Paris summit warns against 'unilateral' steps in Mideast conflict

PARIS, France (UPDATED) – A conference for peace in the Middle East on Sunday, January 15, warned Israel and the Palestinians against taking "unilateral steps" on Jerusalem and on borders that could imperil a negotiated solution to their 7-decade conflict.

Around 70 countries attending talks in Paris called on the two sides to avoid moves that "prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including inter alia, Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees."

The participants in the conference "will not recognize" such steps, they warned in a statement.

They also agreed that the basis for the negotiations should be the 1967 borders, before Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told a press conference.

France organized the gathering to reaffirm global support for a Palestinian state existing alongside an Israeli state – a scenario the Palestinians fear could be jeopardized by Donald Trump's incoming US administration.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians attended the conference, which the Palestinians supported but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed as "futile".

US Secretary of State John Kerry, attending the talks on his farewell tour, said he had negotiated to prevent Israel being treated unfairly.

"We did what was necessary to have a balanced resolution," Kerry told reporters and confirmed he had spoken to Netanyahu during the meeting to reassure him.

Kerry noted that leading Arab nations had endorsed the US outline of a solution which insists on the need for two states, one of them Israel recognized as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians welcomed the closing statement, with Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Secretary General Saeb Erekat saying it had "stressed the need to end the Israeli occupation".

Israel though said the conference, and others like it, made peace harder to find "since they encourage the Palestinians to continue to refuse direct talks with Israel".

1967 borders

Ayrault said the conference participants had set out the 1967 frontiers as the cornerstone of final-status negotiations.

"The basis is the 1967 borders and the major UN resolutions," he said.

The conference comes as Trump's campaign pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem sparks deep concerns for peace in the Middle East.

Ayrault said such a move, which would support Israel's claim that Jerusalem is its capital, would be a "provocation".

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas has warned it would "destroy" peace efforts.

The Palestinians regard Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel proclaims the entire city as its capital.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues in the conflict.

"When you are president of the United States, you cannot take such a stubborn and such a unilateral view on this issue. You have to try to create the conditions for peace," Ayrault told French TV.

President Francois Hollande told the gathering that the prospect of two independent states coexisting side-by-side – seen as increasingly elusive – "remains the goal of the entire international community".

But Netanyahu, who insists only direct talks with the Palestinians can bring peace, said before the meeting it was "a last gasp of the past".

Abbas has accepted Hollande's offer to come to Paris to discuss the conclusions of the talks but Netanyahu has refused, French diplomats said.

Trump pledge

The conference was mainly symbolic, but came at a crucial juncture for the Middle East, five days before Trump is sworn in as president.

Trump has said "there's nobody more pro-Israeli than I am" and his choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a hardliner who says he looks forward to working from "Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem".

The conference came a month after a landmark UN Security Council resolution criticising Israeli settler activity that outraged Netanyahu.

The vote passed after the Obama administration – in a parting shot at Netanyahu – took the rare step of abstaining rather than using its veto to protect Israel.

EU foreign ministers are set to discuss the Paris conference's conclusions on Monday.

A European diplomat said it was uncertain whether they would issue a statement, with Britain and some central European countries reluctant to upset the Trump administration.

Britain only attended the Paris talks as an observer and so did not sign the statement.

Israeli-Palestinian efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

Tensions have spiraled recently following a wave of Palestinian attacks and inflammatory rhetoric on both sides.

Israel's ongoing expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory is also seen as a major obstacle to a resolution.

Abbas warned starkly on Saturday, January 14, about the consequences of an embassy move. 

"Any attempts at legitimizing the illegal Israeli annexation of the city will destroy the prospects of any political process, bury the hopes for a two-state solution and fuel extremism, in our region, as well as worldwide," he said. –