Abbas ally: French peace summit will go forward, with or without Israel
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Abbas ally: French peace summit will go forward, with or without Israel

PLO official Ahmad Majdalani tells Palestinian newspaper the controversial conference is on track to take place before end of year

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks during a conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, October 1, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks during a conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, October 1, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

An associate of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said France will hold a much-discussed international conference on the Middle East peace process before year’s end.

Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee, told Palestinian newspaper Donia Al-Watan Saturday that French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault would soon travel to the region in preparation for the summit, as part of France’s peace initiative.

The conference, he added, will take place “whether the Israeli government consents or not.”

Abbas affirmed his commitment to a French-led international peace conference Monday, days after Israel reiterated that it would boycott the effort.

PLO official Ahmad Majdalani Ahmad Majdalani (Facebook page)
PLO official Ahmad Majdalani Ahmad Majdalani (Facebook page)

Abbas, speaking during a state visit to Turkmenistan, said he was planning on sending a delegation to the proposed peace talks set to be hosted in France in December.

He also expressed support for a Russian peace initiative that seemed to have stalled in recent months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will not attend the French peace conference, arguing that direct talks should resume between the two sides.

Israel claims that a third party conference would actually harm the prospects for peace, allowing Abbas to attempt to persuade other countries to impose a solution on Israel without the Palestinians having to make concessions.

In Turkmenistan, Abbas also said he has “high hopes” for prospective Mideast peace talks in Moscow, but gave no details.

Russia had proposed hosting a meeting of the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders, but sharp differences between them have raised doubts if such a meeting could take place.

Last week the French government’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process, Pierre Vimont, visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority to push Paris’s plan for a conference.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaks at the United Nations in New York September 19, 2016. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)
Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaks at the United Nations in New York September 19, 2016. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

After meeting with Vimont, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Ramallah was asking France to push ahead with the plan.

“We have encouraged France to go ahead with its initiative and supported its efforts to have a conference before the end of the year,” he said in a statement. “Israel should not be given the chance to sabotage such an international initiative.”

Vimont also met, in Israel, with acting National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel and Netanyahu confidant Yitzhak Molcho, who told him in “an unambiguous and unequivocal fashion” that real progress and a lasting peace agreement could only emerge through direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

“Any other initiatives only distance the region from such a process,” the statement continued. “It was explained to the French envoy that Israel will not participate in any international conference convened in opposition to its position.”

The French initiative “greatly harms the possibilities for advancing the peace process,” the statement said, arguing that it would allow Abbas to avoid returning to direct bilateral negotiations without preconditions.

“Israel is certain and expects that France will not advance a conference or process contradicting the State of Israel’s official position,” it said.

AP contributed to this report.

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