France wants international Mideast conference this year

Russia has said that Abbas and Netanyahu have agreed to meet ‘in principle’

13:37 September 20, 2016

United Nations: France said on Monday it wants to organise an international conference before the end of the year to present Israelis and Palestinians with a package of incentives if they reach a peace agreement.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at a briefing on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting that “this week must be a moment of political mobilisation that we can reach that goal”.

Ayrault’s push for an international conference in France follows an announcement by Russia’s Foreign Ministry on September 8 that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow for talks.

But the wide gaps between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raise doubts about the prospect for any meeting — and if there is one, whether they would make any progress.

Abbas demands that Israel halt all colony construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and release about two dozen Palestinian prisoners before any meeting. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects the preconditions.

Ayrault said several countries, including Egypt, Russia and the United States, are trying to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He said he told them that “all efforts are in fact complementary of the French initiative”.

A statement from Secretary of State John Kerry’s office said Kerry met Abbas in New York to discuss “our shared goal of a two state solution”.

It said Kerry voiced “concern over trends on the ground, including the recent surge in violence and [colony] activity”.

France hosted an international meeting in Paris in June attended by more than two dozen Western and Arab countries to try to come up with a new strategy for Mideast peace and revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which have been all but dead for over two years. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders were not invited.

The participants welcomed the “prospect” of a conference with both parties later this year.

Ayrault hosted a closed meeting on Monday for officials from the countries that attended the June conference.

Russia has clamoured unsuccessfully for years to host a meeting of the two leaders but Russia’s Foreign Ministry gave no date or agenda for the future get-together.

The United States has maintained a stranglehold over all Mideast peace processes since the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

For years, the US was seen by Israelis and Palestinians as the indispensable mediator and only power that could guarantee a two-state solution. But the Obama administration doesn’t appear to enjoy that recognition any longer.