Middle East

Palestinians push for international conference, US is open

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinian foreign minister said Monday an international peace conference is the only way to generate momentum to bring Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a peace agreement. The US ambassador said the Trump administration has “no objection” to meeting international partners.

Riad Malki, the top Palestinian diplomat, strongly backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ call for an international conference early next year, telling the UN Security Council: “Anything else is volatile, and it is futile.”

Abbas called for a conference in his virtual address to the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting of world leaders in late September to launch “a genuine peace process.” He called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to undertake preparations along with the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators — the US, UN, European Union and Russia.

US Ambassador Kelly Craft was skeptical that a conference would produce results, but said the Trump administration, Israel’s closest and most important ally, was open to the possibility raised by Abbas.

“We have no objection to meeting with international partners to discuss the issue. But I have to ask, how is this different than every other meeting convened on this issue over the past 60 years?” she asked the council.

Israel’s new UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan opposed the Palestinian call, accusing Abbas of refusing “every peace offer made by the state of Israel” and attacking Israel’s recent agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan instead of viewing them as “a new opportunity to kick-start negotiations.”

For more than three decades, the Palestinians have sought an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but imposed a crippling blockade when the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized power from Abbas’ forces in 2007.

There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected more than a decade ago, and the two sides are fiercely divided over the core issues of the conflict.

Instead, Netanyahu has focused on building ties with Arab, African and Asian countries that have long supported the Palestinian cause. In Israel, the agreement with the UAE, an oil-rich country with considerable regional influence, is seen as a historic breakthrough that could transform the Middle East.

The Palestinians have rejected President Donald Trump’s proposal to end the conflict, which overwhelmingly favors Israel, and responded by cutting off contacts with both the US and Israel. Arguing that Washington is no longer an honest broker, they have called for a multilateral peace process based on UN resolutions and past agreements.

Craft encouraged Mideast countries and Security Council members to support Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the Trump peace plan — and “to embrace the opportunities” presented by the accords with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.

Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said it was “ridiculous” to claim the Palestinians wouldn’t negotiate, pointing among other things to the identification of final status issues by both sides which were to be negotiated based on internationally agreed terms of reference and parameters by 1999.

“Here is Netanyahu’s stance on these issues: Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem, shall be Israeli,” Malki said. “Illegal settlements shall remain in place. Refugees shall remain refugees. Israel shall continue to control our borders. Israel shall control all of the Jordan Valley and with it most of our natural resources.”

He said these positions “are contemptuous and unlawful” and show Israel wants to make its occupation permanent.

Israel’s Erdan countered that Netanyahu has invited Abbas to Jerusalem many times and has even offered to go to the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

“But Abbas wastes time calling for another useless conference,” Erdan said. “Instead, this council should call on the Palestinians to begin negotiations based on the American vision for peace, which is a good starting point for realistic, sustainable peace.”

A general view shows Palestinian flags and a golden sculpture on a hilltop in Rawabi in the Israeli-occupied West Bank October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Rami Ayyub

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