Diplomats try to revive Mideast peace process in Paris
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during the conference "French left and governing" at the Jean-Jaures Foundation in Paris - REUTERS

PARIS : U.S., European and Arab diplomats are meeting Friday in Paris for a French-led effort to revive the Mideast peace process, despite skepticism from Israel.

France persuaded U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and foreign ministers and officials from nearly 30 other countries and international organizations to join Friday’s meeting to try to prevent an escalation of violence.

Israel and the Palestinians will not take part, but the French hope the meeting could lead to eventual direct talks.

France’s President Francois Hollande, who will open the conference, said in a statement Thursday that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict faces a “dangerous deadlock.” The meeting will allow participants to “reaffirm their commitment to the two-state solution and their determination to create the conditions for resumption of direct talks,” he said.

Kerry and Ban will be joined by representatives from the European Union, the Arab League and important countries in the region such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly rejected the idea of an international conference, saying the longstanding conflict can be resolved only through direct negotiations.
But Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah welcomed the French initiative.

France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault envisions two outcomes for Friday’s conference.

First, the prospect of another peace conference that would include the Israelis and the Palestinians by the end of the year, he told Le Monde newspaper Thursday. Second, the creation of working groups to prepare for potential direct talks. One would focus on economic incentives, another on security guarantees that could help convince the two parties to come back to the negotiation table.

The core issues of the conflict will not be discussed during Friday’s conference.

France hopes to start a “pragmatic” process in hopes of make progress “step by step”, a French diplomat said, praising a “modest approach”.

Another French diplomat added: “We know the path is difficult, the goal will be hard to reach. But we considered it’s worth trying”.

Both officials were speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to disclose content of talks ahead of the conference.

The most recent round of talks broke down two years ago. The Palestinians, along with much of the international community, have accused Netanyahu of undermining peace talks by continued settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories where they hope to establish an independent state.

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