Trump warned off unilateral Mideast moves at Paris peace conference

French Foreign  Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned Donald Trump against moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. — Reuters pic
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned Donald Trump against moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. — Reuters pic

PARIS, Jan 15 — France warned today of “serious consequences” if Donald Trump moves to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as representatives from 70 countries met in Paris to try to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are represented at the conference, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed as “futile”.

Opening the meeting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the international community wanted to “forcefully reiterate that the two-state solution is the only solution possible” to the seven-decade-old conflict.

He also warned the US president-elect against relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a move to recognise the contested city as Israel’s capital.

Ayrault said such a move, which Trump promised during campaigning, would have “extremely serious consequences” and predicted the incoming US leader would find it impossible to implement.

“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,” he told France 3 TV.

Both Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas have been invited to meet with President Francois Hollande to discuss the conclusions of the Paris talks. 

Abbas, who has backed the conference, is expected to travel to Paris in the coming weeks but Netanyahu has rejected the offer, French diplomats said.

The Israeli premier on Sunday again heaped criticism on the conference, calling it “futile.”

“It was coordinated between the French and the Palestinians with the aim of imposing upon Israel conditions that are incompatible with our national needs,” he told a weekly cabinet meeting.

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

Israel, which insists only direct talks with the Palestinians can bring peace, fears the meeting could produce measures that could be put to the Security Council before Trump takes over.

The French have stressed they have no such plans.

“France has no other desire than to serve peace, and there is no time to lose,” Ayrault said.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are running high following a wave of Palestinian attacks. 

Israel’s ongoing expansion of settlements on land the Palestinians want for their state is also seen as a major obstacle to a resolution. 

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

‘Could destroy peace hopes’ -On Saturday, Abbas warned of a major escalation if the US embassy was moved to Jerusalem.

The city’s status is one of the thorniest issues in the conflict.

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

“Any attempts at legitimising 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,” Abbas warned.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who rebuked Israel recently over its settler activity on Palestinian territory, will join the talks on his farewell tour, along with delegates from the UN, EU and Arab League.

A draft conference communique called on Israel and the Palestinians to restate their support for two states and to refrain from “unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations.”

‘One-state reality’

Israel fears being further isolated by the conference, which comes hot on the heels of a landmark December UN resolution criticising the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

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

Explaining the US abstention, Kerry warned last month that settlement expansion, terrorism and violence were “increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality” that would never yield real peace.

Trump, who had urged the US to veto the text, has said “there’s nobody more pro-Israeli than I am”.

His choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a hardliner who says he looks forward to working from “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Nathan Thrall, senior Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group, dismissed the conference as “inconsequential”.

“If there are no consequences, if nobody is listening, if they are repeating the same thing they said over and over again, it amounts to a charade,” he told AFP. — AFP

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