Netanyahu: Paris peace conference is 'useless'

The Mideast peace conference in Paris closed Sunday, calling for Israel and the Palestinians to embrace a two-state solution as the only route to peace, despite Israel's Prime Minister branding the conference "useless."

The conference, which is being attended by representatives from some 70 countries, began Sunday with the aim of bringing both sides to the negotiating table and maintaining support for a two-state solution.

"They emphasized the importance for the parties to restate their commitment to this solution, to take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground, including continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity," the closing statement from the conference read.

Any two-state solution should satisfy both sides, the statement said. That includes recognizing Palestinians' sovereignty and their right to statehood, as well as Israel's security needs, while ending "the occupation that began in 1967" and resolving all "permanent status issues" based on UN Security Council resolutions.

Among the permanent status issues are Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, settlements, security and borders.

Israeli, Palestinian response
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that the conference was coordinated by the French and the Palestinians and sought to "force terms on Israel that conflict with our national needs."
He seemed to welcome the inauguration of American President-elect Donald Trump later this week, saying, "This conference is among the last twitches of yesterday's world. Tomorrow's world will be different -- and it is very near."

Israel's Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon also slammed the conference, saying it "is so detached from reality that it has extended a hand towards Palestinian obstructionism instead of towards peace."

Echoing Netanyahu's sentiments on working with Trump, he added, "In the next few weeks we will enter a new era and work with the incoming US administration to undo the damage caused by the Security Council resolution and these other one-sided initiatives."

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the conference at the opening of the Palestinian embassy in the Vatican on Saturday.

"We praise the role of President (Francois) Hollande and the French government in organizing this international conference, and we call upon the participants to take concrete measures in order to implement international law and UN resolutions," Abbas said.

'Emergency'
The talks, hosted by France, were aimed at restarting some level of negotiations after the last round of talks collapsed in 2014.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told delegates that preserving the two-state solution is an "emergency" in the face of threats by "colonization" and continued violence.

"The parties remain very distanced in a relationship of defiance, which is particularly dangerous, and no one is immune to a new explosion of violence."

Speaking as "a friend of Israel," the foreign minister said the country's security was of profound concern, but "there will not be regional peace, solid and durable, as long as the conflict with the Palestinians will not be resolved."
Addressing the timing of the conference, in the final days of President Barack Obama's administration, Ayrault said, "Well, we have demonstrated that the entire world wishes for peace."

On France itself recognizing a Palestinian state, Ayrault said it hadn't really been discussed and that the focus was on bringing the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table again.

"The position of France, and we have precedent in this, is that there is no future of peace in this region of the world if we do not reaffirm the necessity for two states," he said.

French President Francois Hollande warned that accepting the "status quo" was not an option for the international community and criticized those who believe holding such a conference is naive.

"It would be naive to consider that bridging the gap between Israel and its neighbors, so necessary, is possible without progressing towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians," he said in a speech.

The conference comes amid rising tensions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders following December's passing of a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

The Security Council approved the resolution with 14 votes, with the US abstaining.

Israel fears the recommendations of the conference could turn into another Security Council resolution during the Obama administration's final days.

Embassy controversy
Netanyahu has made it clear he's looking forward to working with Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to relocate the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a proposal that has caused consternation in the international community.

Arab and European allies have warned the incoming Trump administration that such a move would risk undermining the peace process and lead to further violence in the region.

Ayrault called the proposal a "provocation" and said previous American presidents had put forward this option in the past but ultimately balked.

"The question of Jerusalem," he said, "can only be discussed in the framework of a negotiation between all parties."
He said he looked forward to working with Rex Tillerson, Trump's secretary of state nominee.

Abbas responded to Trump's pledge by writing the leaders of Russia, China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Arab League and others asking them to stop Trump.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned such a move could cause "an absolute explosion in the region." Later, Kerry told reporters that it would have been inappropriate to include mention of Trump's proposal in the peace conference's final communique, according to media reports.

Last week, Trump's transition team floated the possibility of initially having the US ambassador to Israel work and live in the US consulate in Jerusalem, while the American Embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

Abbas has written to Trump to register his concern over how moving the embassy could shatter any chances of peace.
PLO Secretary-General and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat also confirmed that Russia had been urged to prevent any such move from occurring.

"The Palestinian presidential office have sent a message to all foreign ministries asking them to use all tools to prevent Trump's decision to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem. This will put an end to the two-state solution and it crosses all red lines," Erekat told CNN.

Erekat also confirmed the message from Abbas was delivered to President Vladimir Putin "through Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday."

Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Paris Peace Conference

Once upon a time, the term “Paris Peace Conference” was a serious one, and referred to the historic Versailles Conference that ended World War I. That conference began on January 18, 1919, and it is striking that the French would wish to make a mockery of their own history by convening a useless conference on almost exactly the same date—today, January 15.

Today nearly 70 countries, and nearly 40 foreign ministers including the one from the United States, are gathering in Paris. Why? Well, why not—from the point of view of the foreign ministers. You do have to sit through an entire day of boring speeches, of course, but then you get the whole weekend in Paris. I’ll bet most arrived Friday for a good dinner, then you have Saturday free for shopping, then another dinner….who would say no merely because the event will be useless or harmful to the cause of peace?

For John Kerry this is his swan song, and he is fresh from Vietnam where he walked down memory lane yet again, at God knows what cost to American taxpayers. But thinking of Kerry should lead us to recall who will be engaged in this event. There is Kerry, who will be unemployed in five days. There is French President Francois Hollande, who has announced he won’t even run for re-election in May. There is Palestinian President Abbas, elected in 2005 for a four year term and now entering his 12th year. And Abbas won’t actually be at the conference, just nearby in some gorgeous hotel suite. Israel is boycotting the conference. No one will represent the new American administration.

What is the point of this endeavor? According to the French, it is to show support for the two-state solution and urge both parties, meaning Israel and the PLO, to negotiate. That is a demonstration of bias, because it is the PLO not Israel that has been refusing negotiations and rejecting peace plans again and again for years—indeed decades. To treat the government of Israel and the PLO as if their desire for peace were identical is wrong and unfair. If the participants at the conference truly wished to advance peace, they would be pressuring the Palestinians to stop rewarding and inciting terrorism by glorifying terrorists, and pressuring them to start negotiating seriously. This will not happen. There is every reason to believe Mr. Abbas will leave Paris satisfied with the circus and feeling zero real pressure to do anything at all.

The other point, perhaps the real point, of the conference is to pressure Israel to stop all settlement growth. In this sense it is a follow-up to UN Security Council resolution 2334 of December, and shares its conclusion that the real barrier to peace is the increasingly rapid, uncontrollable, endless, limitless growth of Israeli settlements. But this is false, as the statistics show. Settlement populations are growing, at about four percent a year, but the notion that they are rapidly gobbling up the West Bank and making peace impossible is a fiction.

There may be a third objective for the conference: pressing President-Elect Trump not to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We can expect language about leaving Jerusalem as a final status issue and doing nothing at all that changes the status quo. If you believe the President-Elect will be dissuaded by such a declaration from a conference such as this, well, I don’t agree.

So the conference will soon be nearly forgotten, and go down as yet another feeble effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. Of course if you ask the French, they will angrily deny that this was their purpose. I agree that it was not the purpose, but it is the effect, predictably. Like Resolution 2334, it is another diplomatic blow against the Jewish State, trying to isolate it and criticize it and undermine its ideological and diplomatic defenses. And meanwhile, this very month, we will see the PLO pay more money to prisoners convicted of terrorist acts and name more schools or parks or squares after murderers and would-be murderers. But there will be no Paris conference about all of that.


UK Refuses to Sign Paris ‘Peace’ Summit Declaration

In a dramatic development following the Paris peace summit on Sunday, the United Kingdom refused to sign a joint declaration calling for a two-state solution, saying the document may “harden” the Palestinian stance on negotiations.
The UK was notably absent from the conference, which convened representatives and foreign ministers from around 70 nations, including Secretary of State John Kerry; it sent only a junior delegation to act solely in an “observer status.” According to the Guardian, this was a deliberate decision in order to “stay close to Donald Trump’s administration.”

The confab did not include representatives from either the Palestinian or Israeli leaderships, prompting a British Foreign Office spokesman to say London had “particular reservations” about its outcome. He further added that London was opposed to the conference taking place against Israel’s expressed wishes and “just days before the transition to a new American president when the U.S. will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement.”

“There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace,” he added, noting that the UK did not sign the conference’s final declaration issued Sunday evening.

“We will continue to support efforts to improve conditions on the ground to enable negotiations to resume and look forward to working with the parties, the new U.S. Administration and other countries represented in this conference to make progress in 2017 and beyond,” the spokesperson said.

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the conference as “pointless” and the “final palpitations” of yesterday’s world.

“It also distances peace as it hardens Palestinians conditions and keeps them away from direct negotiations without preconditions. I have to say that this conference is among the last remnants of the world of yore. Tomorrow will look different, and tomorrow is very close,” he added.

Trump had reportedly expressed his opposition to the conference and out of deference to him, the UK did not dispatch any senior diplomats to attend it.

The confab followed an anti-settlement resolution that was passed by the UN Security Council last month after the U.S. failed to exercise its veto. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson conceded Britain’s role in the final draft of the resolution, which called settlements a “flagrant violation of international law.”

However, Kerry’s harsh speech lambasting Israeli settlements in the days after the vote drew condemnation from London for its one-sided attack on Israel.

Shortly before the vote, British Prime Minister Theresa May praised Israel as “a remarkable country,”  “a beacon of tolerance” and an “example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity.”

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