Palestinians reject U.S. peace plan as Kushner keeps silent on political details

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner gives a speech at the opening of the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019 in this still image taken from a video. Peace And Prosperity conference pool/Reuters TV via REUTERS

By Matt Spetalnick

MANAMA (Reuters) – Palestinians poured scorn on the Trump administration’s much-touted peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, saying its framework for a trade and investment boost ignored their political aspirations for statehood.

Gulf states attending an international meeting in Bahrain, orchestrated by the plan’s architect, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, gave it qualified support.

But they also stressed that any peace settlement must be based on two-state solution.

Kushner told reporters his team would release the plan’s political details, which remain secret, “when we’re ready”, adding: “We’ll see what happens”.

He said a peace deal would happen when both sides are ready to say “yes”. He acknowledged that they may never get there.

Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the meeting, which takes place amid a years-long stalemate in other international efforts to resolve a conflict that has lasted more than 70 years.

Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi, speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said the Manama conference was “quite disingenuous”.

“It is totally divorced from reality. The elephant in the room is the (Israeli) occupation itself,” she told a news conference.

Several thousand Palestinians demonstrated in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and burned posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “No to the conference of treason, no to the conference of shame” read one banner.

The chief of the Islamist Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, criticized the plan as a ruse against the Palestinian people.

“This money must not come at the expense of our enduring rights, or at the expense of Jerusalem or the right of return or at the expense of sovereignty and resistance,” he said.

The foreign minister of Bahrain said the plan, nearly two years in the making, was an “opportunity not to be missed”.

He reiterated the need for a two-state solution, which has underpinned every peace plan for decades, but Trump’s team has consistently refused to commit to it.

“I think if we take this matter seriously it could be a very important game-changer,” Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told Israeli public broadcaster Kan in English.

Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, has said Israel was open to the economic proposals.

But many Arab states, including Lebanon, stayed away from the event while others including Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab nations that have reached peace agreements with Israel, sent deputy ministers.

The Lebanese government and parliament both oppose the U.S. plan, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday.

 

Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T is seen during the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS

Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T is seen during the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS

HARD SELL

Washington hopes the wealthy Gulf states will bankroll the plan, which expects donor nations and investors to contribute $50 billion to Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said the kingdom would support whatever brings prosperity to the region but that it was important that it was driven by the private sector.

UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid al-Tayer said: “We should give this initiative a chance”.

Riyadh said on the eve of the conference that any peace deal should be based on a Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that calls for a Palestinian state drawn along borders which predate Israel’s capture of territory in the 1967 Middle East war.

It also envisages a capital in East Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return – points rejected by Israel.

It is not clear whether the Trump team plans to abandon the two-state solution, which is backed by the United Nations and most countries. Kushner has said the plan would not adhere to the Arab initiative.

Any solution must settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, Israel’s security concerns, Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory where Palestinians want to build that state.

Palestinian leaders are refusing to engage with the White House, accusing it of pro-Israel bias. Breaking with the international consensus, Trump in 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating the Palestinians and other Arabs.

SOUND POLITICS

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also emphasized the need for a two-state solution and said peace required both political and economic tracks.

“It’s absolutely foolish to believe you can have economics without sound politics, but it’s likewise completely futile to think politics will work without economics buttressing it,” he told the gathering.

International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, said generating economic growth in conflict-riven countries can be a struggle.

The IMF puts unemployment at 30% in the West Bank and 50% in Gaza, which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades and recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“Gaza right now is feeling a lot of pain because of bad leadership and the sanctions that have been imposed on them because of it,” Kushner said.

“So the question that (Hamas)leadership has to ask themselves is…do they hate their neighbor in Israel more than they love their citizens and their people?”

The 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects in the plan include a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, which has been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.

Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari, chairman of the Palestinian Business Network, told the gathering it was difficult to build an economy with a “siege and unstable situation”.

“Frankly, we demand an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967,” said the businessman from Hebron, who has co-founded a trade group to boost business between Palestinians and Israeli settlers.

(Story was refiled to remove extraneous words from headline)

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Manama, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Rami Ayyub in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Davide Barbuscia, Lisa Barrington, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Nafisa Taher, Hadeel AlSayegh and Alexander Corwnwell in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Trump says he wants two-state solution for Mideast conflict

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a bilateral meeting during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Steve Holland

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he wanted a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the clearest expression yet of his administration’s support for such an outcome.

The Trump administration has in the past said it would support a two-state solution if both sides agreed to it.

Trump, in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations, also said he wanted to unveil a peace plan in the next two to three months.

“I like a two-state solution. That’s what I think works best … That’s my feeling,” said Trump, who is attending the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders.

Netanyahu has said that any future Palestinian state must be demilitarized and must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people – conditions that Palestinians say show he is not sincere about peacemaking.

The United States’ Arab allies are strong proponents of a two state solution.

“I really believe something will happen. They say it’s the toughest of all deals,” Trump said.

He added that Israel will have to do something good for the other side without elaborating.

Doubts have mounted over whether Trump’s administration can secure what he has called the “ultimate deal” since December, when the U.S. President recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then moved the U.S. Embassy there.

“It is a dream of mine to get that done prior to the end of my first term,” Trump said of an agreement on the conflict.

“I don’t want to do it in my second term. We’ll do other things in my second term,” he said. “I think a lot of progress has been made. I think that Israel wants to do something and I think that the Palestinians actually want to do something.”

Jerusalem is one of the major issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim it as a capital. Trump’s move outraged the Palestinians, who have since boycotted Washington’s peace efforts, led by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally. It regards all of the city as its eternal and indivisible capital.

Asked what Israel might have to give up in return for the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Trump replied: What will Israel have to give up after U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem? “I took probably the biggest chip off the table.

“And so obviously we have to make a fair deal, we have to do something. Deals have to be good for both parties … Israel got the first chip and it’s a big one.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; editing by Grant McCool)

Abbas wins EU backing for Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem

European High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Brussels, Belgium, January 22,

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union assured President Mahmoud Abbas it supported his ambition to have East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state, in the bloc’s latest rejection of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

At a meeting in Brussels with EU foreign ministers, Abbas repeated his call for East Jerusalem as capital as he urged EU governments to recognize a state of Palestine immediately, arguing that this would not disrupt negotiations with Israel on a peace settlement for the region.

While Abbas made no reference to Trump’s move on Jerusalem or U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the city on Monday, his presence at the EU headquarters in Brussels was seized on by European officials as a chance to restate opposition to Trump’s Dec. 6 decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Mogherini, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, called on those involved in the process to speak and act “wisely”, with a sense of responsibility.

“I want to reassure President Abbas of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states,” Mogherini said.

Before Abbas’ arrival, she was more outspoken, saying: “Clearly there is a problem with Jerusalem. That is a very diplomatic euphemism,” in reference to Trump’s position.

Deputy German Foreign Minister Michael Roth told reporters that Trump’s decision had made peace talks harder but said all sides needed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Abbas also struck a more diplomatic tone than in his recent public remarks, including earlier this month when he said he would only accept a broad, internationally-backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel.

“We are keen on continuing the way of negotiations,” Abbas said. “We are determined to reunite our people and our land.”

But his call for the European Union to immediately and officially recognize the state of Palestine was unlikely to be answered, two senior EU diplomats said.

SLOVENIAN DECISION?

While nine EU governments including Sweden and Poland already recognize Palestine, the 28-nation bloc says such recognition must come as part of a peace settlement.

Only Slovenia has recently raised the possibility of recognizing the state of Palestine. A parliamentary committee there is due to consider the issue on Jan. 31, but it remains unclear when the parliament could recognize Palestine.

That reflects the European Union’s dual role as the Palestinians’ biggest aid donor and Israel’s biggest trade partner, even if EU governments reject Israeli settlements on land Israel has occupied since a 1967 war – including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The European Union also wants the Palestinians to remain open to a U.S.-led peace plan, expected to be presented soon by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

Abbas said there was “no contradiction between recognition (of Palestine) and the resumption of (peace) negotiations.”

Instead, France wants to push the European Union to offer closer trade ties through a so-called EU association agreement, an EU treaty covering unfettered access to the bloc’s 500 million consumers, aid and closer political and cultural ties.

“We want to say to Mahmoud Abbas that we want to move … towards an association agreement and to start the process already,” said France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

But offering an EU association agreement to the Palestinians was also fraught with difficulties, diplomats said.

Under EU rules, the agreements need to be agreed with sovereign states. France argues that the EU has an association agreement with Kosovo, whose independence is not recognized by all countries, including EU member Spain.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels and Marja Novak in Ljubljana, Editing by William Maclean)

Arab leaders reaffirm support for Palestinian state amid unease over U.S. stance

(front R-L) Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz pose for a group photograph during the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Hamed

By Ali Sawafta and Suleiman Al-Khalidi

DEAD SEA, Jordan/AMMAN (Reuters) – Arab leaders reaffirmed on Wednesday their commitment to a two-state solution to the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict amid increased unease over the stance of the United States under the new administration of President Donald Trump.

Trump rattled Arab and European leaders in February by indicating he was open to a one-state solution, upending a position taken by successive administrations and the international community.

Trump later told Reuters in an interview he liked the concept of a two-state solution but stopped short of reasserting a U.S. commitment to eventual Palestinian statehood, saying he would be “satisfied with whatever makes both parties happy”.

Arab leaders attending a one-day summit beside the Dead Sea did not publicly refer to Trump or his ambiguous statements, but were keen to stress their own continued backing for an independent Palestinian state and also strongly criticized the continued building of Jewish settlements on occupied territory.

The summit’s host, King Abdullah of Jordan, said the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel remained the basis of any comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal.

“Israel is continuing to expand settlements and wreck chances of peace … There is no peace or stability in the region without a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause through a two-state solution,” the king said.

ISRAEL CRITICIZED

The venue of the conference is only a few km (miles) from the occupied West Bank and Israeli settlements are visible to the naked eye.

This week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was committed to work with Trump to advance peace efforts with the Palestinians, but he also stopped short of reiterating a commitment to a two-state solution.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Israeli policy in his speech to Wednesday’s summit.

“The Israeli government has since 2009 worked on wrecking the two-state solution by accelerating the tempo of settlements and the confiscation of land,” Abbas told the leaders.

Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt met Abbas ahead of Wednesday’s summit, the second such meeting in two weeks. Trump has also invited Abbas to the White House.

“(Greenblatt) had a lot of queries and we are answering them to complete the picture in their minds and speaking as Arabs in one language,” Abbas said, adding that he had told the envoy that Palestinians remained as firm as ever in their demand for an independent state.

The Palestinians and Arabs want Arab East Jerusalem – which Israel captured in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally – as the capital of a future state encompassing the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

King Abdullah, whose dynasty has custodianship over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, said any unilateral Israeli move to change the status quo in the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa mosque would have “catastrophic” consequences for the future of the region, inflaming Muslim sentiment.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres also endorsed a two-state solution, telling summit participants this was the “only path to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis can realize their national aspirations and live in peace, security and dignity”.

(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

U.S. ambassador at U.N. says Trump supports two-state solution

US Ambassador to United Nations Nikki Haley

By Ned Parker

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Thursday the United States still supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a day after President Donald Trump suggested he is open to new ways to achieve peace.

“First of all, the two-state solution is what we support. Anybody that wants to say the United States does not support the two-state solution – that would be an error,” Haley told reporters at the United Nations.

“We absolutely support the two-state solution but we are thinking out of the box as well: which is what does it take to bring these two sides to the table; what do we need to have them agree on.”

Haley’s comments came after Trump said on Wednesday that he was open to ideas beyond a two-state solution, the longstanding bedrock of Washington and the international community’s policy for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump told a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.”

Trump said that the United States would work toward peace but said he was leaving it up to the parties themselves ultimately to decide on the terms of any agreement. He said such a deal would require compromises from both Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump’s announcement appeared to loosen the main tenet of U.S. Middle Eastern policy dating back three administrations and stunned the international community, which has crafted it diplomacy based on the premise of a Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel.

Haley also echoed Trump in her remarks Thursday, stressing that a peace deal was not for Washington to impose but could only come from the parties themselves.

“The solution to what will bring peace in the Middle East is going to come from the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority,” Haley said. “The United States is just there to support the process.”

Haley, a Republican who previously served as South Carolina governor, also criticized the United Nations and the Security Council on Thursday for what she called a bias against Israel.

She described the day’s scheduled Security Council meeting on the Middle East as “focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.”

Haley said the United States would not support any U.N. resolutions like the one approved by the Security Council in December calling for an end to Israeli settlement building, that passed only after the administration of former President Barack Obama chose not to wield its veto.

“I am here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore,” Haley said. “I am here to emphasize that the United States is determined to stand up to the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias.”

French and British diplomats also repeated their longstanding support of the policy, in a show of how Trump’s remarks on Wednesday had caused confusion.

“The UK continues to believe that the best solution for peace in the Middle East is the two-state solution,” said British ambassador to the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had warned during a visit to Cairo that was no viable way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than the establishment of a Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel.

(Reporting by Ned Parker; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)

France says U.S. position on Middle East peace ‘confused and worrying’

French and German leaders worried about US's decision to back Israel in Two State Solution

By John Irish

BONN, Germany (Reuters) – France considers the U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “confused and worrying”, its foreign minister said on Thursday, reacting to U.S. President Trump’s dropping of the America’s commitment to a two-state solution.

Jean-Marc Ayrault met Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Bonn where, he said, he got some reassurance about Washington’s stance on Russia, but little on the Middle East.

“I found that there was a bit more precision (on foreign policy) even if I found that on the Israeli-Palestinian dossier it was very confused and worrying,” Ayrault said of his meeting.

“I wanted to remind him after the meeting between Donald Trump and (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu that in France’s view there are no other options other than the perspective of a two-state solution and that the other option which Mr Tillerson brought up was not realistic, fair or balanced.”

He did not specify what other option Tillerson had proposed. At a news conference in Washington with Netanyahu on Wednesday, Trump said: “I am looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

On Russia, Ayrault said he was happy to hear Tillerson say that sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine would only be lifted if there was progress on the Minsk agreement to end fighting in east Ukraine.

“With Russia we have some serious points of disagreement and they have to be put on the table. It’s not by making friendly statements that problems will be resolved,” Ayrault told reporters. Tillerson remained “quite general” on the subject, he said.

Having just returned from Tehran, Ayrault said he was concerned by the new administration’s calls to review from scratch the agreement between major powers and Iran over its nuclear program.

“The deal must be completely respected by Iran, but it is out of the question to open up a new construction site for an agreement that was reached in difficulty. I sense that there was a difference of opinion or at least question marks,” he said.

He said the real debate on Iran now was not the nuclear deal, but its “interference” in the region, especially Syria and Iraq.

When asked whether Tillerson had clarified the U.S. position on Syrian peace negotiations and whether it still backed U.N. efforts, Ayrault said it appeared so, but that more talks would take place on Friday.

“Between the campaign speech, the tweets and what I heard from Tillerson, it’s the start of clarification,” Ayrault said, referring to the administration’s foreign policy.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

Obama says Israeli settlements making two-state solution impossible

Palestinian laborers working at construction site on Israeli settlement

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama, in an interview aired on Israeli television on Tuesday, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu policy backing settlements in occupied territory is making a future Palestinian state impossible.

“Bibi says that he believes in the two-state solution and yet his actions consistently have shown that if he is getting pressured to approve more settlements he will do so regardless of what he says about the importance of the two-state solution,” Obama said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Some 570,000 Israelis now live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem, together home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. It later annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally.

Obama, who leaves office on Jan. 20, said that in the past few years both he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had “countless times” personally appealed to Netanyahu to stop settlement activity, but that those pleas were ignored.

“Increasingly what you are seeing is that the facts on the ground are making it almost impossible, at least very difficult, and if this trendline continues – impossible, to create a contiguous, functioning Palestinian state,” Obama told Channel Two’s Uvda program.

Israel expects to receive more favorable treatment from Obama’s successor, President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump has denounced the Obama administration’s Israel policy and has vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, riling the Palestinians. He has also named as U.S. ambassador to Israel a lawyer who raised money for a major Jewish settlement.

Relations between Netanyahu and Obama have been strained for years over their differences regarding settlement-building and Iran nuclear deal’s with world powers signed in 2015.

Ties deteriorated to a low point in December when Washington did not exercise its veto to stop a U.N. Security Council resolution that demands an end to Israeli settlement building, prompting harsh criticism from Netanyahu of Obama and Kerry.

The right-wing Netanyahu has accused the Obama administration of being obsessed with settlements and not recognizing what he called “the root of the conflict – Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state in any boundaries.”

Netanyahu, for whom settlers are a key constituency, has said his government has been their greatest ally. The Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with the Gaza Strip – which Israel also captured in 1967 but withdrew from in 2005 – for an independent state.

The last U.S.-brokered peace talks broke down in 2014.

Washington deems settlement activity illegitimate and most countries view it as an obstacle to peace. Israel cites a biblical, historical and political connection to the land – which the Palestinians also claim – as well as security interests.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Future of two-state solution in Mideast in jeopardy according to Kerry

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 23

By Lesley Wroughton and Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Wednesday that the future of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in jeopardy, and laid out parameters for future peace talks, saying the United States could not stay silent.

In a speech just weeks before the Obama administration hands over power to President-elect Donald Trump, Kerry defended the U.S. decision to allow the passage of a U.N. resolution last week demanding an end to Israeli settlements, saying it was intended to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.

“Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy,” Kerry said in a speech at the State Department. “We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”

“The truth is that trends on the ground – violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation – are destroying hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.”

Kerry’s parting words are unlikely to change anything on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians or salvage the Obama administration’s record of failed Mideast peace efforts.

His impassioned speech comes less than a week after the United States abstained in the Dec. 23 U.N. resolution, in what many see as a parting shot by U.S. President Barack Obama who had an acrimonious relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump, who has vowed to pursue more pro-Israeli policies, had urged the United States to veto.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Alistair Bell)

French Middle East peace conference to be postponed: Palestinian official

Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestine President

RAMALLAH/PARIS (Reuters) – France will postpone a proposed Middle East peace conference in Paris to January next year, Voice of Palestine radio reported on Wednesday, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refusing to participate and U.S. attendance in doubt.

France has been trying to persuade Netanyahu, who has repeatedly rejected the conference proposal, to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the French capital to try to revive moribund peace talks between the two sides.

Voice of Palestine radio quoted Palestinian Ambassador to France Salman El Herfi as saying that Paris had informed the Palestinians of its delay to the peace conference until January “to make better preparations”.

It said Herfi would meet French officials on Wednesday to discuss the issue and that he had said that if Israel refused to come in January, the international conference would still go ahead, but without the main protagonists.

Asked to comment on the situation, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry replied: “As of now, France has never officially confirmed any date for this conference. We will do so once we have had the results of our talks with all the parties concerned.”

France has repeatedly tried to breathe new life into the peace process this year, holding a preliminary conference in June where the United Nations, European Union, United States and major Arab countries gathered to discuss proposals without the Israelis or Palestinians present.

The plan was to hold a follow-up conference before Christmas with the Israelis and Palestinians involved to see whether the two sides could be brought back to negotiations.

The conference of foreign ministers was aimed at agreeing on a joint statement that would reaffirm the two-state solution on the basis of pre-1967 borders and according to Security Council resolutions, diplomats said.

The Palestinian mission in Paris was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and John Irish; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Ralph Boulton)

Obama, trying to protect legacy, unlikely to act on Mideast peace

President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu

By Arshad Mohammed and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama, keen to preserve his legacy on domestic health care and the Iran nuclear deal, is not expected to make major moves on Israeli-Palestinian peace before leaving office, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the last word on the president’s failed peace effort might come from Secretary of State John Kerry at an appearance on Sunday at an annual Middle East conference in Washington.

Obama’s aides are wary of being seen picking a fight with Donald Trump at a time when he hopes to persuade the Republican President-elect to preserve parts of his legacy, including the Iran nuclear deal, Obamacare and the opening to Cuba.

While Obama has yet to present his final decision, several officials said he had given no sign that he intended to go against the consensus of his top advisers, who have mostly urged him not to take dramatic steps, a second official said.

“There is no evidence that there is any muscle behind (doing) anything,” said a third official.

Putting new pressure on Israel could be seen as a vindictive parting shot by Obama at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the first official said, noting they have had a testy relationship.

There is concern that Trump, in response, might over-react in trying to demonstrate his own pro-Israel credentials, for example by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a step that would enrage Palestinians and create an international furor.

Officials said Obama has weighed enshrining his own outline for a deal in a U.N. Security Council resolution that would live on after he gives way to Trump on Jan. 20. Another idea was to give a speech laying out such parameters.

These options appear to have lost steam.

Kerry, who led the last round of peace talks that collapsed in 2014, appears on Sunday at the Saban Forum conference of U.S., Israeli and Arab officials.

Officials could not rule out that Obama might also talk about Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy before he leaves office. The White House and the Israeli embassy declined comment.

The central issues to be resolved in the conflict include borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which most nations regard as illegal, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

Israeli officials remain concerned that Obama and his aides have not explicitly ruled out some kind of last-ditch U.S. action, either at the United Nations or in another public forum.

U.S. officials said Obama could also have his hand forced, notably if another nation like France put forward a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity as illegal or illegitimate, daring Washington to veto it as it did a similar French-proposed resolution in 2011.

U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, asked if Washington would again veto a French proposal, told Israel’s Army Radio: “We will always oppose unilateral proposals.”

He added: “If there is something more balanced, I cannot guess what the response will be.”

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish)