The international community will send Donald Trump a strong warning on Sunday that only a two-state solution could solve the Israel-Palestinian crisis, amid signs that the EU is willing to diverge from the US on Israel policy.
A conference in Paris of more than 70 countries, organised by the French government and coming just five days before Trump is inaugurated, will warn that the two-state solution is under threat and urge both sides in the conflict to resume talks. The move comes as Palestinians express concern that Trump advisers both endorse the controversial Israeli settlement programme and want to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has warned such a symbolic move of the embassy could derail the peace process.
Critics have claimed the conference, the second organised by the French in less than a year, is pointless since neither Abbas nor the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be present. Netanyahu has called the event futile, rigged and “a relic of the past”, adding: “It’s a last gasp of the past before the future sets in.”
The French had hoped at one point the conference might lead to an agreement for Netanyahu and Abbas to meet, but that is now off the table.
Instead Abbas, pleased with the direction of European diplomacy, will meet the French soon after the conference.
In a statement alongside the conference, the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, defended his country’s initiative. “For more than six years, the absence of a peace process has given way to a deceptive status quo,” he said. “Palestinians are seeing their future state shrinking, as settlement expansion continues at an unprecedented speed. This, in turn, generates more occupation, since there is never one without the other.”
The French also claim the conference – to be addressed by the French president, Francois Hollande – is not just a vital symbolic show of support for a two-state solution, but also a chance to set out practical incentives for peace, including aiding Palestinian capacity-building, and help for civil society to promote dialogue.
Despite Israeli objections to the conference, and disapproval from the Trump team, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, will attend, and he is eager the event is not dismissed as a swansong for his own frustrated efforts to seek peace.
In a move that gives the conference a new relevance, the US broke with precedent in December by refusing to veto a UN security council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements as “illegal and dangerously imperilling the viability of two-state solutions”. The resolution also called on “states in their relevant dealings to distinguish between the territory of the state of Israel and territories occupied since 1967”. The clause, repeated in the draft Paris communique, has been taken as a green light for campaigns to boycott goods from illegally occupied territory. The EU will meet this week to discuss how the proposal could be developed.
The draft communique, under negotiation over the weekend, also reaffirms existing international resolutions, urges both sides to restate their commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and disavows officials who reject it.
The text urges the protagonists to “refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations”.
In a sign that the Obama administration had lost patience with Israel, Kerry followed the UN vote with a lengthy speech on 28 December detailing the scale of settlement activity, and the threat it posed to a contiguous Palestinian state. Describing the Israeli government as the most rightwing in the country’s history, he warned Israel would never have true peace with the Arab world if it “goes down the path of one state”.
Although Israel has voiced fears the Paris conference might be used as a lever for a further UN resolution, the more likely theatre for further activity will be the EU, including over boycotts of goods generated within the occupied territories. More broadly it may represent the start of a EU foreign policy more independent of Washington.
Britain, caught between its support for a two-state solution and a desire to gain traction with the Trump administration, was deciding at what level to attend the conference.
To complicate matters further, the Russians are also holding their own separate meetings in Moscow this week with Palestinian groups.
Trump has pledged to pursue more pro-Israeli policies, but in nomination hearings last week neither the proposed secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, nor the expected defence secretary, James Mattis, backed moving the embassy from Tel Aviv. But David Friedman, Trump’s choice of ambassador, has said he looks forward to working “from Israel’s eternal city Jerusalem”.
A move to Jerusalem would endorse the disputed city as Israel’s capital.