US Secretary of State John Kerry will attend a Middle East peace conference on Sunday next week along with seventy other countries, in spite of Israeli objections.
The announcement is certain to further anger Israeli officials who were dismayed by Kerry’s highly critical speech two weeks ago and the US’ refusal to veto a UN Security Council resolution which declared all Israeli settlements illegal.
Ties between the two have since fallen to a new low, but Israel is looking for a more sympathetic hearing from US President-elect Donald Trump after he takes power on 20 January.
The conference, which was originally scheduled for December 2016, is part of a French initiative to revive the stalled peace process. The first meeting was held in June 2016 where senior Western diplomats and their Arab counterparts agreed to work on organising a peace conference by the end of the year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to take part in the talks, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh welcomed the French initiative and said that the Palestinians would accept an invitation to attend.
Around 70 countries will gather for the conference and they are expected to throw their weight behind calls for a halt to settlement building as well as to forge ahead with a negotiated peace.