France will not “automatically” recognize a Palestinian state if a Paris initiative to host an international conference to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks fails, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday.
His predecessor, Laurent Fabius, who proposed such a conference in January stirred Israeli anger by saying France would “recognize a Palestinian state” if the effort failed.
“There is never anything automatic. France will present its initiative to its partners. It will be the first step, there is no pre-requisite,” Ayrault said when asked at a press conference in Cairo about Fabius’s remarks.
Ayrault is on a two-day visit to Egypt to discuss the French initiative for hosting an international conference “by this summer” to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which collapsed in April 2014. “What we want, and that is our commitment, is to resume the negotiation process,” he said.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had rejected Fabius’s ultimatum as counterproductive, arguing that the confab was doomed to fail since the Palestinians were being told they would gain recognition if no results were achieved. Still, Jerusalem has maintained that it will study the framework for the conference when official invitations are sent out and will carefully weigh its response.
On Wednesday, neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Foreign Ministry had an immediate comment on Ayrault’s change of course.
“The French initiative, as it has been published, is questionable,” Netanyahu said last month at a press conference in Berlin. “It says: We will hold an international conference but if you do not succeed we are already predetermining the result – we will recognize a Palestinian state. It does not matter if this state could become another Islamic dictatorship… It does not matter if it will not genuinely commit to ending the conflict and recognizing the state of the Jews… It does not matter. We will determine that there is a state, without any conditions regarding recognition, security or anything.”
Such an approach, Netanyahu said bitterly, “ensures that this conference will fail because if the Palestinians know that their demand will be met a priori, and they do not need to do anything, then there is certainly an internal contradiction here, because they will not do anything.”
The only way to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace is via direct negotiations without preconditions between the sides, he argued. “This is the true way and I think that anyone who tries to deviate from it will not advance successful negotiations,” he said.
Palestinian Authority Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed support for the idea of a peace conference in Paris. Earlier this week during a meeting with the secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Iyad Ameen Madani, he called the planned confab would be “an all-inclusive international mechanism involving many countries.”
The Obama Administration this week denied a Wall Street Journal report that it was planning a new peace initiative, and stressed that solutions must come through direct negotiations between the sides. “Our position has been clear,” a White House official said. “We believe a two-state solution is absolutely vital for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and will only come through negotiations.”
The official said the Obama administration would continue to urge both sides to return to the table and not to act unilaterally. “We continue to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to take affirmative steps which we think are important to stop the violence, improve conditions on the ground, and restore confidence in the two-state solution,” the official said in a statement. “We also continue to engage with our partners to find a constructive way forward in terms of advancing our shared goal of a two-state solution.”
JTA contributed to this report.