France to host meeting to revive Israel-Palestinian peace process
PARIS - France will on Friday host an international meeting in Paris in a bid to revive the moribund Israel-Palestinian peace process, even though its efforts have received a lukewarm response.
After decades of failed negotiations and gridlocked talks, France launched a fresh push to resolve one of the world's longest-running conflicts earlier this year.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians will be represented at Friday's talks, which aim to lay the ground for a fully-fledged peace conference to be held by the end of the year.
But Washington -- the traditional mediator -- has been hesitant to get behind the new initiative, with Secretary of State John Kerry stalling for weeks before finally agreeing to attend.
The conference will nonetheless bring together foreign ministers from some 30 Western and Arab countries, as well as representatives of the United Nations and European Union.
"We must bring back hope, recreate an international atmosphere that is favourable to a (peace) process," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
The last, US-led peace effort collapsed in April 2014 and Ayrault warned of a "catastrophic" situation if there is no resumption of talks.
While attention has shifted to unrest in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, there has been a surge of violence since October that has claimed the lives of 205 Palestinians and 28 Israelis.
Most of the Palestinians were killed while carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, Israeli authorities say.
Many analysts say the recent unrest has been fuelled by Palestinian frustration with Israel's ongoing settlement building and by the repeated failure of peace efforts to end the occupation, but also with their own fractured leadership.
Israel says incitement by Palestinian leaders and media is the main cause of the violence.
According to French diplomatic sources, the fresh peace push would centre on the 2002 Saudi peace initiative.
Under that proposal, Arab leaders said they would recognise the state of Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied since 1967, and the creation of a Palestinian state.
The proposal was largely ignored by Israel.
But the French peace plan faces multiple obstacles, with the two sides trading blame even before the proposed talks get off the ground.
Israel is fiercely opposed to the initiative, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responding by simply repeating his long-standing but so far fruitless offer to meet Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas for direct talks.
The Palestinians, who are in favour of the French plan, have accused Israel of stalling, with experts saying they had very few other options to consider.
"They are in such a state of weakness and decline that they don't have many other cards to play," said Agnes Levallois, a Middle East expert and consultant.
"Deep down, everyone can only support this initiative, even if no one really believes in it," she added.
"But the main aim of this process is to show that we must once again pay attention... and say to the Palestinians that they have not been abandoned and put international law at the heart of the issue."