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French President Francois Hollande

French President Francois Hollande yesterday played down prospects for Middle East peace talks this weekend in Paris, saying only direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians could resolve the conflict.

France has tried to breathe new life into the peace process over the past year, holding a preliminary conference in June where the United Nations, European Union, United States and major Arab countries gathered to try to revive moribund talks.

Some 70 countries and organisations are due in Paris for a meeting on Sunday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected as “futile”.

Hollande, giving his last speech to the foreign diplomatic corps before stepping down in May, said the objective was to reaffirm the support of the international community for a two-state solution and ensure that it remained a reference.

Reuters quoted Hollande as saying: “I can see that this [two-state solution] has been weakened on the ground and in the minds. If we let it wither away then it would be a risk for Israel’s security to which we are resolutely attached.

“However, I am realistic on what this conference can achieve. Peace will only be done by the Israelis and Palestinians and by nobody else. Only bilateral negotiations can succeed,” he said.

Hollande’s remark will be viewed with curiosity since the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 last month, confirming the international consensus that Israeli settlements violates international law and reaffirms that the international community will not recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including Jerusalem.

The international parameters were also affirmed by the US Secretary of State John Kerry last month where he outlined the US perception on the preconditions for ending the conflict.

Abbas is due in Paris on Sunday but Netanyahu has stated that he will not attend. Hollande’s office said the French and Palestinian leaders would meet in the coming weeks.

In Washington, the State Department said Kerry felt “obliged” to attend the Paris conference to ensure it does not “impose a solution”, even as the Obama administration’s term ends next week.