Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an invitation by French President Francois Hollande to take part in a summit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on the sidelines of a conference on the peace process, his office said Wednesday.
The prime minister called Hollande to tell him that he would not be going to Paris, but said he would be willing to meet with Abbas under other circumstances, his office said in a statement.
“Netanyahu told Hollande if there were not an international conference in Paris, the prime minister would meet with Abbas for direct talks without preconditions,” the statement said.
“Israel will not take part in the international conference, which won’t contribute to bringing peace.”
Abbas and foreign ministers from nearly two dozen countries are expected to meet in Paris on December 21 to try to jump start peace efforts. But the Palestinians said Wednesday that Abbas never received an invitation to Paris, neither for the conference nor for direct talks with Netanyahu.
“Palestinians have received neither an official invitation to attend the French-sponsored international peace conference nor any other meeting,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Earlier, Netanyahu’s spokesperson David Keyes reiterated Israel’s objections to the conference, saying that Israel does not believe an international gathering is the way to achieve peace.
“Peace will be achieved through direct negotiations with our Palestinian neighbors, not through international conferences. Our position has not changed. Israel will not attend the French conference because it will push peace further away. Prime Minister Netanyahu is ready to begin direct peace talks anytime, anywhere without preconditions,” he told The Times of Israel.
The French have been pushing an initiative aimed at revitalizing the moribund peace process between Palestinian and Israelis. While the Palestinians have welcomed the initiative, Israel has remained critical.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is willing to meet with Abbas anytime and anywhere. However, one unnamed Israeli diplomat told the French newspaper Le Monde he thought Netanyahu would decline the conference invitation without making a “big affair” out of it, explaining it would make no sense to hold the meeting with the seemingly pro-Israeli US President-elect Donald Trump about to take office.
Abbas has also expressed willingness to meet with Netanyahu, without the oft-cited preconditions of a total freeze of a settlement construction and release of Palestinian prisoners promised during previous negotiations. In September, Abbas said he had agreed to meet with Netanyahu in Moscow at the behest of the Kremlin, and it was the Israeli leader who asked that the meeting be delayed.
Since a peace summit in June in Paris officially kicked off the French initiative, Le Monde said in its report Tuesday that three groups have been tasked with examining avenues to propel the peace process forward. One group has looked at building the institutions needed for the establishment of a Palestinian state; another has studied the economic incentives peace would bring for those involved, in particular for the European Union; while a third group worked on enhancing the participation of civil society in the process.
The French are aware that it is currently impossible to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate in earnest, let alone reach a peace agreement, officials in Paris said. The proposed international conference is not intended to force either side into concessions or even to formulate a framework for a future agreement.
Rather, one of its core goals is to get both parties, as well as regional and international actors, to restate clearly their commitment to the two-state solution.