PARIS — Fearing a new eruption of violence in the Middle East, more than 70 world diplomats gathered in Paris on Sunday to push for renewed peace talks that would lead to a Palestinian state.
The conference is meant to be a forceful message to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that much of the world wants peace and sees a two-state solution as the best way to achieve it in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"A two-state solution is the only possible one," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in opening the conference, calling it "more indispensable than ever" to solve the protracted conflict.
But while dozens of countries sent representatives to the gathering, Israeli and Palestinian officials were notably absent, as were Trump representatives.
Netanyahu said Sunday's conference was "rigged" against Israel, and Trump's incoming administration isn't taking part.
The Israeli prime minister called the gathering an "empty summit" that was cooked up behind Israel's back and is designed to force conditions on the country that are against its national interests.
French diplomats fear Trump will unleash new tensions in the region by condoning settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians and potentially moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem.
"Both parties are very far apart and their relationship is one of distrust — a particularly dangerous situation," Ayrault said at the conference. "Our collective responsibility is to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. We know it is difficult, but is there an alternative? No, there isn't."
Without naming the president elect, France's President François Hollande used his speech at the conference to make a point directed at the incoming US administration. "Here is my message at the moment a new administration is preparing to take power in Washington," he said Sunday. "More than 20 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, it is legitimate and necessary for the international community to seriously reflect on the best way to help the two nations toward a solution."
Secretary of State John Kerry is in Paris defending American interests at the conference, in his last major diplomatic foray before he leaves office. It marks the end of eight years of failed U.S. efforts at Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
Netanyahu declined an invitation to a special meeting after the conference, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was initially expected, but his visit to Paris was postponed.
The Israeli prime minister said the gathering would do little to promote peace and marks the "last flutters of yesterday's world."
"Tomorrow will look different and tomorrow is very close," he said in apparent reference to Trump's incoming administration.
According to a draft statement obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, the conference will urge Israel and the Palestinians "to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution."
It also will affirm that the international community "will not recognize" changes to Israel's pre-1967 lines without agreement by both sides.
Pro-Israel demonstrators planned a protest Sunday in Paris.
The final declaration also may warn Trump against moving the embassy, a move that could be seen as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital after decades of insisting that the city's status must be determined by direct negotiations.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders have not negotiated even indirectly since a failed U.S.-led peace effort in 2014.