PARIS - With fears that President-elect Donald Trump may dramatically shift U.S. policy on the Middle East, representatives of more than 70 countries and international organizations on Sunday affirmed that a two-state solution is the only viable option for peace.,
Following a meeting in Paris that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians attended, French President Francois Hollande dismissed naysayers and cynics who already had written it off as a failure, suggesting the symbolism and the message are equally important.
“The naivete would be to think the rapprochement between Israel and its neighbors that is so necessary could be possible without moving forward on peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he said.
The peace conference is the second hosted by Paris in less than a year, and the final statement said another will be held by the end of 2017. It comes as the Obama administration wraps up eight years in office with no success in inching the years’ old peace process forward.
In a major departure from previous U.S. policy, Washington abstained last month from vetoing a U.N. resolution criticizing Israeli settlement building.
Some now fear Trump’s apparently friendlier stance toward Israeli settlements and vow to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could endanger the two-state option.
A final communique did not specifically criticize Trump’s vow to move the U.S. embassy. Nor did Hollande.
Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the talks, said those plans do “not belong within international fora at this moment.”
But in an interview on France 3 TV, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned against the possible embassy move, suggesting it could be a ‘provocation’ and threatens a two-state solution.
The peace talks have lost ground for other reasons. World attention has shifted to other Middle East hot spots, including Syria and Iraq. But Hollande said the two issues can not be separated.
The fallout of the weakening dialogue and Israeli settlement building is manifest in the “distrust growing between the two parties which the extremists are exploiting” along with terrorists, pointing to last week’s truck attack in Jerusalem as a case in point.
The French leader has invited both Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the outcome of the Paris meeting. Reports say only Abbas has accepted.
For his part, Netanyahu called the Paris talks useless, and Israeli supporters staged a small demonstration against them Sunday morning.
For Paris, the peace talks have a local impact; France hosts Western Europe's largest populations of Jews and Muslims. But most analysts doubt France or Europe could move the peace process forward alone.
“The conference in itself was important, but beyond the form and protocol we see nobody wants to budge from their positions,” Middle East specialist Jean-Paul Chagnollaud told France 24 TV, criticizing Holland’s remarks as ‘vague’ and ‘cold.’
“It will be forgotten in a matter of days,” he predicted.
But others commended the gathering simply for taking place.
“It won’t lead to peace in the coming months; it won’t relaunch by miracle a promising Israeli-Palestinian dialogue,” the daily Le Monde newspaper wrote in an editorial. “It nonetheless makes complete sense..we cannot abandon a two-state solution…even though it grows daily more improbable."