A Rare, High-Level Handshake in Paris

Martin Bureau / Reuters

Comoros’s President Ikililou Dhoinine inadvertently ended up in the middle of a big diplomatic moment on Monday when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were seen shaking hands for the first time at the opening of climate talks in Paris. It was the first time the two men had stood face-to-face in five years.

Anyone believing in the symbolic power of handshakes would be quickly disappointed by what happened next: Both men downplayed the encounter.

“It was purely protocol, not a working meeting,” Netanyahu told reporters when asked about the moment. Netanyahu added, “It’s important for the world to see that we’re always willing to talk. But, on the other hand, I have no illusions about Abu Mazen [Abbas].”

​Abbas, for his part, used the conference’s opening as an opportunity to accuse Israel of a litany of crimes against Palestinians. “Our resources are being usurped, our trees are being uprooted, our agriculture is being destroyed,” Abbas said of Israel.

The gesture also came just hours after Netanyahu formally suspended contacts between Israeli and European Union that worked on the last round of peace talks. The decision, as the JTA reported, “comes in the wake of the EU decision to approve special labeling for Israeli products made in the West Bank and Golan Heights.”

Nearly 200 world leaders will spend two weeks in the French capital for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, an annual discussion of the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.