Paris peace parley proceeding as planned, France insists
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Paris peace parley proceeding as planned, France insists

Rebuffing reports Francois Hollande put kibosh on confab, French diplomats say he merely noted ‘incertitude’ after US election

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and French President Francois Hollande (right), hold a press conference after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on April 15, 2016. (AFP/Dominique Faget)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and French President Francois Hollande (right), hold a press conference after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on April 15, 2016. (AFP/Dominique Faget)

France will hold an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict next month, French officials said over the weekend, rebuffing several reports claiming that Paris had decided to shelve the planned summit.

The reports had quoted French President Francois Hollande as saying that he was facing difficulties convening the summit due to heavy international opposition, particularly from Israel but also from the United States.

French diplomats over weekend said the reports were “erroneous.” Hollande never said the confab was scrapped, merely that it was subject to “incertitude” that bears clarification after the US election, they said.

“As President Hollande reaffirmed in his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 20, our goal is to convene an international conference in order to help relaunch the Middle East peace process,” a spokesperson from the French Foreign Ministry said Thursday. “We are working closely with our partners and in collaboration with the parties to that end.”

Paris’ special envoy for the planned conference, Pierre Vimont, recently returned from the United States, days after he visited Jerusalem and Ramallah for talks with senior officials.

“He will continue this work during his upcoming visits to our main partner countries,” the statement read.

Over the weekend, one French official was quoted as saying that US State Department officials told Vimont in Washington last week that the US is “not enthusiastic about the idea of the summit and that they believed nothing would come out of it due to its nature and Israel’s refusal to attend it,” according to the Ynet website.

The French initiative is not the only one aiming to revitalize the moribund peace process; Russia and Egypt had both indicated their interest in hosting such summits.

Israel has been critical of the plan to host an international conference in Paris from the very beginning. Earlier this month, two of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top aides met with with Vimont and told him Israel would not participate in the confab.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat (second right) greets French peace process special envoy Pierre Vimont ( second left) during his arrival for a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 7, 2016. AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat (second from right) greets French peace process special envoy Pierre Vimont (second from left) during his arrival for a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on November 7, 2016. AFP/Abbas Momani)

Acting National Security Adviser Yakov Nagel and Netanyahu confidant Yitzhak Molcho told the French diplomat 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 PA President Mahmoud 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.

Addressing a conference in Tel Aviv earlier this month, Vimont said that while he understands that Israel is opposed to the French initiative, it would send a positive signal if Netanyahu were to attend nonetheless.

“If at the end of the day, the Israeli government would decide to participate in the Paris conference, it will show genuine, sincere commitment to the two-state solution,” he said at a conference in Tel Aviv, according to Haaretz.

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.

“We are in no way trying to impose a solution on the two sides. It is about getting the international community involved again in the peace process,” Vimont said in Tel Aviv.

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