PARIS — In a diplomatic gambit that at times sounded as though the clock was about to run out, envoys from some 70 countries Sunday called on Israel and the Palestinians to recommit to the goal of two states for two peoples, before the possibility slips away.
But there was someone else they hoped to persuade, too: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
A two-page statement they issued was intended to send a message from the world powers, including Europe and the Arab states, to the incoming Trump administration that the international community wants to keep hope alive for a two-state solution to the long-running conflict in the Holy Land.
The diplomats gathered in Paris, including Secretary of State John F. Kerry, warned that continued acts of violence and the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank must stop. Their joint statement aspires to establish a foundation for peace talks in the hope that they might resume sometime in the future.
Though Trump was not mentioned by name, there was widespread concern in Paris that the new administration, which will occupy the White House in five days, will be so pro-Israel that its policies could threaten the idea of two states living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as their shared capital.
The joint communique incorporated references to previous blueprints for peace talks, including last month’s U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank and incitement and terrorism that Palestinians have been accused of fomenting. It also commended Kerry’s speech two weeks ago laying out principles for negotiations to resolve the seven-decade-old conflict.
U.S. officials believe the diplomatically worded “welcome” for these previous initiatives amounts to an implicit acknowledgment by the Arab nations that Israel will be a Jewish state and that a million or more Palestinians who have demanded the right of return to Israel will never come back. None of that was mentioned explicitly, so it is unclear whether the Arab governments will be able to speak to their publics about such emotional and deep-seated issues.
Kerry told reporters traveling with him that the communique issued by 70 countries showed that Arab states are ready to engage with Israel if the Palestinian issue is settled.
“It’s a first when you have international organizations — the Islamic Council and the Arab League and others — willing to try to shift the paradigm here, to point out that they are prepared to make peace with Israel,” Kerry said after leaving the conference.
Kerry spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the day. Israeli media reported that he assured Netanyahu that the United States had worked to “soften” several provisions in the communique deemed unfair to Israel and promised there would be no further action in the Security Council.
In his remarks to reporters, Kerry rejected that characterization, saying the United States has always vetoed resolutions that it considers unfair and delegitimizing of Israel. But he acknowledged that the United States had worked Sunday to ensure a “balanced” resolution.
“We didn’t soften something,” he said. “We did what was necessary to have a balanced resolution.”
A Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations more freely, said that both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were briefed on the language of the communique before it was issued and that neither raised any objections.
Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official and former peace negotiator, applauded the diplomatic effort. “They have again created a momentum in rejection to the Israeli occupation and its settlement enterprise on the land of Palestine,” he said. “It’s a message to Israel, the occupying power, to abide by international law and international humanitarian law.”
The joint declaration urged both sides to “disassociate from voices” that reject the ultimate goal of creating two separate states for two peoples. Israel’s current coalition government is filled with ministers who are openly hostile to the two-state solution, including some leaders who want to annex 60 percent of the West Bank.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians attended the conference. Palestinians welcomed the meeting, while Netanyahu called the gathering “rigged” against Israel and “futile.”
Netanyahu instead said that the delegates to the Paris meeting should press Abbas to return to the negotiating table.
No representative of Trump’s transition team was present, though his impending inauguration was in the background.
France’s foreign minister kicked off the conference Sunday by warning that moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would have “extremely serious consequences” for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Characterizing it as a provocation, Jean-Marc Ayrault said he doubted that Trump would in the end actually fulfill his pledge to relocate the embassy in a city that Israelis have named as their capital and that Palestinians desire a part of to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
“When you are president of the United States . . . you can’t have such an entrenched, unilateral position,” he told France 3 television. “You have to seek to contribute to creating the conditions for peace.”
Britain, in what may have been an attempt to put itself in a favorable light with the president-elect, issued a statement pointedly saying it had not endorsed the communique, even though it attended only as an observer.
And Netanyahu signaled that he was looking forward to Trump’s inauguration when he said the conference exemplified the “final palpitations of yesterday’s world. Tomorrow will look a lot different, and tomorrow is very close.”
But Ayrault said the conference aspired to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations that would lead to a two-state solution that brings peace and security.
“France has no other desire than to serve peace, and there is no time to lose,” he said.
Also in the background was the Security Council resolution warning that Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was imperiling chances for a two-state solution. Israel was furious that the Obama administration decided not to veto it.
Israeli media reported that Netanyahu brought it up and told Kerry flatly that “the damage was already done.”
When asked about Netanyahu’s remark, Kerry pulled out a sheet of paper that apparently was a transcript of his phone call, and he read aloud a portion of it regarding the resolution, inviting reporters to quote in its entirety what he told Netanyahu:
“Now, I want to stress this point: We fully respect Israel’s profound historic and religious ties to the city and to its holy sites. We’ve never questioned that. This resolution in no manner prejudges the outcome of permanent status negotiations on East Jerusalem, which must, of course, reflect those historic ties and the realities on the ground. That’s our position. We still support it.”
Carol Morello and William Booth
15 January 2017
The Washington Post