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France hosts Mideast peace talks without Israelis, Palestinians

Jaafar Ashtiyeh, AFP file | Israeli security forces taking position near the settlement of Kadumim.

More than 70 foreign ministers and envoys gather Sunday in Paris to call for a Palestinian state. But this Mideast peace conference will take place without participation from Israelis, Palestinians or the incoming US government.

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It seems like a long shot to try to restart a beleaguered Middle East peace process without any of the key players.

But French organisers say that moving forward sends a message. They want both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President-elect Donald Trump to see that most of the world wants a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The talks are aimed, in part, at presenting Trump with a collective international push for peace once he takes office Friday. French diplomats fear that Trump will unleash new tensions in the region by condoning settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians and potentially moving the US embassy to contested Jerusalem.

With chances for a Mideast peace deal lower than in years, French President François Hollande figures there’s nothing to lose.

According to a draft statement obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, the conference will urge Israel and the Palestinians “to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution”. It also will affirm that the international community “will not recognise” changes to Israel’s pre-1967 lines without an agreement by both sides.

The Palestinians have welcomed the French initiative and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was initially expected to attend, although his visit to Paris has been postponed. But Netanyahu says the conference is “rigged” against Israel and declined an invitation to a special meeting afterward.

Days before leaving office, US Secretary of State John Kerry will headline the Paris event. But even he is likely participating only to reaffirm America’s support for a two-state solution.

With Netanyahu snubbing the conference and Trump’s administration “reserved” about it, according to a French diplomat, Sunday’s gathering could be seen as an effort to isolate Israel.

Pro-Israel demonstrators plan a protest Sunday in Paris.

Hollande is due to leave office in May. His government has reportedly made no plans to follow up Sunday’s conference with enforcement measures or outreach to Trump’s team.

The talks' final declaration may warn Trump against moving the US embassy, a move that could be seen as recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after decades of insisting that the city’s status must be determined by direct negotiations. Three US senators introduced a bill earlier this month aimed at moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned on Sunday of "extremely serious consequences" if the US embassy relocates to Jerusalem.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders haven’t negotiated even indirectly since a US peace effort collapsed in 2014. Palestinian attacks on civilians and incitement to violence have heightened tensions, as has expanded Israeli settlement-building.

Israel has settled some 600,000 of its citizens in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which is claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state. Israel captured both areas in the 1967 Mideast war. Netanyahu has ruled out a return to Israel’s 1967 lines, and many members of his coalition oppose Palestinian independence.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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