JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister said Thursday that an upcoming conference in Paris aimed at reviving peace talks with the Palestinians was “rigged” and that Israel was not bound by anything decided there.
Dozens of countries are set to attend the conference on Jan. 15, where they may endorse an international framework for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently opposes such a move, saying it would undermine the negotiating process.
“It’s a rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians with French auspices to adopt additional anti-Israel stances,” Netanyahu said during a meeting in Jerusalem with Norway’s foreign minister. “This pushes peace backwards. It’s not going to obligate us. It’s a relic of the past.”
The conference comes days before U.S. President Barack Obama hands off to President-elect Donald Trump, who is expected to be much more sympathetic to Netanyahu’s government than the outgoing administration was.
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French President Francois Hollande said Sunday’s conference aims at ensuring the support of the international community for the two-state solution as a reference for future direct negotiations.
“I cannot accept the status quo, letting people think that the conflict would resolve itself. It is not true. That is why France took the initiative of a conference on the Middle East,” Hollande said in a speech to diplomats, adding that ultimately peace can only be achieved through bilateral negotiations.
French diplomats said the timing of the conference — days before Trump’s inauguration — is intentional and is meant to present the new president with a collective international push for peace once he takes office. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about the event.
French authorities expect 72 countries to attend. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu have been invited to come to France after the conference to be informed of its conclusions. Netanyahu has declined the invitation. Abbas is expected to visit the French capital at the end of the week on the sidelines of the conference.
The Palestinians, who in recent years have campaigned for the international community to assume a greater role in resolving the conflict, have welcomed the French initiative, particularly in light of a new U.S. administration widely expected to side with Israel on many issues central to the conflict.
The Palestinians are hoping the Paris conference delivers a strong international endorsement of the two-state solution, a goal that has been the bedrock of the Mideast policy of the last several American administrations.
While Trump has indicated an eagerness to broker a solution to the conflict, his election platform did not mention a Palestinian state. He has appointed an ambassador to Israel with deep ties to the Israeli settlement movement and has vowed to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step the Palestinians strongly oppose.
In their confirmations hearings, Trump’s Cabinet picks have voiced mixed messages. His nominee for defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, said Thursday that Tel Aviv was Israel’s capital. His nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said a two-state solution was “the dream that everyone is in pursuit of,” while questioning its feasibility.
In response to Netanyahu’s comments, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Abbas aide, said the international community must “stress to the Israeli government that its rejection of the international resolutions will not bring anything but more instability to the area.”
Netanyahu insists the conflict can only be resolved in direct peace talks and has repeatedly called on Abbas to resume them. Abbas refuses unless Israel ends settlement construction first.
The last round of peace talks, mediated by the U.S., collapsed in 2014.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.