French FM set to meet with PM in bid to sell peace plan
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French FM set to meet with PM in bid to sell peace plan

Jerusalem talks come ahead of visit by PM Valls, as Netanyahu rebuffs Paris initiative for international forum on Israeli-Palestinian peace

French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (right) attend a meeting on the Mideast crisis at the Quai d'Orsay ministry in Paris, on March 13, 2016. (AFP/Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool)
French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (right) attend a meeting on the Mideast crisis at the Quai d'Orsay ministry in Paris, on March 13, 2016. (AFP/Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool)

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will reportedly arrive in Jerusalem on Saturday, in a bid to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept France’s efforts to engineer a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, based on a two-state solution.

The Haaretz daily said Netanyahu is expected to strongly criticize the French plan during his talks with Ayrault in Jerusalem, while the foreign minister “will try to persuade him not to reject it out of hand.”

According to Haaretz, Ayrault will arrive in Israel on Saturday night, meet with Netanyahu on Sunday morning, then head to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The foreign minister will depart on Sunday evening.

The paper quoted French diplomats as saying that although the prime minister has publicly opposed the French plan, Ayrault “wants to hear Netanyahu’s views in person.”

The meeting comes a week before French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is also due to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, in what his office said was an attempt to relaunch the peace process following the worst flare-up of violence in the Gaza Strip for two years.

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres (left) with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Paris, March 24, 2016 (Courtesy Peres Center for Peace)
Former Israeli president Shimon Peres (left) with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Paris, March 24, 2016 (Courtesy Peres Center for Peace)

Valls’ May 21-24 visit will take place ahead of a May 30 summit that France is organizing for ministers from 20 countries to discuss reviving the peace negotiations. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials have been invited. Ayrault has previously said the aim of the meeting is to prepare an international summit in the second half of 2016, which would include Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The May 30 meeting has been welcomed by the Palestinians, who suspended a planned UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements to focus on the French efforts. Israel, however, has consistently argued that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides, rather than in international forums.

According to Ayrault, a former French prime minister, discussions at the meeting would be based on the 2002 Saudi peace initiative — approved by the Arab League but not Israel — which called on the Jewish state to withdraw from Palestinian territory captured in the 1967 Six Day War, including East Jerusalem, in exchange for a normalization of ties with Arab countries. It also outlined the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and envisaged a “just solution” of the refugee issue.

French President Francois Hollande (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers at the Elysee Palace, Paris, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. (AP/Thibault Camus)
French President Francois Hollande (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 11, 2015. (AP/Thibault Camus)

Valls will meet with Netanyahu a day after his arrival in Israel. He also plans to hold talks with President Reuven Rivlin, former president Shimon Peres and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

He is then scheduled to travel to Ramallah, where he will meet with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

The trip to Israel will also be a chance for Valls to smooth over a row over a recent UNESCO resolution that spoke of “Occupied Palestine” and made no mention of historic Jewish ties to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. France was among the 33 countries that backed the resolution in the 58-member body.

An aerial view of the Temple Mount, with the southern wall and archaeological park in the foreground. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
An aerial view of the Temple Mount (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Netanyahu attacked the “absurd” resolution, which also condemned “Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif.”

Valls this week said that the UNESCO resolution was “clumsy” and “unfortunate” and should have been avoided.

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