French President Francois Hollande has said there is an “urgent” need to find a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, warning that the absence of a deal would only benefit “extremists”.
Foreign ministers and diplomats from the Middle East Quartet, the UN, Arab League and more than 20 countries attended Friday’s meeting in Paris aimed at reviving the peace process – but neither Palestinian nor Israeli representatives were present.
“Terrorists could benefit from the Israel-Palestine conflict. We have seen this in Iraq, Syria and Libya,” Hollande said.
“The only winner of a status quo would be extremists,” he added.
At the same meeting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned that hopes of a two-state solution were in “serious danger”, with Israelis and Palestinians “getting further away each day”.
“We must act, urgently, to preserve the two-state solution, revive it before it is too late,” Ayrault said after announcing that world leaders would be presenting a “series of incentives” to bring the two sides to the table.
France portrayed the meeting, the first international conference on the issue since Annapolis in the US in 2007, as a first step by the international community to weigh different options.
Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker, reporting from Paris, said there was a tremendous drive by France to revive of the peace process.
Participants discussed ways in which the international community could “help advance the prospects for peace”, a short joint statement from the attendees said after the meeting.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, hailed the Paris meeting as a “very significant step” that sent a “clear” message.
“If Israel is allowed to continue its colonisation and apartheid policies in occupied Palestine, the future will be for more extremism and bloodshed rather than for coexistence and peace,” he said in a statement.
But Israel condemned the French initiative, saying the international meeting “pushed peace further away”.
“The international community accepted [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas’s demand and enabled him to continue to evade direct and bilateral negotiations without preconditions,” foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.
The Palestinians say Israeli settlement expansion in occupied territory is diminishing any prospect for the viable state they seek, with a capital in East Jerusalem.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Erekat said 20 years of bilateral negotiations “have failed” because of those settlements.
“How can you convince Palestinians that the land that would be their state is being eaten up, stolen for settlements,” he said, adding that the Paris meeting “produces an opportunity” for peace.
But David Keyes, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defended his government’s decision to boycott the Paris meeting, saying “the best way to settle that would not be to fly to another continent”.
Keyes also told Al Jazeera that Egypt would be a better broker between Israel and Palestine, “because it has a better sense of the difficult issues that we need to work out.
“There’s a real possibility for normalisation with many countries in this region, and that kind of framework makes a lot more sense,” he said.
The Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands Israel captured in 1967. In 2012, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly recognised a state of Palestine in these boundaries, though setting up an actual state would require a deal with Israel.
But unlike his predecessors, Netanyahu refuses to recognise the pre-1967 lines as a starting point for border talks, with agreed upon land swaps – the internationally backed formula for a peace deal.