Netanyahu's Response to Paris Conference: "Tomorrow's World Will be Different – And it is Very Near"

by PATRICK GOODENOUGH January 16, 2017

As 70 nations met in Paris in a bid to prod Israel and the Palestinians towards resolving their long conflict, Israel's prime minister had a message of his own in response, dismissing the high-profile meeting as a vestige of an order that is about to change.

"This conference is among the last twitches of yesterday's world," Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of a weekly cabinet meeting. "Tomorrow's world will be different - and it is very near."

President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration later this week was also on the minds of those gathered in Paris, keenly aware that the next administration has signaled a strongly pro-Israel approach in the months and years ahead.

Of immediate concern for many of the participants is the possibility that Trump may begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, in line with a campaign promise - and in line with U.S. law that three administrations have waived over the past 18 years.

A communique issued at Sunday's conference did not mention the embassy issue explicitly, but did call on the sides "to refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final-status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees, and which they will not recognize."

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault suggested he would like to have seen more direct language, telling French television that an embassy relocation to Jerusalem would bring "extremely serious consequences."

"When you are president of the United States, you cannot take such a stubborn and such a unilateral view on this issue," he said, predicting that it would be "impossible" for Trump to keep his campaign pledge.

The international community largely backs Palestinian demands to have the capital of a future independent state located in eastern Jerusalem. The area in question, which includes Judaism's holiest site, was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967, when Israel captured it during the Six Day War and reunited the city under its administration.

U.S. and other governments have refused to locate their embassies in Jerusalem - even in supposedly uncontested western Jerusalem - until a final negotiated settlement is reached between Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinian and Arab leaders have forecast an "explosion" on anger should Trump go ahead with the move, a warning echoed this month by Secretary of State John Kerry.

"This is not the right time" to move the embassy, Kerry said in Paris on Sunday, adding that the administration views the proposal as "ill-advised."

The French hosts of Sunday's meeting rejected Netanyahu's claim that it was designed to impose a deal and "force terms on Israel that conflict with our national needs."

"With this conference I wanted to inscribe the ‘two-state solution' on the international agenda," President Francois Hollande told the gathering. "There is no question of dictating to the parties the parameters of the settlement, as some have claimed in an attempt to disqualify our efforts."

Kerry told reporters in Paris the event had underlined that support for a two-state solution  is "not just one administration's point of view, this is shared by the international community broadly."

The communique called on Israel and the Palestinians to "officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution" and to disassociate from those on either side who reject that thinking.

The ‘oldest' conflict?

In his speech, Hollande invoked other crises in the Middle East, including the civil wars in Syria and Yemen and the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

In the light of those, he said, some suggest that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is less urgent.

"But how can we think that the Middle East will regain its stability if we do not treat the oldest of its conflicts?" he asked.

Hollande's claim notwithstanding, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict emerged in the early decades of the 20th century - some 1,300 years after the beginning of the Sunni-Shi'a rift that underpins much of the instability across the region today.

Israel has been concerned that the U.N. Security Council may try to push through one final resolution before the White House changes hands, possibly on Tuesday, when the council has the Israeli-Palestinian issue on its agenda again in New York.

Netanyahu's reference to the imminent arrival of "tomorrow's world" comes after a particularly difficult month in relations between his government and the Obama administration, which allowed a Security Council resolution harshly critical of Israel to pass just before Christmas.

Critics say that by describing areas disputed between Israelis and Palestinians to be "occupied Palestinian territory" resolution 2334 aims to predetermine the outcome of negotiations over that land.

The administration has defended its decision, saying the measure was no different than others passed during previous administrations.

Netanyahu disputed that, quoting a previous (Democratic) administration as saying in response to a similar Security Council initiative 23 years ago, "We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war as ‘occupied Palestinian territory,'"

On Sunday Australia's conservative government, which sent two diplomats but not its foreign minister to the conference, distanced itself from some elements of the final communique.

Australia last month was alone (apart from Israel) in voicing public opposition to resolution 2334, although it not currently a member of the council and so did not have a vote.

Courtesy of 

Patrick covered government and politics in South Africa and the Middle East before joining in 1999. Since then he has launched foreign bureaus for in Jerusalem, London and the Pacific Rim. From October 2006 to July 2007, Patrick served as Managing Editor at the organization's world headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Now back in the Pacific Rim, as International Editor he reports on politics, international relations, security, terrorism, ethics and religion, and oversees reporting by's roster of international stringers.

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