming unrealistic.


US Secretary of State John Kerry arriving to the Paris conference (Photo: Reuters)
US Secretary of State John Kerry arriving to the Paris conference (Photo: Reuters)


It will also try to establish working groups comprising various countries that would meet in the coming months and tackle all aspects of the peace process and create economic and security incentives or guarantees for both sides.


The United States, the traditional mediator in the conflict, has been decidedly cool on the French initiative, with US Secretary of State John Kerry agreeing to attend merely to listen to ideas proposed by France and others.


“We’re not bringing any specific proposals to this meeting tomorrow,” a senior State Department official said, adding that no one had “any real firm ideas” on what the outcome was expected to be.


“We haven’t made any decisions about what, if any, our role would be in that initiative going forward.”


Israel, meanwhile, is fiercely opposed to the French initiative. In a press conference with Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel's concerns, saying that the conference would allow the Palestinians to evade direct negotiations.


Soini, meanwhile, emphasized that Finland opposed boycotts against Israel and expressed complete opposition to BDS activity.


Netanyahu, right, meets with Finnish Foreign Minister Soini (Photo: GPO)
Netanyahu, right, meets with Finnish Foreign Minister Soini (Photo: GPO)


After decades of failed negotiations, few believe the climate is right to bring together the Israelis and Palestinians for another shot at solving one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.


A recent attempt by the Americans to restart talks collapsed in April 2014, with the Palestinians accusing Israel of continuing settlement construction—which they say sabotages the two-state solution—while Israel accused the Palestinian Authority of inciting to terrorism and evading direct negotiations.


While skepticism is high over the new peace bid, the consensus among some diplomats appears to be that any effort is better than none at all.


“The fear in France is that there is no credible perspective of solving this issue, diplomatically or politically,” a diplomatic source in Paris told AFP.


“We risk heading towards even more violence in an international context where there is no visible American effort on the case.”


Netanyahu and Hollande meet in Paris (Photo: GPO/File)
Netanyahu and Hollande meet in Paris (Photo: GPO/File)


According to diplomatic sources, the French conference will seek to focus on a 2002 Saudi-led peace initiative.


Under that proposal, Arab leaders said they would recognize the State of Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in 1967, and the creation of a Palestinian state.


The plan was largely ignored by Israel at the time, but Netanyahu said this week he would be open to re-negotiating aspects of it with the Palestinians.


“In a way, the French initiative has already had an impact, as it has forced Netanyahu to propose an alternative in the Arab Peace Initiative,” a European diplomat in Israel told AFP.


“If the international community comes together and says the two-state solution is the only option, that is important in itself –- after years of people talking about the two-state solution being dead.”


Last month, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi threw his support behind the effort to revive peace talks, coming out with a direct call on Israelis and Palestinians to promote a peace accord, which he said might even be more important than Israel's Peace Treaty with Egypt.


Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, right, meets with Palestinian President Abbas (Photo: Reuters)
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, right, meets with Palestinian President Abbas (Photo: Reuters)


Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold said on the eve of the talks that they would “completely fail,” and that Israel would prefer a Middle East-driven process backing direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.


He spoke at a press conference in which he compared the Paris conference to the Sykes–Picot Agreement that divided the Middle East.


"One hundred years ago, Messrs Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot tried to dictate a new order in the Middle East. It was at the height of colonialism in our region," he said. "It failed then and it will fail now. The only way to make peace is through direct talks without preconditions with the support of Arab states, and not in conferences in Paris. If you have a dispute with your neighbor, you don't need to travel all the way to France and bring in Senegal to solve it."


Palestnian President Mahmous Abbas meets with French President Francois Hollande (Photo: AFP/File)
Palestnian President Mahmous Abbas meets with French President Francois Hollande (Photo: AFP/File)


Gold went on to say that, "I've been reading what the Palestinians have been saying about the conference and how it affects their motivation to reach an agreement with us. Today (Thursday) there was an op-ed by Saeb Erekat in Le Monde. He says the time for direct negotiations has passed and that's why he's turning to the Paris conference, and has great expectations that the conference could serve as a substitute for direct talks.


"It shows that conferences like that provide an escape route for the Palestinians from negotiating with us. We've been through this before, and we must bring them back to where they are sitting face to face with Israeli diplomats. This is our aspiration. We're not escaping negotiations with the Palestinians, they're escaping negotiations with Israel."


The conference faced a challenge as thousands of people were evacuated from their homes south of Paris while the River Seine surged to its highest level for over 30 years in the French capital, shutting down the famed Louvre and Orsay museums and a metro line.


In Paris, the Seine rose above 5 meters (16 feet), forcing the SNCF rail operator to close the RER C commuter line that runs along the river and is used by tourists to reach the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral and Versailles.


Flooding by the Eiffel Tower (Photo: AFP)
Flooding by the Eiffel Tower (Photo: AFP)


The Seine could peak at six meters in Paris on Friday, officials said, stressing that this was still well below the level where it would pose danger to residents. The river reached a record high of 8.6 meters in 1910, when thousands of Parisians had to flee flooded low-lying areas of the city. 


AFP and Reuters contributed to this report. 


פרסום ראשון: 06.03.16, 09:04
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