Jerusalem on Thursday poured cold water on a French plan to push forward peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, beginning with an international conference on the issue next month, saying that direct talks were the only way to resolve the decades-long conflict.
“Israel adheres to the position that the best way to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is direct and bilateral negotiations,” said a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an apparent rejection of the French plan.
“Israel is ready to start this immediately, without preconditions. Any other political initiatives distance the Palestinians from direct negotiations,” the statement concluded.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu openly expressed interest in meeting with each other in recent weeks, but neither side has made a public move to jump-start negotiations.
France last week announced that it will host a meeting of ministers from 20 countries on May 30 in an effort to relaunch the peace process. Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told the international press, however, that Israel and the Palestinian officials would not be invited to the meeting, which will take place in Paris.
Ayrault said the aim was to prepare an international summit in the second half of 2016, which would include the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
“The two sides are further apart than ever,” Ayrault admitted. But he said: “There is no other solution to the conflict than establishing two states, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, living side by side in peace and safety with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
“We cannot do nothing,” Ayrault said. “We have to act before it’s too late.”
He said the discussions 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.
The initiative was announced in February by Ayrault’s predecessor Laurent Fabius. A former French ambassador to Washington, Pierre Vimont, has been given the job of preparing the meetings.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered a previous round of Israel-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed in April 2014, gave the French proposal a guarded welcome when he visited Paris in March.
“Not any one country or one person can resolve this. This is going to require the global community, it will require international support,” Kerry said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told French President Francois Hollande during an April 16 meeting in Paris that the Palestinians fully back France’s initiative.
Peace efforts have been at a complete standstill since a US initiative collapsed two years ago.
AFP and AP contributed to this report