The UK refused to sign a joint statement at the Paris Middle East peace conference yesterday – diverging from the 73 other countries – after attending as an observer.
A spokesman from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the UK has “particular reservations” about the Paris summit taking place without Israeli or Palestinian representatives, and argued that the summit might harden Palestinian negotiating positions.
Due to these concerns, Britain had attended the Paris talks as an observer only; dispatching Michael Howells, head of the Middle East desk at the Foreign Office, rather than a Minister.
The FCO statement said: “The UK remains committed to achieving a two state solution. We believe the best way to make progress towards this is through a return to bilateral negotiations, which take account of and confront all of the obstacles to peace and legitimate concerns of both sides”.
It continued: “Therefore, we have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them – indeed which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis – and which is taking place just days before the transition to a new American President when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement. There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace”.
“That’s why we have attended in an observer status and have not signed up to the communique”.
The UK sent three diplomats to attend Sunday’s conference, which hosted representatives from 70 countries. Some 36 countries sent their Foreign Minister to Paris for the event, including the US, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Norway, Sweden and Egypt.
Israel’s government had long objected to the conference, calling instead for direct talks with the Palestinians as the only way to end the conflict.
Speaking to ministers at his cabinet meeting on Sunday, Israel’s Prime Minister called the Paris conference “futile”. He said: “It was coordinated between the French and the Palestinians with the aim of imposing upon Israel conditions that are incompatible with our national needs”.
The Paris Conference delegates issued a concluding declaration, which said that a two-state solution “is the only way to achieve enduring peace”. It called on both sides to “officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution, thus disassociating themselves from voices that reject this solution” and to reverse the “current negative trends on the ground including continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity”.
The statement also called on both sides to refrain from “unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues including Jerusalem, borders, security and refugees”.
The statement added that a follow-up conference will take place before the end of 2017.