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Palestinians welcome Paris summit statement

Jerusalem (AFP): Palestinian officials welcomed the closing statement of Sunday’s Middle East peace conference “which stressed the need to end the Israeli occupation,” Palestinian Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat said.

Israel, however, criticised the summit, terming it “futile” and warning it would distance prospects of peace with the Palestinians.

The conference’s closing statement called on both sides to avoid “unilateral steps” and stressed that the basis for negotiations should be should be the 1967 borders, before Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The PLO called on conference host France and all the countries that attended the meeting in Paris to “recognise Palestine in line with their recognition of Israel”.

According to Erekat, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, participants “created a momentum” in rejecting “Israeli occupation and its settlement enterprise”.

The meeting constituted a message to Israel “to abide by international law” and “end its military occupation of Palestine” in order to pave the way for peace and stability in the region, Erekat said.

“It is time to stop dealing with Israel as a country above the law and to hold it accountable for its systematic violations of international law and the rights of our people.”

Neither side attended the conference, which the Palestinians supported but which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier dismissed as “futile”.

Israel’s foreign ministry warned that “international conferences and UN resolutions only distance peace (prospects) since they encourage the Palestinians to continue to refuse direct talks with Israel.”

According to the foreign ministry, “if the states that convened in Paris really wanted to advance peace, they should pressure (Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas) to accept prime minister Netanyahu’s invitation to engage in direct talks.”

The Paris conference was nothing but “an artificial attempt by people from outside the Middle East… to dictate solutions to people in the Middle East who will have to live with the consequences,” it said.

Israeli settlements, considered illegal by the international community, were “not an obstacle to peace but a pretext used by the Palestinians to avoid negotiating,” the ministry added.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas have been invited to meet with French President Francois Hollande to discuss the conference’s outcome.

Abbas is expected to travel to Paris in the coming weeks but Netanyahu has rejected the offer, French diplomats said.