Leading figures in the opposition said on Saturday that the French threat to recognize Palestine in the absence of peace talks is a direct result of the current government’s failed diplomatic policies.
“Only an Israeli diplomatic initiative will enable Israel to retain control of its future, and relieve us of the tightening international pressure around our necks,” Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said. “As long as there is no initiative on our part, the Palestinians will continue to make gains in the world.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced Friday that France would shortly try to convene an international conference, with the hope of enabling new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but that if this effort reached a dead end, Paris would recognize a Palestinian state. Israel immediately rejected the French approach.
The government’s rejection of the French ultimatum received support on Saturday from Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, though he blamed Israel’s leadership for having eroded the country’s standing in Europe.
“Israel will not be coerced into negotiations. We won’t be dragged with threats to the negotiating table,” Lapid said during a culutral event in Neve Monosson, in central Israel.
“No sovereign nation would accept that. We need to enter negotiations on our terms and according to our timetable with an understanding that we do not want, and must not try, to absorb 3.5 million Palestinians. But it won’t be like this.”
But, he added, the French initiative “points to a serious deterioration in our international standing. It wouldn’t have happened in the past.
“A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council would not have announced unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state without discussing it with us first. In the past the United States Customs would not have joined the campaign to label (settlement) products. In the past the European Union would not have labelled Israeli goods including from the Golan Heights.”
Meanwhile another opposition leader, Meretz party head Zehava Galon, accused Netanyahu of giving the French “the middle finger” by outright rejecting Fabius’s offer.
“Netanyahu may be great at identifying threats, but is terrible at identifying opportunities and finding solutions, ignoring the fact that the world is intent on reaching a two-state solution,” she said. “Instead of offering his hand to the French initiative, Netanyahu is giving it the middle finger.”
The government dismissed Fabius’s approach on Friday. “This is not how one conducts negotiations and not how one makes peace,” an Israeli official was quoted by the Hebrew daily Haaretz as saying.
An unnamed American official also cautiously rejected the French proposal, according to Reuters. “The US position on this issue has been clear. We continue to believe that the preferred path to resolve this conflict is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials welcomed the French move. Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat, who oversaw years of talks with Israel, said the Palestinians “commend the French idea to promote serious international involvement in an effort to end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967.”
Erekat said the Palestinians will begin contacting various nations in coming days to promote the French initiative.
Announcing the plan, Fabius said his country has a responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to sustain efforts to reach a two-state solution.
“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners, American, European, Arab, notably to preserve and make happen the solution of two states,” Fabius said. “And what will happen if this last-ditch attempt at reaching a negotiated solution hits a stumbling block?” Fabius said. “In that case, we will have to live up to our responsibilities and recognize a Palestinian state.”
Paris is hoping to hold the conference in the summer.
AFP contributed to this report.