Major powers meeting in Paris, seek to revive mideast peace talks

Major powers meeting in Paris, seek to revive mideast peace talks

U.S., European and Arab diplomats meeting in Paris Friday are hoping to find enough common ground to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

French President Francois Hollande called on Israel and the Palestinians to “make the courageous choice of peace,” as he opened the peace conference.

“The discussion on the conditions of a lasting agreement between Israelis and Palestinians must take into account the whole of the region,” he said.

Hollande went on to say international powers should play a key role in facilitating the peace process, but ultimately it would be up to the two sides to work out their differences.

“The threats and priorities have changed. The changes make it even more urgent to find a solution to the conflict, and this regional upheaval creates new obligations for peace,” he said.

Washington’s response to the French effort has been tepid, with Secretary of State Kerry agreeing to attend simply to listen to ideas proposed by France and others.  Still, senior U.S. officials stressed the sense of urgency of working to advance the goal of a negotiated two state solution.

“We’re not here to propose any kind of specific agenda,” a senior State Department official said. “While the U.S. is open-minded about ideas, we haven’t made any decisions about what, if any, our role would be in that initiative going forward.”

Despite the recent escalation in violence between Israelis and Palestinians, and the fact that representatives of these two parties are not even scheduled to attend the French-brokered resumption of talks aimed at ending the conflict, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon with the swearing in Monday of ultranationalist Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said he supports a two-state solution.

After a meeting that included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday, Kerry told reporters he would possibly be open to holding an international conference later this year with Israeli and Palestinian representatives in attendance, but cautioned that the talks are just getting started, and that such a meeting is far from set in stone.

“We’ll see, we’ll have that conversation, we have to know where it’s going, what’s happening. We’re just starting, let’s get into the conversations,” he said while shuffling between meetings.

Kerry did not give up hope for a lasting agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the peace talks process he brokered fell apart in April of 2014. He held tight to his vision of two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security, even as some called it a “fool’s errand” and the two principal parties involved refused to speak to one another.

There now is a small opening, with Israel’s hawkish Lieberman saying he supports “two states for two peoples.” And the top U.S. diplomat appears as determined as ever, despite the dwindling months remaining in the current administration, as he prepares to attend the ministerial meeting Friday in Paris, where the resumption of talks aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the focus.

The French-led initiative, aimed at helping to move beyond the current stalemate, will include ministers and delegates from the so-called Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations), and the Arab League. There is no scheduled participation, however, from representatives of either Israel or the Palestinians.

While direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians seem unlikely anytime soon, Kerry said recently “in the end, the parties have to negotiate,” adding “what we are seeking to do is help encourage the parties to be able to see a way forward so that they can understand that peace is indeed a possibility.”

Experts have cautioned, though, that the chances of a genuine open minded discussion are dim.

“I think June 3rd could produce something in terms of moving the process forward,” regional expert Natan Sachs from the Brookings Institution told VOA. “There’s a lot of will, especially among the powers — the U.S. and now France — to get something going. They might get Israel to acquiesce somewhat to this kind of idea, but a major breakthrough, a major movement in the peace process – that remains quite low.”

Sachs noted that the Israelis rejected the idea of an international conference because it was viewed as one that is intent on imposing a solution upon them.

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