Middle East meet is on, says France

PARIS/TEL AVIV: France will stick to its plan to host a Middle East peace conference next month, a Foreign Ministry official said on Tuesday, despite fierce objections from Israel. The meeting of some 70 nations and organisations in Paris on January 15 will allow participants to present “incentive measures” aimed at reviving negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
While Palestinian leaders have welcomed the French efforts, the Israeli government rejects the idea of an international peace conference, arguing instead for direct bilateral negations without any preconditions.
On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman called the conference a “tribunal against the state of Israel” that could harm Israeli security.
US State Secretary John Kerry led the last attempt to broker a peace deal. The negotiations collapsed in April 2014 after nine months of talks.
White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told Israel’s Channel 2 on Monday that Kerry would lay out a new plan for how to achieve a two-state solution, but not provide details on the timing.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meanwhile called for a timetable for ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank following a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlement activity. The resolution lays the groundwork for “serious talks to end the occupation … and paves the way for the success of the French-sponsored international peace conference,” he said on Monday night at a meeting for his ruling Fatah party’s Central Committee.
He expressed hope that the meeting in Paris will lead to an international mechanism and concrete timeline for ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Friday that condemns Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian Territories and called on Israel to halt it, with 14 votes in favour and the US abstaining.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reacted to what his office described as a “shameful” resolution with a variety of measures, from cancelling meetings to re-evaluation relationships.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman on Tuesday said Israel was reducing ties with the member states that had voted in favour of the resolution,including limiting trips to and from those countries as well as recalling the envoys to Senegal and New Zealand.
The other 12 in favour were Russia, China, Japan, Ukraine, France,Britain, Angola, Egypt, Uruguay, Spain, Venezuela and Malaysia.
Netanyahu’s actions have drawn criticism from party leaders at home as well as leaders from abroad.
“I would not have cancelled official visits,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely of Netanyahu’s Likud party on Tuesday. “I would prefer to see these visits as an opportunity to explain the Israeli position,” she told Army Radio. — dpa

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