PARIS France will convene some 70 countries on Jan. 15 for a Middle East peace conference in Paris, its foreign minister said on Thursday, and will invite the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to meet separately at its conclusion.
France has repeatedly tried to breathe new life into the peace process this year, holding a preliminary conference in June where the United Nations, European Union, United States and major Arab countries gathered to discuss proposals without the Israelis or Palestinians present.
The plan was to hold a follow-up conference before the end of the year with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas involved to see whether the two sides could be brought back to negotiations and revive moribund peace talks.
Netanyahu had repeatedly rejected the conference proposal.
"France is still determined to hold a conference in Paris to reaffirm the necessity of a two-state solution," Jean-Marc Ayrault told journalists.
"January 15 is the date that has been fixed and 70 countries are invited. We are not going to give up now."
A French diplomatic source said invitations would also be sent to Netanyahu and Abbas to meet French president Francois Hollande to outline the results of the conference.
The source said that with uncertainty surrounding how the next US administration would handle the issue it was more important than ever to deal with the issue.
"You can see that it's even more justified in this context," the source said.
Ahead of a UN Security Council vote at the UN later on Israeli settlements, Ayrault declined to say how Paris would vote, but repeated that settlements were illegal.
"We will look at this text carefully. The ongoing settlements completely weaken the situation and create tensions and move Us away from a two-state solution".
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Maya Nikolaeva and Richard Balmforth)