Netanyahu dismisses 'rigged' Paris peace conference

Jewish men of the Cohanim Priestly caste participate in a blessing during the holiday of Sukkot, in front of the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem's Old City. (Tsafrir Abayov, AP File)
Jewish men of the Cohanim Priestly caste participate in a blessing during the holiday of Sukkot, in front of the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem's Old City. (Tsafrir Abayov, AP File)

Jerusalem - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday dismissed as "rigged" this weekend's Middle East peace conference in Paris, with his government refusing to play any role in the meeting.

Sunday's conference to be attended by some 70 nations is aimed at exploring ways to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Israel rejects the conference but Netanyahu says he is willing to hold bilateral talks.

The Palestinians have welcomed the multilateral approach, saying years of negotiations have not ended Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

"It's a rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians with French auspices to adopt additional anti-Israel stances," Netanyahu said while meeting Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende in Jerusalem.

"This pushes peace backwards. It's not going to obligate us. It's a relic of the past. It's a last gasp of the past before the future sets in."

Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

The conference comes on the heels of a landmark UN Security Council resolution passed on December 23 calling for a halt to Israeli settlement building in Palestinian territory.

In a rare move, the United States declined to use its veto and abstained, allowing the measure to pass 14-0.

Above the law

Israel fears this weekend's conference will produce measures that could then be taken to the Security Council and approved before January 20 - when Donald Trump takes over as US president.

Trump, who had called for US President Barack Obama's administration to veto the December 23 resolution, has signalled far more favourable policy towards Israel.

Obama's administration became increasingly frustrated with settlement building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967.

Israel later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

Settlements are built on land the Palestinians view as part of their future state and are seen as illegal under international law.

The United States and others say continued settlement building is steadily eating away at the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some 400 000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and 200 000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

The settler movement holds important political power in Israel, and key members of Netanyahu's coalition push hard for more construction in the West Bank.

Some openly oppose a Palestinian state and call for Israel to annex most of the territory.

Sporadic violence

French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday the objective of the conference is to "reaffirm the international community's support for the two-state solution and to ensure that the solution remains the reference."

However, in comments to ambassadors in Paris, he said peace would ultimately only come through bilateral negotiations.

Sporadic violence has meanwhile continued and Israel argues the conference rewards it.

On Sunday, a Palestinian rammed a truck into a group of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, killing four of them.

The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, dominated by Fatah, calls for peaceful resistance, but has not specifically condemned such attacks.

It however remains divided from Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and calls for Israel's destruction.

Palestinian leaders have sharply criticised Israel's decision not to participate in the Paris conference.

The Israelis and Palestinians will not take part in the main gathering, but Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is due to meet his French counterpart Francois Hollande on Monday to be briefed on the proceedings, Palestinian officials say.

"Israel cannot continue to be above the law," Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official and Fatah central committee member, said this week.

"Israel has to be punished for not accepting the international resolutions and for not accepting the UN Security Council."

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