Paris: France on Friday hosted top diplomats from the West and the Arab world to work on organising a peace conference by year's end that would launch long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, despite slim chances of success.
France has said it felt compelled to act because the opportunities for setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel are slipping away, while the situation in the region is deteriorating.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended, along with representatives from the Arab League, the European Union and key Arab states. Israeli and Palestinian representatives were absent.
The participants called on the two sides to genuinely commit to the two-state solution. They "are alarmed that actions on the ground, in particular continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, are dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution", a joint statement said.
The diplomats also reaffirmed "their support for a just, lasting and enduring peace, with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security" and welcomed "the prospect of convening before the end of the year an international conference".
French President Francois Hollande acknowledged that "we cannot substitute for the parties." He told the gathering that "our initiative aims at giving them guarantees that the peace will be solid, sustainable and under international supervision.".
Participants decided to set up teams by the end of the month to work on economic and security incentives for the Israelis and Palestinians for reaching a deal, French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at a news conference.
Asked if he would support an international conference later this year with the Israelis and Palestinians attending, Kerry told reporters: "We're just starting, let's get into the conversations."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed the French initiative and said a deal can only be reached in direct negotiations.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has welcomed France's efforts, in part because it could potentially end a two-decade-old US Monopoly on mediation. Palestinians have long complained that the US heavily favours Israel and cannot serve as an honest broker.
The Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967. In 2012, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly recognised a state of Palestine in these boundaries, though setting up an actual state would requires a deal with Israel.
For now, chances of reviving negotiations appear remote because of lack of common ground.