Israel turns down invitation to Middle East peace conference in Paris

Israel says it will only negotiate directly with the Palestinian Authority

Samuel Osborne
Monday 07 November 2016 16:11
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Police have reportedly asked the prime minister's office to schedule a suitable date for questioning
Police have reportedly asked the prime minister's office to schedule a suitable date for questioning

Israel has turned down an invitation to take part in a Middle East peace conference in Paris, saying it will distract from the goal of direct negotiations with the Palestinians.

Israel's acting national security adviser and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's diplomatic advisor told French envoy Pierre Vimont Israel wanted nothing to do with the effort to revive peace talks.

"[They] told the French envoy in a clear and unequivocal manner that Israel's position to promote the peace process and reach an agreement will only come through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," Mr Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Mr Vimont, but the French foreign ministry said it still plans to hold the conference before the end of the year.

France has repeatedly tried to revive the peace process this year, holding a preliminary conference in June which saw the United Nations, European Union, United States and major Arab countries gather to discuss proposals without the Israelis or Palestinians present.

The original plan was to hold a follow-up conference before the year's end with the Israelis and Palestinians, to see whether the two sides could be brought back to negotiations.

The last talks, backed by the US, broke down in April 2014.

The Palestinians have said they will still attend the Paris conference if it goes ahead.

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Israel, which regards the US as the chief broker in the Middle East, has long maintained only direct negotiations with the Palestinians can lead to peace and sees France's efforts as a diversion.

"Any other initiative, including this one, will only distance peace from the region," Mr Netanyahu's office said. It urged France "not to promote a conference or a process that is contrary to [our] official position".

Israel said an international conference will also give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a platform to grandstand, rather than engage directly with the Israelis.

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The Palestinians have said they cannot resume talks with Israel until it stops building settlements on occupied land the Palestinians seek for an independent state and meets previous commitments, including the release of prisoners.

Despite two US attempts to resolve the conflict during Barack Obama's presidency, talks stalled over issues including settlements and Palestinian political divisions.

While most of the so-called "final status" issues are clear to both sides, critics have argued there will be little chance of a breakthrough without genuine US pressure on Israel to halt settlement building and without the Palestinians overcoming the internal splits between Hamas and the Fatah party.

Many analysts believe the prospect of a two-state solution is now beyond reach, with no signs of Israel ending its nearly 50-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for their own capital.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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