Israel on Monday formally rejected France's invitation to take part in a Middle East peace conference in Paris later this year, saying it was a distraction from the goal of direct negotiations with the Palestinians. There was no immediate comment from Vimont but the French foreign ministry said it still planned to hold the conference before the end of the year. The Palestinians have said they will attend the Paris conference if it goes ahead. Israel, which regards the United States as the chief broker in the Middle East, has long maintained that only direct negotiations with the Palestinians can lead to peace and sees France's efforts as a diversion. Israel says an international conference will also give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a platform on which to grandstand, rather than engaging directly with the Israelis.